From bullet point to beautiful: Stephanie Evergreen on slide reboots

Sitting in the audience for Rodney Hopson’s keynote at the 2012 American Evaluation Conference in Minneapolis, one thing immediately stood out.

Those were some gorgeous Power Point slides.

It was a heavy topic (Evaluation in Complex Ecologies: Relationships, Responsibilities, Relevance) and my expectations for something visually appealing in a conference keynote were pretty low.  But these slides were awesome, they really helped to support the complex subject matter.  I suffer from the inability to concentrate when not engaged, but these slides really helped me to stay on the presentation from beginning to end.

As it turns out, Professor Hopson had some help from the always awesome Stephanie Evergreen.

Example slide reboot from the keynote mentioned above

Stephanie Evergreen, Rodney Hopson Before/After slide reboot example


Since that conference, Stephanie has helped a number of presenters reboot their slide decks into something beautiful and more engaging.

I reached out for a Q&A in hopes of learning a little more about her process.  She agreed, so here we go…

Q&A with Stephanie

Hi Stephanie.  I’d like to ask a few questions about your slidedeck reboots. I think it’s awesome work and I’d love to know more about your process. 

Sweet let’s go!

Do you start by having someone send you their powerpoint deck or by having a conversation?

Both. For the Fab Five Reboot (look under slides), we (at AEA) identified the expert presenters that we wanted to work with and approached them, asking them to fork over their existing slides.

For other reboots, it often starts with some conversation and some existing scraps of a powerpoint that the presenter has put together. In some cases, the conversations include more than a little reassurances and ego hugging.

What happens next? Do you go slide to slide through their current deck, thinking about ways to restructure each one?

I generally go through each slide first, and quickly, because usually some ideas pop out at me immediately. I just make notes. Then I look at the entire deck with the slidesorter view to examine the overall structure and color schemes, etc.

From there I’ll open the slide master and tweak those theme-level elements like fonts, font size, color, and so on. You know it, but making changes via the slide master saves a ton of time.

In slidesorter view the slides spell out a treasure hunt clue.

As you can probably tell, I’m picturing a very methodical process, is it? How much back and forth do you have with the creator of the presentation?

Ok, so I totally oversimplified that last thing I just said. During that process, I don’t just pull random fonts and color and what not. I go to whatever bits of branding I can identify around this presenter and pull from those, sometimes using WhatTheFont and Adobe Kuler to help me.

I almost always have some back and forth around graphics. Many of the slidedecks I’ve rebooted were benefited by the inclusion of some real photos (for Jody Fitzpatrick, this meant real pictures of real evaluators, for others it has meant actual photos from their evaluation site visits) that I need the presenter to go dig up.

If I’m trying to work in a visual metaphor, I’ll check with the presenter that it makes sense. Hey MQP, is it cool if I say evaluation is like a pinata?

And I expect a little back and forth as we narrow in on the final product. I make tweaks or strengthen my argument for why a tweak shouldn’t be made.

Usually its a pretty simple process. With Rodney Hopson, we got up to draft 11, but that’s partly because the graphics would make him think more about his content, so it was a super collaborative co-construction process that I’m lucky I was part of.

Why don't we go with purple for the slide backgrounds.  Person two: What a coincidence purple is my favorite color (dressed all in purple)

Do you do everything in power point? Do you use any other tools?

Pretty much – that and Excel. Its amazing what PowerPoint can do – or handle, such as fonts that are graphics. I get a lot of new fonts from FontSquirrel and I’ll pull icons from The Noun Project or Icon Finder. Shutterstock is my new favorite stock photo site.

You’ve done a bunch of reboots now, do you have a favorite?

There’s something awesome about remaking a slide deck I’ve once cringed at. That’s all the answer I can give about that one.

For anyone who is asked to help clean up a colleague’s slide deck, in your infinite wisdom, do you have any suggestions?

The tough love answer is to say no, and guide them toward resources where they can learn it themselves. It’s totally learn-able. They’ll thank you – down the road.

If you can’t say no:

If there’s little to no budget, focus on fonts, colors, and breaking up the content so there’s one idea per slide.

If there’s budget and time, work on the graphics.

Return the slide deck with those aforementioned resources.

Don't get me wrong, you make some good points, but 18 bullet points is just too many for a single slide.

One last question, do you ever hear the phrase…

“Well I’m not a visual person”

…how do you respond?

Yeah, most people think they aren’t but the truth is that they just haven’t given themselves permission to be visual.

I remember one organization brought me in for a training, prompted by the younger people employed there, who secretly told me how much the senior staff needed help because they believed they “weren’t visual.”

One of our exercises asked the audience to draw a tweet I displayed on the screen. Visualize it. The senior staff came out with pencils blazing. One guy whipped out a sketch, turned the page and whipped out another, and turned the page and whipped out another. He set his pad down on the table and said “I can do it, I just usually don’t.”

I spent three hours, looking for the perfect picture of a crayon.  Then I thought, "hey, if I had a crayon, I could just draw one."

Thanks Stephanie!

Possible Next Steps

Trying something new today.  Here are some possible next steps once you’re done reading this post.

  • Comment and let me know your struggles or power point suggestions.
  • Share the post with colleagues that might need a little help with their slides.
  • Go on twitter and thank Stephanie.
  • Check out Stephanie’s blog.
  • Go see the resources provided by the American Evaluation Association’s Potent Presentations Initiative (Stephanie was a big part of this).
  • Go through the above Q&A and click on some of the links.  Stephanie included some really solid suggestions for tools.
  • Consider becoming my Patron.  I drew 7 cartoons for this post, but only included 4.  My Patrons have access to all 7.