Q&A: do templates limit audience engagment?

In my recent Design for Non-Designers: How to Design Dynamic Webinar Presentations, Donald posed a less frequently-asked-question:

“What do you think about template formats…each of your slides have been quite different…do you think templates limit audience engagement?”Q&A

AWESOME question, Donald!

I do think templates limit audience engagement, but maybe not for the reason you’d think:

Templates limit designers.

A few thoughts, in no particular order:

Templates aren’t necessary for a presentation to be visually cohesive.

Cohesiveness does include being consistent thematically or stylistically, but you don’t need a template to do that.

You can (and should) use a template to speed production of your presentation for common elements.  Using the same font when you create a text box, or quickly creating a shape or shapes that use colors defined by the theme/template are good examples.

Templates do nothing to help make each step of your story as powerful as possible.

Part of the opportunity that a webinar brings over and above a conference call is the visual impact you can create with a slide.  A presentation is a series of points that you make to get your audience from Point A to Point B, and arguably you want to do that as powerfully as you can at each step along the way.  There are no unimportant points (or they shouldn’t be there).  They each need to be as powerful as possible.

One quick note for trainers, engineers, and others who often aren’t thinking they ‘tell a story:’  you should start.  It’s not just about the data – it’s the context of that data that creates meaning and application, right?  This doesn’t mean you abandon the data, it means that you’re presenting it in a more useful and memorable way.

Templates tempt slide creators to work within a box, not view a slide as a canvas.

In the webinar I used a (verbal) illustration of the Spanish painter who created illusory space with the ship’s mast and sail flowing off the edge of the canvas to meet at an obvious-but-unseen point.

Thinking about a slide as a painter’s canvas, the question we should ask is “how can I illustrate the point that I’m making at this point in the story as powerfully as possible?”

Starting with anything other than a blank white background puts you at a disadvantage.

I don’t need to see your logo on every slide.

This is really a parallel thought to the previous point.

I know who you are when I make the effort to attend your event.  A logo on every slide is a waste of space at best, a distraction at worst.

The Bottom Line

Leverage templates to speed creating presentation by repeating common elements such as font or shape color.  Individual slides, however, rarely are repeating ideas, so designs should rarely be repeated.

Optimize your audience engagement by optimizing your storytelling.  Don’t use templated designs.

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