Here are some complaints I hear frequently from presentation designers:
“Typically, when I craft a presentation that is effective and visually appealing clients complain that I take too long.”
“When I am faithful to a specific budget, viewers say that it was no fun having to view all the slides, occasionally having to pinch themselves to stay awake.”
“When I develop a presentation on time, clients complain that it cost them too much money to meet the deadline.”
What does it take to complete a successful presentation ? By corporate standards, you can be certain that you have created an outstanding presentation when you used a well-defined process that enabled you to:
- Finish on schedule
- Within the anticipated cost
- At the quality required by your clients
- While effectively using your assigned resources (i.e., money, people, and technology).
If you know anyone who is doing all of this well, call me.
Multiple Presentation Hats
Seriously speaking, given today’s stern economic conditions, I am assuming that many of you are wearing design and project management hats. How do you approach this challenge, especially if you handle the design of complex presentations which include different people with different temperaments, schedules and the right to be wrong?
Your first responsibility as the manager of a complex presentation project must be to ensure that you have control over at least one of the three sides of the triangle shown in Figure 1. This is the most important piece of advice in this post.
Figure 1. Components of a successful presentation
Visualize your clients holding the sides they wish to control. Your responsibility is to tell them what must be done to balance the triangle. For instance, if clients wish to control the quality and cost, then you must be given full responsibility for the schedule. If they are holding the quality side, then you can make recommendations for the cost and time. If your clients give you a fixed schedule, a fixed timeline, and fixed specifications for quality, it will be close to impossible to finish the project well and sane.
In this post, let’s look only at the time element in the project management illustration presented in Figure 1, or the development schedule.
Industry development ratios
Forecasting an optimal schedule in presentation development becomes traumatizing because, typically, clients impose pressure; given today’s improved technology, ongoing competition, and corporate thirst for success, stakeholders and audiences expect you to deliver presentations as fast as you can say PowerPoint.
The inevitable question we hear is: How many hours does a designer need to produce one hour worth of presentation content? The answer is simple but distressing: it depends. Development time is a measure of the content and objectives provided by the client, the amount of visual sophistication required, the designers’ skills, financial resources, etc.
However, an “it depends” answer is rarely satisfying to clients. So we look more deeply and inspect other fields that are similar to presentation design and take the concept of development ratios seriously.
Practitioners in the instructional design field advertise development ratios based on certain variables that are likely to impact development time. We can learn from them. For instance, some instructional designers claim they can develop 15 content screens in 3 minutes, provided that the content offered by subject matter experts is already in a form appropriate for presentation delivery.
Other developers report the ability to produce a one-hour presentation in a 40-hour week. Others claim they need one hour of research for each minute of presentation time, plus approximately one hour for each slide in a presentation (so for a 20-slide, one-hr presentation, you would forecast 80 hours).
Yet others warn that for a complex multimedia-based presentation, featuring custom graphics and video, production can reach up to 800 hours. Results of studies in the instructional design field vary. Many authoring tool providers market development ratios that range from as few as 10 hours to as many as 1,200 hours for producing one hour of content.
If you do not trust development ratios as recommended by industry standards, there are a few other methods for time estimation.
Ratios by similar projects
If you have been developing presentations for some time, one of the easiest ways to forecast schedule is to compare your current presentation project with similar ones. For instance, you could estimate that if a presentation with 6 objectives and 50 slides took 100 hours to develop, another one with 3 objectives and 25 slides would take roughly 50 hours (or slightly longer if you stopped for lunch).
Such a comparison, called analogous estimating, may be inaccurate because rarely are any two presentations alike. Use analogous estimating only as a starting point in your conversations with clients/stakeholders just to give them an idea of how long something might take.
Using formulas to establish ratios
If you are fond of numbers and math, you can use parametric modeling to forecast schedule. Parametric modeling involves the use of variables that describe certain activities involved in a project and formulas can get fancy. For instance, you identify variables included in presentation design (e.g., level of expertise, administrative work, content research) and assign a weight to each of these factors.
Then you select a task from your presentation design process – let’s say “agenda slides.” You estimate how long it will take – let’s say two hours. Then you apply the weight factors to achieve an even more accurate project time. Check out more details about parametric modeling in Lou Russell’s book Project Management for Trainers.
Some designers are more comfortable estimating time by breaking down the project flow into deliverables and forecasting how long each phase will take (see Table 1). This process, known as work breakdown structure (WBS), is useful because it enables you to estimate time for tangible tasks rather than forecast the schedule for larger, more generic milestones.
The drawbacks of the bottom-up calculation method are that it is time-consuming and often designers either forget to include a task, or underestimate how long a step will take. Also, tasks in a presentation project are rarely carried out sequentially. This makes it harder to break down certain steps but it can be a useful starting point in time estimations.
We’ve looked at different techniques for estimating time and the amount of hours necessary for producing one hour of presentation content. I would love to hear how you estimate your own presentation design timelines.
Regardless of the method you use in forecasting, the word to remember is risk. Risks are caused by all other components identified in the project management chart: process, cost (money), quality, and resources (people and technology). Becoming familiar with the other project management components will help you in determining a sound risk management strategy.
Donny Osmond used to sing: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” This statement, while rhythmic and refreshing, does not hold true in presentation development. One unidentified risk may indeed spoil the whole schedule.
In subsequent articles, I’ll address the remaining components of the project management chart so you can see how they may plague your carefully set timelines.
As an ending thought regarding development time and schedule, a healthy habit when estimating time is to post on your wall calendar a reminder of a ruthless truth: “Dates in this calendar are closer than they appear.”
About the Author:
Dr. Carmen Simon is a cross between Tony Robbins and makeover specialist Robert Irvine. She works as a psychologist at Rexi Media, www.reximedia.com, where she consults with top executives on improving their presentation skills and is a leader in the virtual presentation movement.