Monday, January 05, 2009

A lesson from cracking peppercorns

On New Year’s Eve we had some friends over for dinner and we made a recipe that included cracking peppercorns. In the instructions, it said to use a mortar and pestle. We don’t have one, so it offered an alternative – put the peppercorns in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. I set it up and asked our 10 year old daughter to complete the task. She struggled for about 10 minutes and asked me to take over because it was so difficult. I started and found that it was indeed a hard task. Then a simpler idea dawned on me. I went down to the work room and got my hammer. In short order the job was finished.

What does this have to do with our presentation slides? Too often we think we need to use fancy techniques or tools. Using fancy graphics software and having a design degree would be equivalent to using a mortar and pestle in the peppercorn story. When we don’t have the tools or background, we try to use the tools we do have in PowerPoint, the rolling pin in the story, but sometimes that is hard as well. The lesson is that sometimes we need to step back and think of the simplest way to accomplish the task, whether that is getting our key point across or crushing the peppercorns with a hammer.

What are some simple ways to get our point across? Use a simple diagram or picture instead of trying to create a design masterpiece. Use a pre-designed vector graphic from a site like istockphoto instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a custom illustration. Or use a pre-made slide like those in my Content Templates ( All ways that you can get your point across in a simple, effective way without needing fancy tools or knowledge.

You should certainly improve your knowledge of how to create visuals in PowerPoint if you want to take your slides to the next level (see for some short training videos). But many times there are simple ways to include visuals that don’t involve complex work or specialized knowledge.


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