Mise en Place

I’m sure you’ve seen a cooking show at some point and thought to yourself how convenient it is that the chef had all those little bowls of perfectly measured ingredients to toss into the mix at just the right time. I always just assumed that was just for TV, but as it turns out, preparing your ingredients and measuring them out ahead of time like that is just good cooking practice. And it has a name. Mise en place. Which is pronounced MEES ah ploss. I think.

Mise en Place

An example of mise en place.

“Mise en place”, I have learned, is a French term meaning “everything in place.” As you can tell from those cooking shows, mise en place increases productivity immensely because the cook doesn’t have to stop what he’s doing to chop veggies, sift flour, find his measuring cups, etc. But as many times as I’ve seen a professional chef benefit from his advance preparations, it’s never occurred to me to do that myself at home. I usually just dive right in and pull ingredients out as I go, fumbling to figure out what to do with the mixture already on the stove while I take time to soften a stick of butter.

As I thought about this, my thoughts turned to whether I have an equivalent to mise en place when it comes to building PowerPoint presentations. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I do! And now that I know what to call it, I propose you adopt it, too. What I’m calling mise en place for the purposes of this post is just my ritual of getting everything “in place” before starting to add any real content to the first slide.

When I first started building presentations my workflow went something like this. I would put some text on a slide, then start playing with backgrounds or experimenting with fonts. I’d add another slide, some more text, maybe a graphic. Then keep messing with font families, background colors, and drop shadows as I went along. I’d have to stop adding content to mess with my settings. Then I’d inevitably make a decision to change fonts late in the game and have to spend precious time making that change in size, family, or color on every slide I’d already built. Hardly efficient.

I don’t know how long it took, but eventually I learned to work smarter. When I start a new deck of slides, I always spend time at the beginning “getting my station prepped for the coming shift,” if you will. I open the Master Slide and do all of my experimenting and playing up front. I get my basic background set. I find a font to match the mood and feel of my presentation. I usually struggle a bit with color schemes, so I usually rely on something like Adobe Kuler to help me find colors that feel right and really “go.”

Master Slides

Do you know how to alter the master slide? If not, click the Master Slide link above to learn about it on the Microsoft website.

This playing and messing around takes anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on how crucial it is that all of these elements be perfect. But once everything’s the way I want it, I save that Master Slide. Now when I begin starting to add the real content, I don’t have to spend time thinking about the fonts, colors or layout. I just click the drop down menu to apply the heading styles and such that I’ve already prepared. Even if I decide to change a font or color here or there along the way, I can simply make the change on the master and it’s reflected on ALL of the existing slides. Huge time savings.

If you’re like me then it probably never would have hit you to prepare your ingredients ahead of time when you’re cooking until someone told you point-blank to think about doing it. Take this post as my telling you point-blank. Try your own version of mise en place next time you’re preparing slides and let me know if it doesn’t help immensely.

P.S. – It’s crazy how many other applications there are for this idea. It works with almost all software programs (customizing keyboard shortcuts, configuring presets, etc.) but lots of real-world tasks from cleaning your house to motorcycle maintenance can benefit from this kind of forethought and preparation.

Mise en place image credit: Crystl.

  • Marshall Reid

    Regarding the colors for the presentation, I was taught to always remember the “NFL Rule”. The NFL has spent millions researching and designing the colors of their uniforms, and every single one of them “go”. If you just pick out the colors of an NFL team’s uniform, you know you’re safe!

    • http://advanceyourslides.com Nick Smith

      That’s a great tip, Marshall! I didn’t know that but it makes perfect sense.

      Just make sure you’re careful not to use your audience’s rival’s colors. You can probably stir up a lot of emotion that way, which isn’t bad as long as you know what you’re getting into. :^)

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