Don’t get charged with Death by PowerPoint: A simple hack you can use to unboring your next presentation

Image courtesy of  Halans Photography

Image courtesy of Halans Photography

Is the news really just b-grade entertainment? Do you suffer from Phantom Cat Syndrome? And what is the correct way to peel a banana?

I heard the answers to these questions and more at the Oxford Art Factory on a warm spring night last week, during the 17th Ignite Sydney evening. The event felt like a shorter, rowdier version of TEDx Sydney, featuring 14 speakers and three bars that never stopped serving.

Speaker Hugh Saalmans gave us the hard truth that the world is ending, and explained how we can prepare for the apocalypse. To cheer us up, Chloe Boreham showed us that life is full of little loving moments, if you look for them. Life saver Lucy Schott revealed her dark secret: she is terrified of the ocean. Doug Suiter told us the story of a cat sleeping in the centre of his bed, forcing him to contort himself around his favourite pet, only to wake up to find no cat, and a needless back ache (an apt metaphor for obsolete habits dying too late, he posited).

As always, an eclectic bunch of speakers populated the Art Factory’s stage, the only commonality between them being their passion for a chosen niche topic. Ignite Sydney carefully chooses the speakers to capture a broad spectrum of topics, and anyone can throw their hat in the ring to be in the running. The catch? You must use a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation, and each slide gets exactly 15 seconds of fame. If you do the maths, that’s a neat 5 minutes to get your message across. to quote Ignite curator Stephen Lead: “Enlighten us, but make it quick.”

Sounds challenging? Your delivery and timing would need to be on point, no doubt. But on the other hand, it’s a strange reality of the creative process that this kind of limit can elicit a more imaginative approach. Ignite's presenters were unknowlingly receiving a masterclass in design: putting constraints around a project can help you push through creative blocks, and make the end result that much more unique.

Indeed, technical tinkerer Michael Kordahi gave several examples of ‘beautiful constraints’ during his 5 minute talk about the hacker mindset: Jerry Seinfeld famously imposes the personal restriction of never swearing during his standup routines (a constraint that perhaps many of us would struggle with!). Then there's Brian Eno, who created the infamous Windows 95 startup sound, but was lacking inspiration when the brief came to him. “We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional, this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said: and it must be 3.25 seconds long.” This final, bizarre constraint made him laugh, and stirred some imagination up too: he ended up submitting 84 tiny tunes in response to Microsoft's request.

But you don’t have to be a legendary comedian or composer, nor a hacker, creative professional or public speaker, to benefit from this technique. Next time you need to make a presentation, consider imposing some constraints. What if you had to get your point across in only 5 minutes? What if every slide was on a 15 second timer? The constraints need not be time-related, either. Designer Jarrod Drysdale imposed an arbitrary constraint when designing his online course: he had to use the colour green.

And, of course, take inspiration from other great presentations and check out the next Ignite Sydney event! It won’t disappoint: I drank… and I learned things! I learned that we all suffer from phantom cat syndrome from time to time; that peeling a banana ‘from the bottom’ is the best way; and that mass media news really does make more sense if you imagine it as entertainment. Moreover, I learned a great hack to make my own presentations faster, more fun and more engaging.

What beautiful constraints do you use when you need to get creative? What other hacks help you to ‘unboring' your messaging? As designers of intelligent communication, the Freckle team are always curious about what works for our readers, so feel free to drop us a comment or an email.

Freckle’s War On Waste


I went to Africa a few years ago. We rode a truck from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania out into the Masai Mara. As we entered a small town on the edge of the National Park, we were greeted by the Masai locals - a beautiful race of people. The warm, orange sun crept slowly toward the horizon and the local kids cast long shadows as they herded their goats back to their village. And, drifting along in the warm breeze between the kids, the livestock and the acacia trees were hundreds of bright white plastic bags, empty water bottles, coke cans, crisp packets, cigarette packets, Mars bar wrappers, containers, newspapers and toilet rolls.

In amongst so much natural beauty, there was SO. MUCH. MESS. “What are you doing?” I wanted to shout out to the Masai. And then, I realised that we are no different over here. In Australia we produce 50 million tonnes of waste every year. Of that 50 million tonnes, 12.5 million tonnes is being produced by Australian workplaces. That’s about around 23 wheelie bins per worker per year! So in an office of eight people we are wheeling out 184 bins of waste. In fact, the only difference between the Masai and us is a garbage bin. We clean our waste away so it’s out of sight and OUT. OF. MIND. But the thing is, it’s not gone. Just forgotten.

This got me thinking, I can’t fix Africa, but what can I do in my patch?  Well, I've decided to set us a challenge: To reduce our office landfill-bound waste to one small shopping bag a week by Christmas. Yes, that’s right: from two 50-litre bags to one small shopping back per week. We’re looking at reducing our waste by about 75%. It’s huge.

collage - war on waste.jpg

Here are the three things I think we could focus on to start:

1. Recycling.

Freckle's strata don’t provide recycling facilities so I’m going to create a bag so I can take our recycling home with me once every week or two. This means I’m going to care a great deal about how much paper we use. I’ll also pull together a poster that shows us which plastics can be recycled so it makes it easy for us to get it right.

2. Eat or repeat.

Like Mum always said: “There are starving people in Africa.” It’s true, but there are two million starving people in Australia as well. I believe the key here is: Don’t buy more than you need, and if you do, store it properly so you don’t have to throw it out after one day. Obviously, some bits of food we can’t eat, so I’ll be ‘repeating’ them. Yes, I’m saying we should start our very own Freckle worm farm.

3. Multi-use. Reuse, Repurpose, Upcycle.

If we make something, let’s aim to keep it in the system for as long as possible. This goes for projects we do for clients as well. And once that something has become useless, let’s try to find another use for it.

I also think we could make a real effort to print double-sided. I know we do already, but it’s worth noting that for every 100 reams of paper printed double sided, we can save about one cubic metre of landfill, a tonne of greenhouse gas, and a couple of trees. Not to mention a 50% dollar saving for the business.

Finally, let’s not use it in the first place. Plastic bags are a good start. So, for our garbage let’s start using bags that are already in the system, instead of buying new ones. I know, plastic bags are bad, but practicality and hygiene in a work environment means that we have to be smart about it. And, of course, coffee cups … I ran some numbers. If eight of us have one takeaway coffee a day, that’s 1,440 cups a year – more than 20kg of waste. Hands up, who needs a reusable cup? How about we order them this week?

Let’s do this together. Over the coming months, I’m sure we can all come up with ways we can make our 83sqm a more pleasant place to be.

There are plenty of resources out there to help. One worth having a look at is Business Recycling. It is run by Planet Ark and NSW EPA and provides loads of information to help businesses reduce their impact on waste generation.

Just because we can’t see rubbish, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Rather than figuring out new ways to deal with our waste, how about we stop creating it in the first place?

What are your top tips for reducing waste in the workplace?

Want to know more? Here are some fantastic resources about waste and what we can do about it:



The Conversation


Business Recycling




Freckle: Designers of Intelligent Communication


A few months ago we embarked on a journey to rediscover what it meant to be ‘A Freckle’. We decided that the reason we're here is to use design to enrich the lives of the people we work with, the brands they represent and the audience they are trying to reach. But that takes more than just creating something beautiful. It requires digging deeper to find what's truly valuable for your audience. It requires intelligent design.

So we've repositioned ourselves as Designers of Intelligent Communication: Brands. Campaigns. Events. 

Our new website represents this new approach, encompassing everything we're known for in the industry – ease of use, scaleable service, direct access to senior designers – but with a new focus on helping you to find, own and communicate your hidden brand values and enrich the lives of your audience.

This is the continuation of a story that started over 12 years ago, in the back room of a Surry Hills office block, and we can't wait to start writing the next chapter.