Working from home is the new normal. And will be for some time. Yes, most states are re-opening after strict lock downs in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. But your staff may be worried about returning to the office full time. And the experts may be right: a second wave of the virus in the Fall could send us all back home.Besides, working from home can make your team more productive. Even when you don’t have to, you may want to have your team work remotely, at least part-time.
Managing remote workers can be a challenge. There are best practices, however. The folks at Staples, through Staples Connect, have gathered a number of helpful articles on remote work. One is aptly titled, Lessons Learned in Remote Team Management. The key takeaways include:
- Keep your team aligned.
- Show the work.
- Maintain the sense of team.
- Make quick decisions with clear directions.
- Look after your employees.
- Celebrate wins.
The full article is well worth your time.
One thing the article does not mention, but I would be remiss to ignore, is to provide your team with the right tools they need. For insurance agencies, that means the right software. You know, software like, NextAgency. NextAgency is an agency management system for life and health agents. We help you and your team stay aligned and organized. We also provide CRM, marketing and commission management tools.
Implementing best practices and using NextAgency can help your agency thrive no matter what the future holds.
Last month my California Broker column (and blog post) offered advice on how to make better PowerPoint slides. That column focused on what to say; in the March issue I addressed design issues. This version of the article has been changed slightly from what was published in the magazine. Please let me know if you find these articles helpful.
Like last month’s article, this is for those of you who use slides when giving presentations. Good slides can enhance your talk. Bad ones can undermine it. For the sake of your audience, strive to have good ones. Enough said? Nope…
February’s article focused on the content of your slides. This month is about design. Because you can have slides with the perfect message, but if your audience can’t easily read that message, then little will be communicated.
As confessed last month. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject. I simply have a lot of experience using and viewing slides and I’ve done some studying about them.
One of the most reassuring things I’ve learned is that you don’t need to be a professional designer to create good looking slides. There are simple rules to making effective slides. A very thorough and useful resource on basic slide design is The Non-Designer’s Presentation Book by Robin Williams (no, not that Robin Williams).
Here’s some simple ways to make your slides look good that I’ve gleaned from Dr. Williams and others.
- Fonts. Your audience should be able to read your slides without squinting. Even from the back of the room. Sounds obvious, but this rule is the most frequently broken. By using fewer words per slide (see last month’s article) you’ll have the space to use a larger-sized font. I’ve found fonts of between 28 and 32 to be the most effective. Larger is good, too; smaller, not so much.
Which font you use also matters. Use something basic and easy to read at a distance. I recommend sans serif fonts. These are the ones without the doohickeys on each letter. Arial and Calibri are examples of sans serif fonts. Times Roman is a serif font. Not all fonts are created equal, however. Comic Sans is an example of a sans serif font that is tough to read and looks a bit silly. Avoid cursive and stick to something straightforward.
- Contrast. Your audience is there to learn something. Or be entertained or motivated. They’re not there to play Where’s Waldo. Using text that blends into the background is unkind. Make sure your message stands out. Literally.
Using contrast is much easier if you avoid busy backgrounds. Pretty flowers or abstract art has their places, just not on your slides. Stick to solid backgrounds. If you need to get fancy, add a subtle gradient.
- Dark or Light? Contrast is important because it reduces the strain your audience has when reading your slides. Whether you use a dark or light background can make a big difference.
If you’re printing out your slides, a light background is best. When your slides are projected on a screen, however, studies show a dark background with a light font is easier on the eyes. You can test this yourself. Create two identical slides. One with black letters on a white background; the other with white letters on a black background. Switch back and forth. You’ll probably find it is easier to read the slide with the dark background.
Don’t feel locked into black-and-white, however. Using color can add personality to your slides. Just remember to use a background dark enough to make the font color you choose pop. It’s all about the contrast.
- Avoid Clutter. Your audience should be able to glance at your slide and immediately see your message. Don’t make them hunt for it. As noted below, this may mean using more slides. It also means eliminating unnecessary elements. Like your logo.
Your audience heard your introduction. They know who you work for. They don’t need to see your logo on every slide. If they do, they’ll begin to ignore it when they’re not irritated by it.
Instead, limit your logo to the title and the end slide. Your audience sees the title slide while you’re being introduced. They’ll see the end slide (as discussed last month) while you’re answering questions and leaving the stage.
Another way to avoid clutter: eliminate slide titles. Your audience is listening to you. They can hear what you’re talking about. Like a ubiquitous logo, the title on a slide can get in the way.
I confess I rarely follow this rule. I recognize it’s worth, though. Slides without titles look “cleaner.” But habits, including bad ones, die hard. I do deemphasize the slide title, however, by using a smaller font with less contrast than the font I use for the body of the slide text.
- Slides are Free. It’s better to use too many slides than too few. If you have a long list, break them out across multiple slides. I once saw a slide with 27 bullet points. No one could read them (few wanted to). I’ve found three-to-five points per slide is about right. This enables you to keep the font at the right size so it’s legible in the back of the room. And it’s easier for the audience to grasp a list of three than of, say, 27. And did I mention slides are free?
- Alignment: If you have multiple images or text boxes on one slide, align them. All this means is that visual elements (including boxes of text) line-up in some way. For example, if you have a picture and alongside it some text, don’t center the text alongside the picture. Instead, pretend there’s a line extending from the bottom of the picture and have the text rest there. Or if you have two pictures, hang them along a shared imaginary line. (Dr. Williams’ book does an especially good job of showing how to align slide elements).
Alignment gives your slide a clean, strong look. This makes them easier to quickly read or understand. It also subtly demonstrates that you’ve paid attention to how your slides look. That’s because you have. And if you care about how your slides look, your audience will, too.
Remember, no one attends a meeting or webinar to read or to applaud your design skills. They come to hear you and your message. Make sure the focus stays on you. That means using slides that support your message and avoiding those that get in its way.
I’ve offered some guidelines for doing that. None are hard and fast rules (except for not reading your slides verbatim as you present). Use the tips as you like.
I hope I conveyed that it’s just as easy to create good slides as bad ones. It’s just kinder to your audience – and more effective for you – to make good ones.
Alan Katz is a co-founder of NextAgency, an agency management system with CRM, marketing and commission tools for life and health agencies. Alan is a past president of NAHU and CAHU. He is a nationally known speaker on sales, marketing, business planning, and health care reform. Alan is the author of Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, available through Amazon. Follow Alan on Twitter (@AlanSKatz), connect on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/alankatz44) and contact him at AlanKatz@NextAgency.com.
One benefit of writing a monthly column for California Broker magazine is that I get to address pet peeves. In the February issue, my column, offered advice on how to create better PowerPoint slides. Clearly, I’ve attended — and given — way too many speeches. Part 2 will be published in March . This version is slightly altered from the magazine version.
Powerful Presentations for Your Audience’s Sake. Part I
Do you give speeches? Maybe at carrier or GA product seminar? Or at association events? Do you use seminar marketing? If so, you probably use PowerPoint (or its Mac cousin, Keynote) and this article is addressed to you.
It’s written for your audience, however. Because sitting through presentations with lousy slides can be painful.
PowerPoint can turn an interesting speech into nap time. This isn’t the software’s fault. Like splitting the atom, presentation software can be used for good or evil. Slides can generate tremendous energy or radioactive tedium. If you use slides, for your audience’s sake, please use them wisely.
It’s About You
I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations. And I’ve given hundreds, too. This doesn’t make me an expert on public speaking, but it does make me experienced. Plus, I’ve spent time researching what makes good slides. In this article (about content) and next month’s (on design), I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. Full disclosure: I may not always follow these rules myself, but I know I should.
In reading this advice, please remember that you are the presentation. The audience wants to hear you talk about your products and services. Otherwise they could stay home and read brochures.
Slides can help you deliver your message, but they are not the focus of your presentation. They can provide context and underscore key points. They should never distract. Slides should be something your audience glances at, quickly comprehends, and then returns their rapt attention to you.
Don’t Read Them. Your slides are not a script. That’s what notes are for. Reading your slides is a crime against humanity, at least the slice of humanity sitting in front of you. There’s a place in hell reserved for slide readers, right next to those who talk during movies and recline their seats on airplanes.
Your audience can read silently faster than you can read out loud. Once an audience sees you reading slides, you’ve lost them. They’ll read the slides for themselves. And then they’ll check their email.
There is an exception to this “no reading” rule. If you’re not reading every slide, when you do read one it can capture the audience’s attention in a very powerful way. I make use of this exception during talks based on my book, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success. During that presentation I define sales professionalism. An agent surveyed for the book did a great job of describing the term. My slide shows his entire quote and I read it. As a result, the definition stands out. Because it stands out, the definition is more memorable. Use restraint when applying this exception, however. Read more than a few slides, and it’s back to the emails.
Slides Aren’t Handouts. As noted, slides can provide context and emphasis. However, what if you want to use the slides as something your audience can take with them to keep your message fresh?
Don’t. That’s not what slides are for. Flyers and brochures are for handing out. Links to articles and blog posts are for sharing. Slides are for supporting your presentation. Use the right tool for the right job. This requires a bit more effort on your part, but you’ll be much more effective as a result.
Sentences Are Unnecessary. You should talk in complete sentences. Your slides don’t have to. The audience should be able to glance at the slide, glean its meaning and return their attention to you (the star of the show).
This makes complete sentences counterproductive, with a few exceptions. For example, if you’re quoting someone, you want may need to provide the entire quote. Although there’s a reason they invented ellipses.
At first you may find it uncomfortable to not use complete sentences on your slides. Sentences can be reassuring. They tell you what to say. But you’ll also be tempted to read them. And that, as we’ve discussed, is unacceptable.
Phrases are friend. They too can remind you what to say. And they’re easier for your audience to read. Sometimes just a word or two can be powerful. In my health care reform presentation, I explain why brokers should not worry too much about proposals like Medicare for All. I could write out the reasons in cogent sentences. But that would transfer attention from me to the slides.
Instead, I explain the reasons and borrow a couple of reassuring words from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Don’t Panic”. That’s all the slide contains, two words: “Don’t Panic.” This not only underscores my message, it’s somewhat comforting.
Watch Your Words
Words Can Be Unnecessary. Sometimes you don’t need any words. Instead of telling your audience something, you can show them. Discussing what’s happening in Washington, D.C.? A picture of the Capitol or the White House provides context. Talking about impending danger from bad policy making? Use a picture of a tidal wave or an avalanche to underscore your message.
Pictures can also add a bit of humor to your message without distracting from what you’re saying. For example, when talking about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., use the avalanche picture. Your audience will get the point. They may even chuckle.
Finding the right picture is easy. Free images can be found on the web and stock photos are available for very little cost. It’s worth taking some time to search for the right “thousand words” picture.
Graphs can be effective, too. Just make sure you attribute them and that they can be read in the back of the room. If you have to apologize for how small the graph is, don’t use it.
Title and Closing Slides. You’re most likely being introduced before you approach the podium. A title slide with your topic and your name is good to have on the screen during this time. If it also includes your company’s name and logo, even better (more on logos next month).
And there’s no need for a slide at the end that reads “Questions?” You’ll tell your audience when it’s time for questions. Instead, your last slide should be a near duplicate of the title slide. This end slide, however, should include your contact information. After all, they came to hear you. Use this slide to help them follow-up with you.
Your slides need to have the right context. They also need to be legible. That’s where good design can help. And that’s next month’s topic.
Alan Katz is one of Cal Broker’s 2020 editorial advisors. He’ll be writing monthly about marketing and sales growth as well as health care reform. Katz is a co-founder of Take 44, Inc., the company behind NextAgency, an agency management system for life and health agencies. He is a past president of NAHU, was a senior vice president at WellPoint and general manager of the general agency Centerstone. Katz also served as chief of staff to California’s Lieutenant Governor and on the Santa Monica City Council. You can follow him on Twitter (@AlanSKatz) and contact him at Alan@Take44.com.