We’ve all been there - needing to create a slide deck fast. Maybe you got a call from your boss at the last minute. Or a dream client was suddenly available to meet with you weeks earlier than you planned.
Whatever the reason, this can feel really overwhelming.
If you need to create the slide deck from scratch, what is the best option? Use a template or not?
Most experienced presenters who use slide decks regularly, will advise others to never use templates. Why? Templates are often cited as one of the main reasons why there are so many bad slide decks.
In looking at templates from early versions of both PowerPoint and Keynote, I understand this viewpoint. Although, my advice on using a template is that there isn’t a hard and fast rule about using them.
There’s a place and time for templates — like being in a hurry. In my opinion, when you are short on time, use a template and make your primary focus the development of your outline and content.
The benefit of templates is that overall design, such as color scheme, illustrations, and image placement, is already created and coordinated. This in of itself can save a ton of time.
Design Considerations for Rapid Slide Deck Creation
When picking a template (or theme in the case of PowerPoint and Keynote), there are a few design considerations that will impact the speed in which you can create your slide.
If you decide not to use a template to create your slide deck, you may wonder if design really matters. Today there is lots of emphasis on a minimalistic approach to slides. A viewpoint I advocate for in certain circumstances. However, even these types of slides require some thought about design.
While templates already come coordinated, it is rare that you will find one that fits exactly what you need. When considering a platform or template, consider these options.
- Ability to change the color palette
- Multiple layout options
- Easily change font, images, charts, etc.
Ability to change the color palette
Every time I decide to use a template, I run into the same issue over and over. I find layouts that suit my needs but the color scheme – well, sucks. Not being able to change the color palette or scheme easily is a deal breaker for me.
Some don’t believe color is an issue and shouldn’t be consideration. And many templates are created with a coordinated color scheme. Of course, messing too much with a preselected color scheme can make matters worse rather than better.
However, many people have to use a specific color scheme such as their company’s branded colors. No one gets kudos for showing up to a client pitch meeting using non-company colors (or worse the competition’s colors).
Multiple layout options
Layouts, unlike a template or theme, are related to placement of content on a specific slide. In some cases, a template or theme dictates what layout options are available.
Having too few layout options can make it difficult to convey the specific ideas or points you need to make. The only exception to this is having a blank slide option. This gives you the most flexibility for content placement. But, then you are now creating a slide deck from scratch and defeating the whole point of using a template.
Having more layout options may seem overwhelming at first. However, this gives you more flexibility for content placement. Also, it is not uncommon to find a few that work well with your topic.
Easily change font, images, charts, etc.
The last thing you want is a template that requires you to use the preselected images, charts, and fonts. Similar to being able to change the color palette, it is important to have this flexibility. For example, during an accounting report presentation to senior executives, you really shouldn’t be using an image of a child’s first birthday party. Unless of course you can create context and meaning for that image.
While it is uncommon for most available templates to be locked down like this, it is something to consider. Also, if you are required to use certain fonts or images for client presentations, there’s no point in using a template that isn’t flexible enough to accommodate that need.
Presentation Creation Platforms (Not the Big 3)
Once you’ve decided to use a template, the next question is usually ‘Which option is the best?’ The templates for both PowerPoint and Keynote are that bad now (that wasn’t always the case; early templates where pretty bad). Google Slides has done a nice job in including several template designs. And there are some newer players on the scene that provide more or different options.
This section highlights three creation platforms that are not the big three: PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides. I’ve include these because they offer something different from the major players. They also promise the ability to create a slide deck fast along with great design capabilities.
Canva’s focus is creating and designing a variety of visual content. Presentations is a newer element of what they offer. Canva is free to use and, even though they have a premium subscription and a good portion of their content is designated for that subscription, there are still lots of free options. As of this writing there is no limit on the number of items you create.
The 26 template categories range from simple to business to educational to sales. Within each category there are several templates to choose from. Most of the templates include 10-15 slide layouts. There is a copy option so you can reuse a specific layout more than once.
Ease of use is the platform’s greatest strength. If you know how to drag and drop, you already know how to use Canva. This is why it is a good option for fast slide deck creation. The Elements section provides a wide variety of free photos, icons, shapes, and lines. All parts on the template can be edited, so swapping colors, fonts, images, etc. is easy and straightforward. One thing about Canva is that changing colors has to be done on a slide-by-slide basis if you are using a free account.
You can present from within the platform with three options: standard, autoplay, and presenter view. Keep in mind that with presenter view, you will need two monitors. One to display the presenter view and the other for the audience window.
If you want to present offline, you can download either as an images or pdf. Canva does not have an export to PowerPoint or Keynote option.
Visme is a relatively new platform and is still in beta. Similar to Canva, it provides a variety of content options with presentations being just one of them. They have a free account as well as tiered paid plans. However, unlike Canva, with the free account there is a limit to 5 projects, up to 100 MB storage, and the only download option is as jpg image format. The paid plans offer many more options along with full access to content.
The templates overall have a contemporary design and are well suited for a business environment or if you want a modern look and feel. Visme has a nice preview feature. The preview popup window is a nice size, which allows you to get a good idea on how the slides actually look. This is really helpful when time is limited.
The workspace is quite similar to Canva and is a drag and drop editor. However, there are a few differences I like. There is a thumbnail and grid panel similar to what you have with PowerPoint or Keynote. It makes navigating between slides much quicker.
The data/statistics options they have are impressive. You can select from a variety of charts or graphs and they are really easy to edit. Another aspect I really like is access to multiple color palettes. With just a couple of clicks you can apply a new color scheme to the entire slide deck.
One last feature I want to mention is the option to connect to a variety of other platforms such as Dropbox and YouTube. This completely eliminates the need to download to your computer and having to upload to another platform.
What makes this platform truly different is the approach to slide creation. Rather than provide a template or theme already predesigned and populated with content, the focus is on simple layouts that are customizable. As stated on the website, the company’s goal is help individuals tell visual stories.
Depending on the layout you select, you have a variety of one click options such as moving the text header from left orientation to right orientation. If you have an image on a slide with just a single click on the image position button it resizes and moves to a new location. This is what the company website calls “smart slide templates.”
Another interesting aspect of the system is that animations are built in. What is animated is dependent on the content and has a focus on simplicity. No danger of making your audience motion sick with unnecessary, endless spins, twirls, and bounces. The time saving element of slide creation is the elimination of drawing, dragging, and dropping. This is literally point and click editing.
Theme customization is straightforward and easy as well. You can alter the color palette, font, decorations (e.g. icon style) and footer content (slide number, copyright statement, etc.). The current color palettes are not extensive. However, once selected, all of them can be further customized to create your own unique color scheme.
The sheer ease of using this platform makes it difficult to convey how impressive it truly is. Behind the simplicity lays a highly complex system. This is a platform to watch.
Having to create a slide deck fast no longer needs to be a burden or stress inducing situation. Taking more time on the content and outline can then be converted into easy to use, predesigned templates.
While using a template doesn’t guarantee a great slide deck, it can certainly help with aspects like color scheme, coordinating illustrations, and consistent font.
The big 3 creation platforms, PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Slides all provide decent templates. However, there are alternatives that make slide deck creation easy and fast: Canva, Visme, and Beautiful.ai