Presentation Summit 2019: Conversation with Tom Howell

Presentation Summit 2019: Conversation with Tom Howell

Created: Friday, August 23, 2019 posted by at 9:45 am

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Tom Howell

Tom Howell

For over a decade, Tom Howell has been crafting innovative and engaging designs for a host of different industries. Since establishing his boutique design agency – Synapsis Creative – Tom has developed a streamlined design process that eliminates the hassle of editing. By delivering gorgeously designed products as editable PowerPoint documents, his clients can edit and reuse these assets for a variety of formats and audiences. Tom often writes and regularly speaks at conferences and business across the globe, demonstrating the endless design possibilities available through PowerPoint.

In this conversation, Tom talks about the Presentation Summit, being held in San Antonio, TX this year from October 6 to 9, 2019.

Geetesh: Tom, you are doing two sessions at this year’s Presentation Summit: Moodboards and All About Animation. Can you tell us all about these sessions and what participants can expect as takeaways from each session?

Tom: There’s a lot to talk about in these two titles alone! My session on Moodboards ambitiously addresses the chasm our industry faces against the traditional “presentation designers aren’t designers” stigma that so many of us have faced and railed against. Unfortunately, this stigma has started shaping our industry and risks transforming our craft in a negative way. All too often presentation designers find themselves mid-way through a project and facing significant shifts in creative direction from their client or stakeholder. Or as a presentation designer, you may start on a project only to find the client has a significantly different need or desire from what you’d planned. This is where moodboards come in to save the day. Moodboards provide initial direction and cohesion with every design project. A lot of presentation designers skip this stage and prematurely jump straight into design – often due to time restrictions, creative restrictions or because of the familiarity with similarly designed or themed presentations. This session highlights the need for moodboards, but also goes into a step-by-step process for creating moodboards that the audience can take away and use immediately.

After the session, if you implement the moodboard process, I can guarantee one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ll develop a stronger working relationship with your client or stakeholder. They’ll understand your approach before you even start designing their work and you’ll understand more about what aesthetically appeals to them.
  2. You’ll find yourself with wider inspiration for projects and your creative boundaries will begin to widen through each exercise of moodboarding. The idea of slowing the creative process a little and taking the time to notice creative execution of inspiring projects will improve your own creative execution.
  3. Ideally, you’ll have less creative direction changes mid-way through projects. You’ll be able to step forward at all stages of a creative project without needed to revise and rework your design, meaning you’ll save more time and save effort.

This will be the third year I’ll be speaking about animation and each year it seems to get bigger and bigger! In all honesty – this one is unplanned. I create sessions deliberately and specifically for the Presentation Summit and I rarely present them again anywhere in the world, so if you’re attending you’ll be viewing a world-first (and likely only) session All About Animation. What I do know about this session is – two years ago I did a live animation session and last year I went back to basics with fundamental principles – this year promises to be a combination of the two, with some live demonstrations and some fundamental principles that will improve your animation skills.

Geetesh: A Summit regular wanted to know, ‘You speak and animate a mile a minute! How do you bring this stuff down to the masses?’

Tom: Whoa! Not sure if that’s praise or criticism, but I’ll take it. I think there is a few parts to this commentary/question. The first is the speaking speed. Yes – I speak fast, partly because I’m excited by what I talk about and partly because I have a lot to say. The main reason I have a lot to say? Because people come to the Presentation Summit wanting to learn and at my sessions we get a reasonably large number of attendees (last year people had to sit in the aisles because we ran out of seats!).

Because the industry has such fragmentation of skillsets and there isn’t specific niches or frameworks of standard approaches, everyone that attends a session has a unique set of skills – even within a topic such as animation, there is a broad set of skills. Also, animation is an incredibly broad topic to speak for only an hour on, so I look at it in terms of efficiency. You may attend and already know 30% of what I’m teaching. Someone else may also know 30% of what I’m teaching, but it may be a different 30%! My approach to pack information into my sessions ensures the highest chance everyone comes away having learned as much as possible. If I talk about 100 different ideas, there’s a good chance you’ll know some, but a good chance you won’t know others. If I talk about 10 ideas and you know all 10, is it worth spending time with me?

The other part of the question was, ‘How do you bring it down to the masses?’ The short answer is, I don’t. My sessions are not often entry-level, ‘for the masses’ session. These sessions highlight some advanced features and methods of approaching animation and creative moodboards, so there is an assumed knowledge of the basics in animation and the basics of presentations (separately, obviously). Hopefully, everyone finds something of value, so long as they can understand the rapid-fire Australian accent.

Geetesh: Tom, can you tell us a little about your work in Australia and elsewhere?

Tom: I set up my boutique agency, Synapsis Creative because so many people sleep on presentation design and, like many of us, I’d gotten exhausted by all the uninspired PowerPoint slideshows I’d seen. However, I was constantly getting requests for things outside of traditional presentation design, so it just seemed natural to close that gap in the market and provide a full suite of design work. The fundamental crux of what our clients want is editability – regardless of whether its design for print, digital, video, presentation, or interactivity. When you purchase graphic design from an agency that sends you a PDF, you are buying a rigid product that cannot be changed; when you get a PowerPoint file that is the exact same design quality, you’re buying graphic design that you can change, you can work with, and you can edit.

Since establishing Synapsis, I’ve been all around the world speaking with other designers and industries about what we do and why it’s valuable. We recently opened a second office in San Francisco, which has added account management and design support for our studio in Australia, and it has allowed us to service more clients – particularly in the US market. We’re very excited about the new possibilities in the US since it’s such a massive market and a lot of businesses needs top quality design work. We’re also looking at other markets to see if we can our unique way of working to other countries and other clients.

What is the Presentation Summit?

Presentation Summit 2019

Presentation Summit 2019

For nearly two decades, Rick Altman has been hosting the Presentation Summit, a highly popular event that is geared towards users of PowerPoint and other presentation platforms. is the official Media Partner for the Presentation Summit.

Date: October 6 to 9, 2019

Location: Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, San Antonio, TX, United States

Register now!


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