episode 3: How, and When, to Hire a Presentation Design Professional


  • The process of when someone should be hiring a presentation design professional starts with some questions: What is the goal of the presentation? How much is at stake? How much time do you have to invest in the presentation slides vs. presentation content and other business needs? The big decision is — at what point is there value in bringing in a Presentation Design Professional? And for our hosts today, the question is: “What do Presentation Design Professionals need from you?”


When does a presentation warrant professional assistance?

  • Sandra: I think corporations should always have a professional build their PowerPoint templates. And when I say professional, I don’t mean an advertising or branding agency. While these firms may be experts at communications, they often forget about design and messaging when it comes to presentations — and certainly the majority do not know how to build a functioning template.
  • Nolan: I would say it’s time to hire the right professional when you can’t afford not to, and that means you can’t afford the time to do it yourself or spend the time hiring internally or when a bad presentation may actually cost you money because it’s not effectively communicating your message. When you hire the right professional, you’re not just getting pretty design, you’re getting better designed and more effective communication. A page of bullet points isn’t just ugly, but it’s also not effective in terms of achieving your goals.
  • Troy: Large, high stakes presentations warrant professional assistance. As example, for a large national sales meeting, I am the outside professional doing presentation design, but also assuring everything across all presenters looks consistent. I also review all of the content to confirm no one has content that overlaps or contradicts other presentations. And the whole technical side of needing a presentation setup for a 70′ wide by 16′ tall screen is not going to be something to hand off to the executives or  in-house department.
  • Nolan: I have what I call the “Funnel Theory” of presentation. Companies spend millions on their core business, but so often, the spending stops at the funnel tip when that “stuff” needs to be communicated to an audience. For example, a sales pitch, presentation to the Board or investors for funding, FDA for approval, and other high value presentations should have the budget for a professional presentation designer to assist with very important visual communication.


How do you define “presentation professional?”

  • Sandra: This is a tough one. It’s a large range, from someone who consults and designs presentations for the majority of their jobs, to the professionals on Troy’s team that includes people who are behind the scenes.
  • Nolan: It is the difference between presentation designer and someone who knows how to use PowerPoint. Technically, they might both be presentation professionals, but, just knowing how to use the program does not make you a great designer. Having a graphic design background makes it easier to work in presentation software to use visual communication skills.
  • Troy: The majority of our design team comes in not understanding that PowerPoint is a design canvas. It is looked at as a bullet list, it’s fun to watch the transformation as they see their hard earned design degree can be applied to slides. We pivoted from a huge print design firm to presentation graphics because it’s a design canvas and there was a niche there.


Who is the best Presentation Professional: independent designer, boutique studio, agency, big house?

  • Sandra: The three of us — with our experience, client base, and access we have to the best in the industry for whatever presentation need exists, we can curate the best team for every project.
  • Nolan: Larger companies might be able to help out in certain situations because they might have more tools at their disposal whereas as an individual designer might not. There are some independent designers that are amazing and know everything. But, if you go to a small agency or big company, they might be able to offer more tools.
  • Troy: The bigger range of experiences that can be brought to a project, the better the presentation design professional. In general, an independent designer or boutique studio are going to have a wider range of experience, assuming they have a number of clients with different requests and needs. That range of experiences with not only presentation style but also the application, whether it be PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, video bring a lot to a presentation design project. Being skilled at knowing how to develop visual layouts, work with motion graphics and have elegant story lines in each application is a really big defining element.


How is “small” defined?

  • Troy: By saying “small shop” do we include independent, 1 person companies? I am going to say yes, but small not so much in number of people but number of projects they can take on and size of projects they can take on. I have some projects that based on volume of presentations and timeline need 2-3-4 dedicated designers. Is TLC Creative Services small? I think so. But, in terms of ability to take in and complete projects that need a team of designers, or handle multiple projects simultaneously, we are large by that measure.
  • Sandra: I’m still small in the sense that I continue to work with subcontractors vs. have staff. So, I can take in work as long as I have outside resources I can reach out to. I suppose this limits my growth as a “firm.” My annual billing reflects a company that is larger than a 1-man shop, however.
  • Nolan: It’s hard because everything is relative, if a larger firm has 100-150 people, medium would be twenty to thirty, small would be just a couple people.


Where do in-house full-time staff and temp agency specialists fit?

  • Troy: For me, it goes back to the experience equation. Is the in-house staff have a core focus on presentation design, do they have a formula driven design? Is the temp agency able to provide a true presentation designer? I don’t know. I do know that internal communications, design and marcomm departments are some of our best and longest term clients. They value the range of experience and presentation expertise that TLC provides, things they don’t have time and often desire to take on.
  • Sandra: I haven’t worked with temp agencies for years. I also find internal communications, design, and marcomm departments to be my best and longest term clients.
  • Nolan: If you’re giving an internal HR presentation about benefits, is that the time to hire somebody? Probably not. But if the stakes are high and there is money on the table to be won or lost, it is time to assure you have a professional message and presentation to support it.


What are your thoughts on when a company hires someone full time and gives the (dreaded) “PowerPoint Specialist” title?

  • Nolan: I refuse to recommend anyone for a job with a title of “PowerPoint/Presentation Specialist” and have had arguments with people and staffing agencies over this. If you’re looking to hire a designer, that is the title of the job; “Presentation Designer”. I nearly walked away from a job offer when the title became “Specialist” in the HR paperwork at the end; it demeans the profession and work and is generally counterproductive to those hiring — people are often trying to hire true designers but refuse to call them that.


What information do you need from a client to set up a project?

  • Nolan: I have a series of questions that fill in the details. Asking those questions solves problems right up front because I learn what the client really needs. Long-term clients know the questions and usually send a project request with the details up front.
  • Troy: To start a presentation design project, I am going to ask about timeline, technical specs, is content ready and provided, or are we shaping content into a talk? Who are the stakeholders in the presentation, and who has authority to approve content and visual styling? Is there a What other collateral material should we reference? In our project management system there is a checklist of questions  to assure we know lots of details before we log billable design time.
  • Sandra: I have a 3-step process to more powerful slides. It starts with — Don’t open PowerPoint. One is, write your script or an outline. Two is to use post-it notes to storyboard the message with headlines. I have a wonderful presentation sketchbook I created for clients to use in this step. Three is to sketch the graphics to support your headlines. Don’t be limited by what you think YOU can do with PowerPoint.


Expected costs

  • Troy: We do not have time for a discussion on hourly vs. project vs. value-based billing models — something we should definitely add to our future topic list. For me, it is primarily determined by time needed for the design. My time equation includes initial design, time for feedback and revision cycles, and time for project admin.
  • Nolan: Presentation tends to be a moving target. After initial conversation with a client, their needs might change. I do project work but it’s rare. I  don’t like to rewrite scopes of work so I give people estimates. If they think it’s going to be a 20 slide presentation, I tell them what I think it’ll cost.
  • Sandy: In the beginning, I provide an estimate based on my hourly rate and I try to stick to it. But, I rarely bill on a project basis.


Expected timeline

  • Troy: I have a lot of formulas for this that I reference when estimating a project. But really it is a process of determining as many variables to the project and then providing an estimate that details the assumptions that went into the cost estimate, and the timeline.
  • Sandra: Funny, while I always say that the number of slides you use to present is not a direct indicator of the length of your presentation, I often use a 4 slides per hour reference to help clients get their arms around potential costs and to help me determine how much time I need to block for the project. Of course, this reference goes out the window when we start adding voice over, music, animation etc.
  • Nolan: It depends on the work, and I have a great ethical situation I found myself in years ago that directly relates…


Pro Tips

  • Troy: A great trick is to create a looping presentation (auto slide advance, show setup to loop, etc.). Then on the 1st slide of a presentation, embed the looping presentation as an object that launches when it is clicked, or with a Trigger animation. This way a single presentation can have a looping walk-in look and seamlessly go to the ‘real’ presentation without leaving the presentation.
  • Sandra: Working on a grid goes a long way to making your presentations look more like they were professionally produced. PowerPoint provides the option to add Guides to your slides. Just go to the View Tab and choose guides. The default guides are centered horizontally and vertically. For beginners, just like we were taught in first grade, I recommend adding guides to form margins and simply staying within those margins. The more experiences users can set up full-fledged grids. It blows me away how really great print designers fail to work on a grid in PowerPoint.
  • Nolan: .pptx PowerPoint files contain all of the images, videos, and music files. If you rename the .pptx to .zip and double click you get to see inside the file structure to check for oversize images or copy out the video file.
    • Troy Note: I use 7-zip, a free app for compressing files that also lets you quickly do the same thing without renaming the file.

Tech Tips

  • Troy: For backstage I always bring my own “little lights.” My current favorite is a USB 26 bulb LED light that is still very small, super bright and has an on/off switch (Amazon)
  • Sandra: Presenters that want to control their computer with a mouse, but not be at their computer should check out the SMK Air Mouse, it really works (Amazon)
  • Nolan: My favorite presentation remote is the Logitech Presenter 400. It is small, IR, works every time, has an on/off switch, built in laser pointer (Troy’s recommendation: get the green laser version) and looks professional (Amazon)


Resources from this Episode: 

  • 7-zip for Windows (no Mac version). Great compression app that is free AND let’s you open PowerPoint files to see inside them in 2 clicks!


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