Three and a half reasons not to use templates in your presentations

Full disclosure – I’m a presentations trainer, so you might expect me to not like templates… after all, if templates worked 100%, I’d have less work.

Reason 1
You’re special. Oh, yes you are.  Oh, no you’re not. Oh, yes…

Each presentation is different. I’m not referring here to the idea that you might be able to repeat a presentation, but rather to the idea that each set of presentations is different. But templates aren’t. Using a template makes you the same as other people.
In fact it makes you the same as a lot of other people.
Think about it, when people who write templates start to give them away, what are they doing it for? To make your life easier? Tosh!  They’re doing it for the mileage it gives them – which means pretty much by definition that they’re trying to give away lots of copies of the template. From their point of view, you being the same as everyone else is a good thing. But it isn’t from yours.
Or your audience’s.

Reason 2
Bad fits

And while we’re on the subject of them being the same, that means they’re not going to fit what you’re trying to say (unless you’ve got the kind of luck that puts a leprechaun to shame) because they won’t fit exactly what you’re trying to do. At best they’re an approximation.
It’s a bit like saying that playing a tune a semi-tone flat is an approximation to the real thing. Or that colouring a painting with only shades of red instead of the full rainbow of colours is good enough.
Almost by definition, templates make your slides semi-brain dead.
Let’s take a hypothetical example (if you think I’m making this up, you should know better – I’m just trying not to offend or upset anyone ;) )… I sat through a presentation recently with an rich, deep red theme to the template. It had all kinds of associations with luxury and the best things in life… which was fine, except that the presentation was about child abuse. Everything clashed and the importance of the message was considerably undermined.

Reason 3
They’re often crap

To be honest, I could more or less forgive the use of templates for the two reasons above. After all, most of us aren’t professional speakers or presenters and so presentations are, for us, a means to an end. That in turn means that when a presentation is good enough to do what it’s designed to do, everything above that is luxury.
But here’s the rub. Template are usually crap.
bad_powerpoint_template2Take a look at one that arrived in my inbox the other day, extorting me to download it and recommend it.  (Yes, I know the template itself is old but the email was recent.)

Where do I start with wha’t’s wrong with this?!?!

Imagine trying to read that from the back of a room, with the text being too similar in colour to the background.
And what is with the ‘subtle’ (the template describe them like that, not me) shapes covering half the screen.  Harder to read, anyone?
And God help you if you’re trying to read anything in the text boxes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are plenty of good templates out there, but they’re few and far between. And my problem is that the kind of person who feels the need to use a template they download, perhaps because they’re not feeling very confident about designing from scratch, or who doesn’t have experience, isn’t going to know what they’re doing wrong.

Reason 3.5
The struggle is the key

Now, I know this isn’t going to be winning me any awards for popularity, but so what… ?
It isn’t a criticism of templates per se, but using templates reduces your thinking. Sometimes the process of figuring out what you’re slides should look like is a good discipline. Sometimes the extra effort you have to make to help you design a good presentation and create the slides that go with it can unlock your thinking about the topic in question – and about how to explain it. Sometimes the hard work can lead to an breakthrough.  (I’m not going to use the analogy of the butterfly struggling out of cocoon here, but it’s tempting! ? )
Yes, I know, you can think things through and use templates in any case, which is why this is only half a reason.

Reason 3.5-and a little bit…
Time!

Oh, and another half reason includes the fact that they don’t save you time, in the end… by the time you’ve looked at a zillion free template sites you’d have had time to create your own slides in the first place!  ;)

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.

8 Comments

  1. Rule number 3 is the biggest for me. And just to elaborate: They are crap, the audience can usually tell it’s a template, and if your concern with finding a template and creating your slides takes valuable time away from putting together an awesome conversation with the audience unimpeded by crappy slides. Thanks for the great article!

    • Cheers, Dave – I should start a Poll. For me, at the moment, I’m finding that for a lot of my clients it’s number 3.5 that’s most important. But it’s number three for me, too!

  2. Oh boy I agree – I’ve seen hundreds of badly built templates. I’d hate to have to use them.
    A good template shouldn’t even LOOK like a typical PPT template. And a good template designer should set the default shapes and colours correctly – including those hyperlink colours!

  3. pretty good picture.

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