Get out of your slide design comfort zone by doing a slide makeover for someone else


Have you noticed how it's usually easier to edit someone else's manuscript or paper than it is to edit your own? How you're able to spot inconsistencies or missing connections when you're reading your colleague's draft, but have a "how did I miss that?!" moment when they do the same for you.

That's why editing others' work can improve your own writing. There is something about reading someone else's work that gives you new skills and insight, which you can take back to your manuscript.

Given that this is a blog about presentation design, you probably already know the point I'm about to make next: doing slide design makeovers on someone else's skills can improve your own presentation design skills.

The funny thing is, I didn't realize that until recently, when I did my slide makeover series for my YouTube channel. When I first asked my Communication Cafe members (aka my super cool email list subscribers) to submit their slides for video makeovers, I was just looking for ways to create engaging content for you all.


I created a playlist of these slide makeovers. You can watch them on my YouTube channel. 

When I actually did the makeovers...I realized that I was challenged in new ways. Having to design slides for topics that I had no background in (and didn't even understand) was a challenge, and it forced me to think out of the box and problem solve in new ways that I don't encounter in my own slides. And not because I don't encounter problems when I design my own slides -- I do.

But, my own slides are my comfort zone. Doing a slide makeover for someone else pushed me out of my comfort zone and, ultimately, my design skills improved as a result. Plus, it was a LOT of fun.

Fun + Skills Development = New idea for my BOSS students!

If I benefited from doing these slide makeovers, I started to wonder if my BOSS students would benefit from them, too.

BOSS (Blast Off to Stellar Slides) is my comprehensive online professional development course that trains women academics, scientists, evaluators, and researchers how to storyboard, design, and deliver presentations that make an impact. There are different options for students, and one of them includes a private community of kick ass researchers/evaluators (yes, I'm biased. My students are awesome) and group coaching calls.

For the last cohort, I pitched an idea: What if BOSS students submitted their slides and I distributed them, and another student did a makeover. Then, during the group call, each student unveiled their makeover. It seemed promising so we went for it.

Last week was our group call and I LOVED what they did. I, the "Professional" Instructor was basically like:


I mean, I was already pretty loopy considering I had just completed a 16.5 hour drive from Chicago to Denver the night before and had gotten no sleep in two days....but still. There is honestly nothing better than seeing your students apply the lessons they've learned, and running with them to make it their own. Profs & instructors: You know what I'm talking about here.

I loved the makeovers so much that I sent an email asking for permission to share their work in a blog post, and invited them to share a short reflection on the activity and whether they found it helpful. They are both awesome (for many reasons) and agreed. Here are those makeovers. 

Student Makeover #1: Dr. Kathryn Klement


Dr. Klement did a makeover of Dr. Jen de Beyer's slide. Here is the original slide:

Jen (1).png


And here is what Dr. Klement did!


Fabulous! Instead of using numbers for each of the topics, Dr. Klement found and used icons. And can I just say -- those icons are spot on. That wittle piggy? SO CUTE! And she did all this in about 20 minutes. Can we all applaud her ability to find 4 perfect icons (and redesign a slide) in that amount of time? I literally had to create a whole workflow system because I spent H-O-U-R-S searching for the perfect visuals. 

Well done!

Dr. Klement's Reflection: 

"I really enjoyed doing the slide makeover, for several reasons. First, it was nice to work on things I hadn't been staring at and/or contemplating for a long time. Variety is always nice. Second, it was a good opportunity for me to put what I've learned through BOSS to use. I chose to go simple and use icons as visuals. (I really, really like icons.) Third, it was great to get my own madeover slides. Seeing my work through someone else's eyes helped me see where I could be more flexible and innovative in other areas of my work. This is also one of the benefits of the BOSS community: having a whole group of people offering constructive suggestions and a new perspective. I can't wait to do another one!"

Student Makeover #2: Dr. Jennifer de Beyer

Dr. de Beyer did a makeover of Dr. Klement's slide and here's that original.





Do you SEE that icon for "personality" she found?! I almost fell out of my chair when she revealed it, how perfect is that!? And those new photos work perfectly with the topic. Also, she has a skill for choosing beautiful colors. Why do my purple choices never look that good? I should probably disclose that whereas Dr. Klement followed the time limit rule (15-20 min), Dr. de Beyer did... not -- lol, she went a bit over time :)

Whatever. This is fabulous! 

Oh, and as usual, these static images don't show the full power of these slides. Dr. de Beyer also set up animations so that the audience could be walked through the material. The Communication Cafe members received a special .gif of those animations in the email sent to them about this blog post. Sign up for the Communication Cafe to make sure you get special insights (plus other goodies) like this! 

Dr. de Beyer's Reflection:

"I had a blast doing the makeover! Usually I stay within my colour scheme and style guide, as all of my slides need to work as part of one big set, so I don't often get the chance to start completely from scratch with the overall design feel. Working on slides for a different subject area was a healthy stretch - I'd gotten a bit lazy with my own slides, using the same techniques and images over and over that I knew worked. With a new area, I had to start thinking from the beginning of what would work for conveying this kind of information and would support a different lecture style to my own. Kathryn used an X+Y=Z formula in her slide, which doesn't really come up in my teaching. Turns out she uses this format often in her teaching, so supporting it in the design and not just doing things the way I would normally was important! This all pushed me to be more creative and to come up with some new design solutions....Now I want to try this myself!

Often with my own slides, I'll leave a really cluttered or boring slide for now because I can't think of a perfect design solution, and there are so many other slides that I feel like my time is better spent designing each slide once. We got away from that 'perfect is the enemy of the good' problem here. We weren't aiming to give each other a polished product, more a suggestion of what could work with our subjects. So I could run with an idea and not worry too much if the execution wasn't perfect. I still spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for the perfect lion photo - but when I didn't find it, I could just whack in the closest I could find and be done. With my own slides, I'd still be hunting right now!"

The Power of a Community

I am so impressed with these makeovers, and love that they show two sides of presentation design.

Dr. Klement showed us what's possible in a fast makeover, and Dr. de Beyer showed us what's possible when you put a lot of time into it.

Either way, it's pretty clear that both of the "after" versions are the type of slides that will be more likely to resonate with an audience compared to the "before." Well done, BOSSes!

And an unexpected insight of this whole experience that this highlighted for me was the power of a community. I've heard from others how a significant barrier for them is that they have no one to really bounce ideas off of when it comes to working on their presentations. This is particularly a challenge for scientists and researchers, who want to make sure they aren't "dumbing it down" but also aren't only speaking in lingo or getting bogged down in the detail. Balancing that line is difficult as is, but impossible to do without another person's perspective. 

Working with others, sharing ideas with others brings in fresh perspectives. Those fresh perspectives help us check our assumptions, combat imposter syndrome, and ultimately help us deliver a better message. That was the dream I had when I established the BOSS community, and I'm working on creating more opportunities like this for folks. The Communication Cafe members will be the first to hear about these opportunities, so be sure to join if you aren't already on my email list! 

Thanks for reading!

with joy,
Dr. Echo Rivera