food design

Food design tips applied to presentations

food designI was reading up on design on different blogs the other day, and came across an interesting article on food presentation: The Art of Styling a Dish. The interesting thing was that most of the concepts the author shared about food presentation, could as easily be applied to presentations.

I don’t know about you, but when I go to a restaurant that serves dishes with a nice presentation, I feel like the food tastes better for some reason. The same is true with information, it’s not the same to see information just thrown on a slide, like when I make sloppy joes at home, that when it’s carefully presented, taking care of structure, content and design; the brain feels information  presented with good design “tastes” better, and consumes it more eagerly.

The article stated that when creating nice food design we had to keep in mind:

–          The support

–          The focal point

–          Colors

–          Flavors

–          Textures

–          Decoration

–          The garnish

The support

For food it’s the type of dish you are going to use, for presentations it’s the type of visual aids. We have, for some time now, associated presentations to PowerPoint, but you can use PowerPoint, Prezi, flipcharts or even props for a presentation. Decide which support helps you communicate your message better. The support you choose should enhance your message, not be the message. So even if you choose PowerPoint, don’t use it to hold the whole of your presentation, but to expand or illustrate what you are saying.

The focal point

The main point on each dish, the most important thing on the plate, what you are there to eat; that’s the focal point. Same thing in presentations, when you say you are going to talk about the importance of renewable energies, for example, that is what people expect to hear about.

The audience should not have to dig up you main point, you have to lay it out in front of them. If you are presenting that information on your visual aids don’t clutter the slide, give main points their own slide and explain them in one word or sentence so that people can instantly understand.


Colors are a delicate matter when designing a dish, you don’t want to use too many or inappropriate colors. When deciding on what colors to choose for your presentation always keep it simple. Make sure you have good contrast between your background and font color and choose one power color to draw attention and which will always be the same throughout the presentation

Flavors and Textures

The great thing of a well-designed dish is the mix of flavors and textures; equally a great presentation will have a mix of tones and feelings. As we all know it’s bad to be monotone in a presentation, but this doesn’t only apply to boring tones, it applies to all. Try to combine energetic moments with more solemn ones. When you pump up the energy and show your passion people are impressed and will listen to you, but if you keep that up for the entire presentation they will soon bore of the tone (or believe you are on drugs); on the other hand, when you switch to a quieter, more serious tone, to tell a story for example people are drawn in to what you are saying. The trick is to combine these and other tones in your presentation so that the audience is always engaged.


I love the example of decoration in food, because people don’t decorate a dish with clipart, do they? They use parsley, cherry tomatoes, a lemon slice… What do all of these things have in common? You can eat them. The decoration in your presentation has to be the information itself, something consumable. Don’t add pictures or clipart just for the sake of decoration, but format information to be well designed.

The article says: “the plate must have a balanced and clear appearance”. Think of this when designing your visuals.

The Garnish

That little extra that just gives the dish its character. How do you garnish your presentations? You can give a handout at the end, include a giveaway or even have a little competition. These details transform a simple presentation into an experience.

Photo credit Night Owl City

What you shouldn’t learn from your teachers

Lately I’ve been lucky enough to go to several universities and talk to students on how to make better presentations. The great thing about talking to university students is that most of them have not yet been spoiled by really bad presentations in the business environment. However, they have no examples on how to make good presentations, so they pull from what they see.

After I’ve given my talk trying to inspire them into being creative and presenting their information in more visual ways, as opposed to using a bunch of bullet points, they all ask me: But how do we learn to make good presentations? My answer usually surprises them, but at the same time puts a smile on their faces: Don’t learn from your teachers.

Photo credit Night Owl City

Photo credit Night Owl City

The reasoning is simple: teachers don’t give presentations, they give lectures. Yes, they usually use powerpoint to explain the subject and then distribute it easily to their students, but that is not a presentation. It’s okay to use powerpoint this way, it’s helping structure the ideas, students can print them and take notes and they can study off of them. The thing is that no one ever told the students that these aren’t real presentations. So when they are faced with giving a presentation in class they imitate what they’ve seen and make slides full of bullet points with as much information as they can.

A presentation is not a way to distribute all the information, we have books for that. A presentation is always going to be a summary of main and supporting points, a way to communicate your point of view or introduce something new. However, since students never learn that presentations are not a list of bullet points, but a way to communicate the essential to drive your point, they graduate from university, start working and make the same mistake! Which puts us in the present situation, as Guy Kawasaki says: 99% of presentations suck.

So how can we solve this problem? Communication and public speaking courses should be required courses in every degree if we want to stop wasting time with bad presentations at work. Failing that, don’t learn from your teachers! :)

Here’s a list of resources you can check out to learn how to make better presentations.



My only rule for better presentations

The interesting thing about presentations is that they are totally subjective, although there are some practices that we all dislike when we see a presentation (too much text, background and fonts with little contrast, too many bullet points…), there is no step by step guide on how to make a good presentation.

For those of you who get annoyed at the fact that there are no guides to perfect presentations and those who are curious about how I improved, and still work on improving, my own, here is my only rule: Try something new in each presentation.

The presentation creation process has nothing to do with business and everything to do with design. We all know there are rules for good design, and they should be followed in the creation of each slide and the presentation as a whole; however, there is no guide that can explain step by step how you make a good presentation, since each person’s presentation style and what works for them is different. To make good presentations you need experience to develop an eye for them, to develop a sense of what is a good and a bad presentation. Enter my rule, if you try one new thing in each presentation and watch to see your audience’s response, you can start to identify what things people like in your presentations.

Here is a list of things I included in my presentations and that you can start applying to yours, in no specific order, as I said, this is not a step by step guide:

–          Substitute text for images

–          Use a slide without text

–          Draw attention to the most important word in a sentence by giving it a different color or size

–          Use two different fonts for two different purposes

–          Don’t use bullet points

–          Don’t use slides

–          Ask the audience a question

–          Post your presentation on the internet before you start

–          Give a handout with the most important parts of your presentation or extra information when you finish

–          Draw on a whiteboard while you speak

–          Don’t speak for the first minute of your presentation, just wait until you have everyone’s undivided attention

–          Include a video in your presentation

–          Record yourself presenting

–          Include Charlie Sheen in your presentation somehow (no specific reason, it’s just fun to see how people work around to fit him in, you can always substitute Charlie Sheen for any other ridiculous person you can think of)

–          Put tittles on the bottom of the slide, instead of the top

–          Don’t use your company’s template

–          Use QR codes to guide your audience to more info about the subject


Now I’m going to list a few things I haven’t tried yet, but which are on my list

–          Tweet while I present (not personally, automated)

–          Have a poll for the audience

–          Do my presentation on-line

–          Set a limit to my number of slides (present at Pecha Kucha)

–          Present wearing a hat

–          Use presentation styles more based on text, like Lessig or Takahashi

–          Present in rhyme

These are just some quick ideas, I’m sure there are many I’m leaving out or that will come to me later on. The idea behind changing only one thing is to see what you feel more comfortable with and what your style is without having to change everything in your presentation. If you realize there is some good advice there about things we’ve already talked about, and then there are others that are just for fun. Who said that presenting couldn’t be fun? Experiment and play with you presentation style!

If you try something new or you think about something I left out add it on the comment section.



Tips on how to pitch, the making of (part 2)

This is the second and last part to the post explaining how and why I made the Tips on how to pitch presentation which won the Slideshare contest in the business category. If you missed the first part, where I talk about the why and the concept behind it, read it here.

Now I’ll be talking about the design and some afterthoughts of participating in the contest and winning.


As I mentioned in the previous post the idea that most influenced the design was simplicity. I remember, when I first envisioned the presentation it was going to be full of pictures and almost no text, the first few slides would have looked something like this:



However I felt it was lacking something. This is usually the case when I make presentations, I will go in one direction, pushing ahead, even if I know it’s not the direction I want to go, and at some point I scrub it all and go in a totally different direction; but I need that time of going down the wrong path to realize what it is that doesn’t work.

I always sketch my slides out on paper before I start making them on the computer, so I had almost the whole presentation down on paper, with a few sketches here and there of pictures I wanted to put in. And then it hit me, those sketches were much more simplistic and gave the feel that the pictures didn’t! Also, as I said earlier, the main idea was to give a few tips that could help people when preparing a pitch, not be a guide of dos and don’ts (which I hate), so I liked that unfinished feel I got from the sketches, it was something that people could build on and perfect.

However, most of the sketches you see in the presentation are not my own. I can make simple drawings like the chart (that one is mine), but most of them were done by my very talented girlfriend, Maite (a huge thanks to her from here!). Others are stock images that I adapted to look like sketches.

There is a comment I heard a few times which was that the graph was not very clear; which is a real shame, because I felt it was one of the most important parts of the presentation and I showed it step by step to ensure it would be understood. So I want to do my last effort to explain what I meant by it: The idea I was trying to convey is that a pitch should have 3 distinct depths or parts, where each unfolds from the previous. That way, depending on how much time you have, you would focus on the most important part.

The first is well known, the elevator pitch; if you happen to find yourself in an elevator with an important VC you would have the time it takes the elevator to get to his floor to make him interested in your project. That’s why I said it’s 30 – 45 seconds and you can basically talk about what is the problem/pain that your product/service alleviates. The support part, on the top of the graph, was trying to give you an idea of what type of support for your message you could use; in this case, a business card if you’re lucky.

The second part of the pitch would expand on what you explained in your elevator pitch or introduction. Let’s say 5 minutes more or less, where you could go into more detail about your idea and use something like an iPad to show some slides (or a whiteboard/pen and paper if you’re good at sketching out your idea).

Finally, a normal pitch, where you go to speak in front of a panel of VCs, something that should last around 20 minutes would use both parts mentioned earlier, plus go into detail of how it works (aka business model). For this you would use your slides and a projector.

The idea is not that the business model or other details are least important; it is to hook your audience so that they actually want to hear more. I hope this clears up any doubts people may have had.


Participating in the contest was great! I followed my presentation every day and saw it go from page 20 to page 1 in 3 weeks, which was amazing. I hoped it would win, of course, but never thought I had a real shot, since, like I said before, I was one of the late entries.

The best part, however, was not winning, it was seeing all the comments and encouragement I got from people all over the planet I didn’t know. People were tweeting, posting on their blogs and sharing something I created and that felt incredible.

Best presentation of the world 2011, here I come!

Byron Stanford for Project Presentation

Tips on how to pitch, the making of (part 1)

Over the next two posts I’m going to talk about the process of creation behind the presentation Tips on how to pitch, which won Slideshare’s Best Presentation of the World contest in the Business category. Feel free to comment or ask any question!


The idea for creating the presentation was just to give a few pointers to the teams at the Tetuan Valley Startup School (you can read about my experience participating with them, here). During their last session I was helping out the teams with their decks and how they were presenting their message. By the end of the course, the teams (for the most part) had their concepts down and their ideas ready. This is the main reason why the presentation focuses only on the more technical part of the pitch, whereas I left the preparation and message stage out. If there is anything that I should mention now about that stage it would be that each pitch has to focus and identify the underlying concept of your product or service. There is an interesting article from the New York Times by Winston J. Perez that talks about this, read it here.

So, after I decided to create the presentation I learned about Slideshare’s contest and thought: why not enter the presentation? I didn’t have time to make a separate presentation for the contest or to expand on this one; I actually missed the deadline for submission. The only reason I got in was because they extended the dates. But I was late to the game and never thought I could get enough votes to be in with the finalists. Much to my surprise, I was wrong.

The concept:

As I explained, the presentation was intended for a specific group of people who had similar problems with their pitches; this is why I focused on these points and not others. If you read Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start or other books/articles that speak on the matter, you’ll find many other important parts of the pitch.

What I was most concerned about was to convey that simplicity was key. Most of the pitches I was seeing were very detailed and tedious; they lost the audience after a few slides. This idea of simplicity was mainly what influenced my choice in design, but I’ll expand on that later.

One of the main problems I found the teams to have was that when it was their turn to present their projects, they would introduce themselves and give their elevator pitch, then pause and say something like “ok, here’s our pitch”. I thought that they were missing the point of the pitch entirely, so I wanted to stress the importance of the structure. They should start with their elevator pitch and let that unfold into the rest of the pitch, instead of treating them as separate things. The elevator pitch is intended to capture the attention of the possible investor in under a minute, and that is what the introduction to a presentation should do as well. Then the rest of the information builds gradually on that intro. That’s where I got the idea for the graph at the end of the presentation.

Another major part of the presentation, the exercise part, Exercise pitchingcame from a comment one of the participants at the Startup School made, he said he didn’t like the pitching part of doing business, he didn’t think it was necessary or efficient. This shocked me, since his project obviously needed funding and most certainly would have to be pitched to customers. This made me realize that this person, and maybe others, was not realizing that pitching is everywhere in business. I really liked a comment I received by a blogger’s review of my presentation, which said that all of what was stated in the presentation could be used for a job interview, asking for a raise or even convincing your wife about getting that new car. That’s exactly why I put in the pen exercise, it was meant to make the audience realize that pitching is important, but most of all it’s not hard or intricate, they’ve been doing it all their life.

So, in short, the idea was to create a presentation that would express that a pitch is something simple, useful, not hard to do, and which should flow as if it were a normal conversation and not just a script you’re reciting. The next stage after I had the main point was to create the design for the presentation. I’ll tell you about it and other conclusions in the next post.

Until next time,

Byron Stanford for Project Presentation.