PowerPoint is easy to use out of the box. It’s tempting to customise the default layouts with your firm’s brand colours, font, and logo and get on with it. Why buy a PowerPoint template from a specialist consultancy when it seems simple to build your own? How do you decide whether to build or buy your PowerPoint templates?

You can add almost anything to a slide—pictures and graphs, video, animations and transitions. Microsoft even provides some automated layout suggestions when it detects certain kinds of slides, like agendas.

But without design discipline, the result will look chaotic.

Design discipline subtly reinforces your reputation for quality.

Every document is an advertisement for the organisation as well as the person who owns that document. Messy presentations send a poor message both internally and externally. If a firm doesn’t exhibit good taste and consistency in in its documentation, people may wonder if that lack of quality-mindedness also infects client service.

Templates vs slide decks

It’s important to remember the difference between templates and slide decks:

A PowerPoint template defines layouts, colours, fonts, effects, background styles, and other formatting for slide decks.

A slide deck contains content, formatted according to the template’s specifications.

Templates can contain content, but usually don’t. They should provide document structure—the elements that seldom change. Including boilerplate in a template risks the template falling out of sync with firm-approved content. For example, a company profile, team biographies, and graphics evolve year to year. It’s better practice to make those kinds of slides available in a library that slot into the firm’s base templates. That way, the slides can be maintained in one place rather than in each template. That’s a major maintainability issue when a firm has different templates for departments, tender types, and so on.

Templates should include placeholders that allow people to insert their own content. Slide decks are created based on a template, so the template’s slide designs are embedded in the new slide deck. After inserting a slide from another deck, an embedded layout from the template can be applied to the inserted slide so it conforms to formatting standards.

Build or buy?

Build your own PowerPoint template if:

  • a professional designer has delivered a logo, colour scheme, font, and layout specifications, and
  • you have excellent design skills, and
  • you have advanced PowerPoint expertise yourself or in-house, and
  • you only need one general purpose template for relatively simple presentations.

If you’re missing any of those criteria, you’ll serve yourself better buying your PowerPoint templates from a template professional. A good PowerPoint template specialist will have skills and ideas well beyond your experience. They’ll save you hours of headache by delivering templates with the design flair and technical functionality to make you shine with minimal effort on your part.

Online templates vs consultant templates

There are hundreds of thousands of PowerPoint “templates” available to download online. Many look great with interesting effects and layouts. It’s tempting to download them and add your own logo, colours, and fonts. But the vast majority use very specific formatting that can be difficult or impossible to change easily. You end up trying to shoehorn content into a design that doesn’t suit your message or firm, or just reverting to text-and-bullet slides. Downloadable “templates” cost more time than they save.

Conversely, templates developed by a talented PowerPoint specialist should flexibly accommodate your use cases. The effort saved generates a quick return on investment.

Effective template design makes brand compliance easier.

Look for a consultant who understands template design across all the MS Office applications: PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. All your documents—text, spreadsheets, presentations—should have the same branding, and the same level of usability. That built-in brand consistency is a key benefit of effective template design.

Brand design vs template design

Colours, fonts, logo, social media strategy, and general design aesthetic express your organisation’s personality. Professional brand consultants understand how all those communication vectors work together. Go to brand design experts for brand design services.

Branding consultancies often offer PowerPoint templates as one of their deliverables. Unfortunately, those templates don’t always deliver good value.

Over the years I’ve seen lots of PowerPoint templates designed by branding consultants. The colours, fonts, logos all looked fine. However, when it came time to use the templates to craft presentations, they were awkward at best, unusable at worst. Manual footers appeared on every slide; graphic backgrounds extended off-slide; auto-font sizing was left turned on so content automatically shrank when too much text was typed in a box; too many master slides with huge graphics caused file sizes to balloon to over 20MB, at which size Outlook defaults to reject them as attachments; slide layouts didn’t reset properly. Et cetera.

Branding experts generally have only a superficial understanding of how MS Office applications like PowerPoint work. Many don’t even use PowerPoint to build their PowerPoint templates. Instead, they design slides in Adobe InDesign or another application, then export the designs to PowerPoint.

When brand consultancies deliver PowerPoint templates that look good but employ flaky formatting, people end up floundering as they try hack their way around the template’s failings.

Template specialists use their MS Office technical expertise to maximise usability.

On the other hand, template professionals understand how MS Office applications work on a deep technical level. They’re the best people to embed your professionally designed brand into a properly functioning template. An efficient template maintains formatting, minimises file size, and maximises usability. Usability depends on understanding and using PowerPoint’s features optimally.

Brand design and template development are distinct professions. Ask a branding professional to establish your brand, then ask a PowerPoint template specialist to incorporate your brand in optimally structured templates.

Attractive, efficient templates are just a first step. People need help using them.

Native PowerPoint involves a lot of clicking

Assuming you have well-designed and well-behaved templates, you can build engaging presentations that conform to your firm’s branding. But templates only go so far.

One survey of PowerPoint users found that roughly only 30% of internal presentations follow corporate design requirements. External sales presentations display even less brand consistency than internal ones, with only 25% complying with firm standards.

People need to extend and adapt a template’s layouts to accommodate their needs. They import slides, text, images, graphs and more from other sources. But then they try to adjust that imported or hand-crafted content to conform to house style (if they know what the house style is). And that’s where trouble starts.

As Frederik Dessau, Senior Consultant at Skabelon Design said in an interview:

“We can implement designs and design elements in PowerPoint, but if the user will have a hard time recreating it in their own slides, the outcome will be messy.”

PowerPoint includes most of the tools you might need. But you have to know where to find them and they may involve more clicks than you’d like to do the job. (Every click counts. The more time you spend hunting and clicking, the less time you spend crafting your message.)

People need help with PowerPoint

According to that PowerPoint-user survey, the top 3 time sinks for PowerPoint creators are:

  1. Designing/formatting slides
  2. Searching for existing slides
  3. Importing old slides into a new deck

The survey revealed that professionals estimated they spend 40% or more of their PowerPoint editing time on formatting alone.

So, despite spending almost half their time trying to get their slides to appear at least somewhat attractive, usually they still don’t represent their firm’s aesthetic properly (75% of external-facing presentations don’t comply with the firm’s brand standards). That failure wastes their organisation’s investment in marketing and business development. It also damages their organisation’s image when clients see it represented with inconsistent design.

How add-ins help

PowerPoint add-ins will reduce clicks and save time. Even experts who know PowerPoint inside out prefer working with add-ins that streamline and automate formatting drudgery. Your PowerPoint template consultant should guide you to add-ins that provide the most helpful automations.

Example: agendas

You can create a simple agenda slide quickly. But when your agenda changes as your presentation evolves, you’ll have to go back and amend it repeatedly. As Frederik Dessau has said:

“A simple task of creating an agenda, using it throughout the presentation as a breaker, and distributing the chapter title to the footer. It might not seem as something too heavy. At least, not much brain power is spent. Well, actually this is something that might entail hours of work for a single presentation. One little last-minute change will mean a total rework of the agenda and then a thorough walk-through of the entire document.”

Skabelon Design’s solution is BrandedAgenda, a PowerPoint add-in that builds dynamic agenda slides and internal links purely by point-and-click. It automatically updates the agenda and breadcrumbs as the slide deck evolves. Click here to see a video showing how it works.

That simplicity hides a lot of complex technology from users. Potentially they save hours of work instead of maintaining agendas. They don’t have to remember what the firm’s guidelines say about agendas, that’s taken care of for them. Because it’s easy to use, people are more likely to use it.

empower also offer an agenda tool.

Example: brand compliance

How can someone confirm that their presentation complies with the organisation’s branding and house style? Corporate Design Check from empower scans a slide deck to check:

  • title placeholder, logo, and layout protection
  • fonts, font sizes and colours
  • fill and line colours
  • bullet styles and colours

It also offers to autocorrect non-compliant content. Beware: autocorrect can cause odd results. For example, if someone imports a slide from a client’s slide deck into one of their own, that imported slide won’t comply with the firm’s design requirements. It may not include placeholders that the Design Check requires; images or text boxes might float around on the imported slide and the Corporate Design Check might not position them correctly.

The PowerPoint author can let the Design Check autocorrect any problems then fine tune anything that’s out of place or skip the autocorrect and fix things manually. Either way, that Corporate Design Check automation reduces the clicks and puzzlement involved in trying to bring slides into compliance.

Skabelon Design have a brand-compliance checker as well.

Knowledge and technology gaps

Factors that contribute to failed PowerPoint productivity include:

  • Ignorance: many people have only a vague understanding of their organisation’s brand standards, and don’t know where to turn for details.

Solution: publish brand guidelines where people normally work, for example as a design-guidance help button on the PowerPoint Home tab, and incorporate your brand’s colour and font schemes in your MS Office theme(s). We can help add brand awareness to the Office Ribbons.

  • Lack of training: just a minority of professionals consider themselves PowerPoint experts, yet most firms provide only very basic PowerPoint skills training.

Solution: minimise training requirements by configuring PowerPoint’s Ribbon to include the tools people need where they’re most likely to find them. We can help customise your MS Office user experience to integrate automations at the point of use and build a learning strategy that elevates people’s skills to a certifiably competent standard. In any PowerPoint training, remember to include guidance on what constitutes a good presentation. The Document Excellence Group’s Clare Waller explains why:

“The reputational ROI of a coherent visual message as well as attention to fit and finish cannot be overstated. A well-designed and presented branding message will be seriously harmed by not following some simple best practices when creating your slides. Make sure that anyone working in PowerPoint understands that planning and practice are paramount, and adopting a ‘less is more’ philosophy will keep an audience both engaged and informed.”

  • Inadequate templates for different use cases: most firms have one or a few PowerPoint templates that incorporate their branding, yet those templates often don’t include layouts and sample content that help people format tables, charts, infographics, and other visual elements according to the organisation’s brand standards. Often they don’t include anything other than a slide with text and bullets (yawn).

Solution: ensure that your templates cover all use cases, by engaging with the groups of users who need them. We can help discover your PowerPoint needs, manage development if necessary, and devise an efficient deployment and management solution.

  • Poor templates: as mentioned above, most branding consultancies demonstrate only rudimentary PowerPoint technical skills even though PowerPoint templates are one of their top deliverables. The templates they deliver don’t function well because they fail to use PowerPoint correctly and force users to work harder than they should do.

Solution: source your templates from a template specialist. We can help find the right template consultant for your needs.

  • Missing tools: add-ins that standardise and automate formatting reduce the knowledge and work needed to comply with brand standards. Without a good toolset, people waste (unbillable) time trying and most often failing to follow best practice.

Solution: integrate the tools that help people use PowerPoint efficiently, cost effectively. We can help identify the add-ins most likely to deliver value and complement each other.

ROI

Remember those figures from the empower study: professionals spend at least 40% of their PowerPoint time struggling with formatting. And even so, they get it wrong in 75% of external presentations.

Let’s say someone spends 10 hours building a slide deck during a week. Their time costs 100 EUR/GBP/USD/CAD/whatever. So, they’ve spent 1,000 EUR/GBP/etc on that presentation, yet still failed to comply with their firm’s design. Four hours (40% = 400 EUR/GBP/whatever) was wasted in a frustrating struggle with PowerPoint.

Then give them a solid template and well-maintained slide library, along with add-ins that keep them aligned with the firm’s brand. With all that help, they only spend an hour on formatting.

The firm has saved 300 EUR/GBP/whatever on just one PowerPoint presentation, generated a brand-compliant slide deck, and freed the professional to do something more productive, like cultivate a client relationship or go home on time. The savings on a single presentation will more than cover the professional’s share of the cost of a PowerPoint design consultancy and likely the cost of the add-ins. Multiply those figures by the number of people who work with PowerPoint and the number of presentations they author.

On top of that productivity ROI, consider reputational ROI. One way to quantify the opportunity cost of incoherent design in a presentation is to put yourself in a prospect’s or client’s shoes. As the audience, imagine that someone is trying to convince you they’re competent and deserve your trust and money. If their presentation doesn’t tell a coherent visual story, if the fit and finish doesn’t align, then you may reasonably—consciously or unconsciously—question their professionalism.

Having sown that doubt, how much harder will they have to work to gain your business? What’s the cost of that extra work?

As the folks at empower have said:

“If employees are not dedicated enough to adhere to the company corporate design … why should potential clients buy into the company?”

Good solutions cost money. We can help build the business case for optimising your PowerPoint experience with money well-spent.

Conclusion

Everyone benefits from templates and add-ins for PowerPoint that minimise the clicks needed to craft visual content with confidence and flair, while complying with their organisation’s branding. Abiding by corporate standards bolsters the organisation’s reputation and the presenter’s as well for quality and attention to detail. Ignoring the firm’s design sends an uncoordinated message to the audience, subtly undermining the presenter’s professionalism, and wasting the firm’s design investment.

PowerPoint specialist templates and tools can pay for themselves quickly through time saved, enhanced design discipline, and consistent quality.

Branding consultants or downloadable commercial templates are very unlikely to provide high-quality templates. In the short term, they may seem like the easiest/cheapest option but over the longer term they almost certainly will prove costly because of wasted time and effort.

PowerPoint template specialists deliver best value. You should choose a template consultant who also knows Word and Excel inside out. Expertise across the entire Office suite will ensure all your templates optimise your firm’s time and document quality.

We can help you find the right template specialist for your needs. Please get in touch to learn more.

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