Warning! Defective “Template!”

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Often, when  a client  gives me their corporate PowerPoint “template,” what I get is a default PowerPoint presentation file with, at most, a slide background and a title slide background.  The client has asked the company’s design firm (or department) for a “template” and this is what they got.

So, I spend the first hour or so of the project completing the “template” so I can get on with the assignment.  This is OK with me since these are paid hours, but I can’t help thinking that there are a lot of companies out there that are being treated in this shabby way by their design teams.

So, why does it matter? The purpose of the “template” is to assure that the look and feel (part of your corporate branding) works in your presentations as well as your web presence and printed collateral.  A defective “template’ will allow  the presentation color scheme, fonts and graphics to be all over the place.

The reason you have a defective “template”  is that graphic designers are generally PowerPoint-illiterate.  Certainly, PowerPoint is a poor stepchild as  a design tool and beneath the  contempt of a truly creative graphics designer. Besides, if designers produced their work in PowerPoint, their customers might make small changes on their own, without paying the design firm to do so.  Bad business.

I also believe that designers (and many others) misunderstand the role of PowerPoint in the presentation scenario – for example, that there is usually a presenter, who is primarily responsible for delivering the message.  Designers and marketing types generally seem to think in terms of a printed document where the message is carried by the document.

Let me digress to make sure that we are on the same page regarding templates.

You should understand  that a PowerPoint file containing desired colors, fonts and some slide examples with titles, your logo, etc., is NOT a template. A template is a special file (a .thmx or .potx file) that you use to set the default colors, fonts and slide formats/layouts.

For example, the color choices that appear when you set a Fill or Line color are determined by the current template/theme. The Headings and Body fonts that appear at the top of the font list are also determined by the template. The body font is the default font that is used when you create text. The master slide and the layouts that determine the overall appearance of your slides are also defined by the template.

Microsoft now uses the word theme for this special file. For purposes of this post, I will use the terms template and theme interchangeably.

If you look at the Design ribbon, you will see an array of slide images that represent themes. The first image represents the theme that your presentation is now using. If you use the pull-down menu associated  with Variants, you can see some of the details of the fonts and colors you are now using (highlighted). If you View the Slide Master you can see the slide layouts available to you with the current theme.

You can use the tools on the Design ribbon to modify themes and create new ones.

So, here is what you should get when you ask your designer for a complete “template”  :

  • Color scheme – when you select a color for a fill or outline, you choose from colors in the color selection pane.  If these have not been specifically assigned, a default palette shows up and these colors (or random ones) will be selected and your presentations will loose your corporate identity.
    I have thoughtfully provided some guidelines for color schemes here.
  • Fonts – you probably have corporate fonts;  specifying these as  your Theme Fonts will make them the default for PowerPoint text rather than Arial or Calibri.
    I have recorded my guidelines for fonts  here.
  • Master slide and layouts – slide backgrounds;  slide title and bullet formats; layouts for the title slide, section title slides, etc., are all determined by the Master Slide and a number of Layouts.
    Slide backgrounds are an area where graphic designers like to exercise their skill, usually at the expense of the actual slide content.  Here’s my rant on bad slide backgrounds.
    I have also provided some details on working with masters and layouts in this amusing post.

So, to assure that your presentations are not crippled by an incomplete “template,” make sure your designer provides the elements noted above.  Or, hire a PowerPoint specialist, like me.

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