Back To The Future: Slides Before PowerPoint

By Paula Tesch

Before there was PowerPoint for presentations, there were slides. Real ones. They were tiny, and tactile, and delicate, and kind of delightful.

Making slides was a trained profession for highly skilled designers and technicians. In fact, while researching speeches at the Stanford library, we came across several sets of slides for GE from the mid 1950’s. They were simple, clear, visual, and highly conceptual. Back then, speeches were so well crafted (and we assume effective) that they were saved for archival purposes.

These slides are built by a trained craftsman who knew what it took to make an effective visual aide.

The following collection of presentation slides was created for IBM over thirty years ago, before PowerPoint was even a glint in Microsoft’s eye.

presentation slide - online

presentation slide - world monetary crisis deepens

presentation slide - virtual storage

presentation slide - about with circles

presentation slide - about with circles

presentation slide - about with circles

presentation slide - bolder is online

presentation slide - bolder starts now

presentation slide - information programs

presentation slide - information programs

Here’s what we can learn from our slide-design forefathers:

  1. Slides were treated like they were valuable because they were expensive.
    In the 1950’s each element on the slide was crafted by hand, using an array of papers and tapes and a whole heck of a lot of White Out. If you had to pay money for every word and chart you put on your slide, you’d make some very different choices about what information you’d include to make sure they were effective. Just because our slides are free, doesn’t mean we should fill ‘em to the brim.
  2. These slides were created by a person whose only job was to create slides.
    Slide creation was once an art, typically practiced by specialized artists. Flash forward to today, you are responsible for three roles in developing a presentation: the content, slides, and delivering the presentation. you’ve got to contend with the content and delivery of the presentation, too. That leaves little time or energy to dedicate to your slides. We know all too well, good design takes time.
  3. Each slide had to be final days before the presentation.
    Frightening, right? Imagine being forced to finish your final deck a week before your presentation. Among other things, like giving you a heart attack, it would allow you time to rehearse. If you had an entire week to think about what to say during your presentation, you may not need to include so much information on the slides themselves. Also, all your valuable up-to-the-minute data would have to be relegated to a handout, where it should be. Hint hint.

Those slide designers toiling away in the olden days were probably dreaming about a tool like PowerPoint, after commuting to work via jetpack. Let’s do ‘em proud by appreciating PowerPoint as an incredible tool to help with presentations, and using it like they would. One idea per slide, plenty of whitespace, and keep (most of) that data in a document.

Topics Covered

Delivery, Visual thinking

Written by

Paula Tesch

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