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From the perspective of a Ph.D. student, how much of an added value is it to have your own presentation slides layout, that is used consistently throughout your Ph.D. conference presentations and other talks (and possibly throughout your academic career afterwards)?

Here is one such example from the Computer Science community.

This as as opposed to using existing Beamer templates with LaTeX, or built-in PowerPoint templates, or simply preparing each presentation on its own (without a specific layout).

A couple of axes I can think along:

  1. Creating a signature layout that distinguishes one in their community
  2. Ease of preparation of presentations (especially over time), maybe overcoming constraints with existing templates.

Note that I am not concerned with the question of content, but just design and layout.

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Is the reason for using your own layout that there is something you don't like about the existing templates? Or just to have a distinctive look? –  ff524 Jul 13 at 13:59
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I have certainly noticed when someone's presentation has been particularly well laid out, and they will probably have gone through several iterations to reach that level. Using the same design over and over again can certainly help you perfect a design, but I don't think anyone will know that you are being consistent (this is what you were asking). Furthermore, nobody is using transparencies anymore: Perfecting your LaTeX/Beamer skills might quickly become obsolete with HTML5 based, more interactive, presentation methods. This said, in industry, though, having consistent presentations is key. –  amlrg Jul 13 at 18:43
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I'd say there's value in creating a template and style to stick to, but I wouldn't focus on making it distinctive. Instead, focus on making it good, clean, and clear. There are lots of easy mistakes to make when you're preparing a presentation, and having a good, well-designed style in advance can avoid them if you stick to it rigorously. –  Aesin Jul 13 at 21:51
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Also note that some departments or universities require you to use their own template. In Sweden, you can immediately spot KI (the medical university) for their plum coloured banners in posters and presentations. –  Davidmh Jul 14 at 12:03
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I disagree with some of the responses saying that if people notice your design, then your science must be weak or it must be a bad design. When I see a nicely formatted table (e.g. clear fonts, legible footnote, lighter table grids, etc.,) I would appreciate the speaker's effort. Instead of it being a "signature" or not, I'd focus on just one question: does the format/design enhance the expression or understanding the contents? If yes, then go ahead and add that into your repertoire. Science and design do not have to be in a constant tug-a-war. –  Penguin_Knight Jul 14 at 14:39
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8 Answers 8

I don't think there's any inherent value in having your own "signature" presentation layout.

Generally, you want to keep the focus on the content of your talk. If people are noticing your layout, they are paying less attention to your science. Would you rather stick in their minds as "the speaker with the cool result" or "the speaker with all those weird colors on their slides"?

If you really dislike the usual templates, or you can make your own workflow more efficient by creating your own, then go ahead and do it. But I would suggest keeping your (visible) changes conservative; if your layout is radically different from what people are used to seeing, it may become distracting.

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If people are noticing your layout (to the extent that it’s distracting them from the talk), it’s simply a bad layout. –  Wrzlprmft Jul 13 at 18:56
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Why would having your own "signature" layout result in people thing they have "all those weird colours"? Is it not possible to have a signature layout that is appealing to the eyes? What if people said "Look at that speaker with the cool results and they have these great slides they use all the time". –  Behacad Jul 14 at 15:21
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If you are presenting in a classroom it is an advantage to have same templates because students do not prefer to see a new template each session. But in the conferences the audience is not aware you are always using the same template. The only thing he sees is the content you are presenting. Moreover, some conferences have their own template and all the speakers have to use the conference template not their own.

P.S. If you have the best designed slides and you have nothing to talk about, your audience will get bored soon.

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Using the conference template, if there is one, is important. However, if people at conferences are interested enough in your work to look up your past publications and conferences, they may very well be exposed a number of presentations, and consistency might be beneficial. Now that so many venues have wireless, people might look at your past presentations while you're presenting. –  Joshua Taylor Jul 14 at 17:54
    
Even at the conferences, people are looking for his past publications and contents, not comparing his template styles. But you are right, if audience compare his slides, they may say that how neat his slides are, nothing more. I can not find what extra is delivered to the audience by these unique presentation slides. –  Parsa Jul 14 at 19:22
    
The content is the important part, but, , if the formatting for critical assumptions in one presentation is the same as important result in another, it more easily leads to confusion. Consistent formatting might, e.g., have "key assumptions" on a pale yellow background, "research methods" on a pale blue, and "important results" on pale green. People might not be consciously aware of the formatting styles, but it still helps for a consistent experience. We see that in textbooks, where authors use margin icons to highlight certain points, and don't switch icon sets between chapters. –  Joshua Taylor Jul 14 at 20:03
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I have seen presentations from famous professors that were only white background with a black colored font; Nothing more. Those persistent presentation slide layouts seems to be efficient while presenting in a classrooms where the lecturer wants to teach something to the students and wants his slides to be efficient. In a conference presentation where the paper itself is more alluring to the audience, "persistent layout" worth nothing to the clever audience who doesn't care about the fonts and colors of a 15 minute talk. –  Parsa Jul 14 at 20:42
    
Sitting in a seminar, the audience goes directly to the title of each slide page and they may not bother themselves to remember which color was for which topic. –  Parsa Jul 14 at 20:44
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First of all, I do not think that having a signature layout is any good for its own sake. In most fields, few people (apart from your workgroup) will attend more than one of your talks and even those who will, will likely not notice the consistency of your layout¹ – unless it’s particularly memorable, which is almost certainly not a good thing². And even if somebody notices, they will likely (and hopefully) value the quality of your design more, let alone the quality of your content.

Considering the required work, there are two aspects: (1) Creating (or choosing) a layout and (2) Using the layout throughout your presentations.

Aspect 1 takes a few hours, if you are sufficiently apt with your presentation program (and it does not suck) and know some basics of graphic design (which I suppose you do, if you are asking such a question). Mostly it’s selecting a colour scheme, one or two fonts and a default arrangement of your slides and realising them in your presentation program and in the programs you use to generate your figures. Regarding the constraints of existing templates, remember that (unless your problems are very individual) if no templates are the way you want them, it is very likely that you should be careful what you are wishing for. Also beware that the fact that you have to rely on (usually unknown) projectors imposes some constraints on your font and colour selections.

Aspect 2 will usually save you some time, whether you are using a prebuilt design or your own: For example, you are very likely to reuse some material – in particular figures. And if you care about your slides being consistent (which I suppose you do), you avoid spending some time in adapting colour schemes, for example. In particular, there is usually no benefit in switching designs.

From personal experience, I have spent some time in working out a design and have not regretted it yet.

¹ Just think about, how few people give horribly designed presentations and thus can be assumed not even to notice the flaws in their own presentations, let alone the qualities of your’s.
² As you should not notice good design that much.

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Yes. If you're like me you'll never like everything about a standard layout, and you want your tools to disappear as quickly as possible when creating content. Noticing something in your slides that you want to change (bullet type, or title colour, or whatever) is the easiest way to get distracted from doing so.

Having a standard layout for your own work means you have to spend the least amount of time worrying about the formatting.

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I see pros and cons; which ends up winning out depends on your skill mix.

First - designing a good layout takes effort and expertise. Graphics designers study many years to get good at it. Just because tools are provided to make it easy doesn't mean everyone is suddenly a graphical designer. The right blend of colors, fonts, space etc is not an easy thing to achieve. 99% of "I can do better" layouts look horrid.

Having said that, I have at times come across layouts that made me go "wow". This is where the layout really supported the flow of the presentation, and while I was not getting distracted by the details, I came away more impressed. This was mostly because the presentation itself was very good - the contents were impressive, the speaker was very clear, and the layout of the presentation supported the spoken words.

In those cases, the personal layout was the icing on the cake - not a substitute for good work. There is a lot you can do to improve your presentation without spending any time on the layout. Fiddling with layouts (like fiddling with LaTex) can become an easy distraction from the real issues with your presentation. I urge you to consider whether your interest in the "look" is coming at the right time: in other words, is every other aspect of your presentation skills (content, pacing, connecting with the audience) so good that layout is the only thing left to play with?

If the answer is "yes", then my answer to your question is "yes". Otherwise, I think it's a bit early to work on creating your brand through a custom layout. Many people in the scientific community - especially at the PhD level - could do with honing their presentation skills. They could learn not to confuse slides with notes. They could learn to connect with their audience. They could learn to speak at an appropriate pace, and project their voice. They could learn to focus on the essentials and not bombard the audience with details. They could learn to use slides as visual aids - not "the main course" of the presentation.

While I don't know you or your skills, I would say that I have statistics (based on 25+ years of empirical evidence) on my side when I answer "probably not" to your original title question.

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Standardising layouts have three advantages:

  1. You can reuse slides across presentation without changing the styling.

  2. When you create presentations, you don't need to think about styling; the templates are already set up for you.

  3. Creating templates and styling can be delegated to someone with design skills, and everyone else gets to use them.

The first two points are applicable whether you have your own signature style, or you follow a team or corporate style.

The last point is different. In theory, having a corporate style is a really good idea because everyone gets the benefit of using templates created by the design genius in the marketing department. In practice, corporate templates are almost universally awful.

So, if a corporate template exists, and you are lucky enough to like it, then use that. There's no point in reinventing the wheel.

If there is no template, or it is dreadful, then create one for yourself and stick to that.

Either way, you don't want to have to keep deciding on new fonts to use for every presentation that you make.

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I always appreciate when someone cares about their presentation. There are some things that are just inexcusable (e.g., tables that are left aligned on one slide and centered on another), and make you look lazy, so to the extent a consistent template would mitigate those then it can't hurt.

My presentations tend to look the same and stand out against my peers. I do all of my writing in Markdown, analyses in R, and create dynamic presentations with some available R packages. Therefore, all of my graphs tend to have a style (ggplot2), tables look the same in HTML, fonts (and related consistencies between headings and body text) work together nicely. It's not just about the style of the presentation, as I know a few people who give presentations and have a very distinctive voice in their text, and a welcomed minimalism in slide content.

I never thought too much about it, but I do have a "style" or "brand" in my presentations that most people who have met me and seen me present a few times recognize as clearly a presentation I crafted. However, this "brand" is really just me using a specific set of tools that most people don't use. What's the standard for most fields? Unfortunately Powerpoint, and some use the Mac Office Suite, while a few others use Prezi (and most use that tool poorly).

There's a range of tools out there that you can utilize that might help develop a consistent "style" for you, but also will help to vastly improve your workflow, and also make your scholarship better (i.e., tools with an emphasis on reproducibility).

Whatever you do just do it well and make sure it works for you and our audiences.

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What you're describing in your question is called good branding.

Branding is a major part of marketing, as it allows companies to craft a particular image for consumers. It's important for brands to be distinguished from one another, and focus on a target audience, which is why you've probably heard of brands such as "Arm & Hammer" and "Oxi Clean", but probably don't know "Church & Dwight" which owns both of those brands.

Establishing a brand takes a lot of time and effort, and is difficult to measure. How can you objectively tell whether a sponsor chose to give you money because they liked your science or because they trusted your brand? It's always a mix, but it's important to remember that good branding will help open doors that otherwise would have been closed to you.

If you approach your presentations as part of your brand (which they are) then any marketer will tell you how important it is to have a clear consistent message. Simply using a consistent theme for presentation material, business cards, and any and all academic communication is one way to develop your brand. That way, when someone watches your presentation it might remind them of the friendly email that you sent.

The contents of your presentations is certainly important, and I think the other answers speak to that a great deal, so I'm going to explicitly ignore the contents of your presentation beyond a reminder that if your presentation is good, it will help your brand, and if your presentation is bad, it will harm your brand.

I highly recommend discussing your brand with a marketer or designer and investing in yourself.

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