10 Tips for Designing Presentations That Don’t Suck: Pt.2

by on 7th September 2010 with 58 Comments

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Last week we looked at part one of our two part series on designing better presentations. We learned practical tips on using photography, typography, color and more to create stunning results.

Today we’ll wrap things up with tips six through ten and teach you how simplifying your designs can lead to drastically improved results. Let’s get started!

#6 Simpler is Better

This is a major stumbling block for non-designers. The problem stems from a basic misunderstanding of what a presentation slide should be. In most cases, the slide should not be the ultimate source of content and information. Instead, the speaker is what makes the presentation valuable. The speaker should provide the vast majority of the content, information, insight, bad jokes, etc.

After all, if the presentation slides contain all the information begin conveyed, then why would the audience even need a speaker? You could just provide everyone with a download link and bid them a good day.

I’ve seen far too many people give presentations with slides that look like the one below:

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You might think I’m being facetious with my design but trust me I’ve seen slides that were far worse. Presentation slides are not to be confused with magazines. You can’t cram this much content onto a slide without completely losing the functionality. Even if you organize all of the information nicely and create a beautiful slide, you’ve still missed the mark.

Again, remember that your speech is the reason you’re up in front of people. The presentation should serve as a drastically simplified visual aid that, when flipped through, would present a rough outline of your speech.

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Use your slides to grab and hold the audience’s attention through attractive visuals. People get bored easily listening to speeches and having something pretty to look at helps us focus.

Keeping your slide contents simple also discourages you from simply reading your speech from the slide. It’s a cliche example but I have in fact seen multiple presenters place every word of their speech on the slide and then simply read it off. As boring as normal speeches are, hearing someone read to you for twenty minutes is even worse!

Notice how the slide below pulls you in with an incomplete statement. The graphic no doubt reinforces the answer but we won’t know unless we actually listen to the speech to see what the answer is! This is an excellent example of using a slide as a visual aid that strengthens your presentation rather than serving as a giant printout of your speech.

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#7 Avoid the Bullet Point Plague

Several presenters have become aware of the “reading from your slide” problem and pompously proclaim that they just can’t stand it when people do such a thing, which is why they use bullet points.

Bullet points are magical (marketing folks freaking love bullet points). They are a great way to say everything you need to say in a convenient list form. All of the most complex ideas ever composed by mankind can be placed into a bulleted list and even the dullest of individuals will suddenly see the light… right? Not quite.

Bullet points are in fact a great tool to convey the most important parts of your speech. It’s a familiar format that clearly separates ideas and is easy to digest. So what’s the problem?

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The problem is that, like any good tool, bullet points can be abused. Presenters often get carried away and begin to repeat the mistakes of the previous tip only in bullet form.

Placing forty-two points on a single slide is exactly like using multiple paragraphs; doing so kills the usefulness of the slide. Remember that bullet points are supposed to convey the important information. To do that effectively you must actually make a decision on what you think is important vs. what should just be left to the speech.

Check out how the slide below uses three bullet points to convey factual statistics. Numbers are particularly hard to take in and remember unless you see it written down so using these as bullet points is a great place to start.

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Keep it simple and remember that even the bullets don’t have to be self-explanatory. Again, that’s what you’re there for.

#8 Create Clear Focal Points

No matter what you’re designing, it’s important to consider how you want to direct the viewer’s attention. Don’t leave it up to chance, instead structure the experience in the way that you believe best facilitates the message.

Notice how the slide below used color to direct your attention to specific areas. The words in yellow stand out considerably from the rest of the content and therefore tend to draw your attention more.

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With text you can use color, size, typeface style or boldness to create clear focal points. Keep in mind that it’s a good idea to have one primary focal point (like the word “share” above) followed up by one or two secondary focal points that aren’t quite as strong.

Note that text isn’t the only way to create strong focal points. Photographs and illustrations are also great ways to bring the viewer’s attention to a given area. Notice how the child’s eyes in the slide below really catch your attention and then gradually bring you down the headline as you move on.

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For more information on designing with faces, check out our complete guide.

Ultimately, remember that the lack of clear focal points can cause a viewer to quickly lose interest. When something is designed well it gives people a clear idea of where you want them to look, even if only on a subconscious level.

#9 Create a Captivating Cover

The cover slide is often either skipped entirely or shown for only a second in many presentations. However, a good cover design is a great way to set the tone for the entire presentation.

Until that slide is shown, the audience has no idea what to expect from your visual aid. Creating a beautiful cover and leaving it up while you introduce yourself and your speech can really start things off on a positive note and give the audience a psychological heads up to pay attention because they’re about to see some awesome slides.

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Creating an attractive cover also provides you with the start of a visual theme that you can carry on throughout the rest of the presentation. This helps the presentation seem cohesive and professionally done rather than the random and scattered feel of seeing a completely different design on every slide.

As an example, check out the beautiful cover design above by Fabio Sasso at Abduzeedo and then look at the sample content slide below to see how he applies this dirty grunge theme to the rest of the presentation.

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It’s often a good idea to design a cover along with a few different blank content slides that you can use throughout the entire presentation. You can then carry out a unified design and save yourself a lot of design work by having two to three blanks to pull from.

If you’re not a designer, then it can be intimidating to try to create a beautiful cover. In these circumstances, refer to tips #2 and #4 from part one and let professional photography in conjunction with simple typography handle all the work for you.

#10 Make ‘em Laugh

Every good speaker knows that one of the single best ways to keep your audience interested is through the use of humor. Unfortunately, not everyone can make an audience bust a gut like Bill Cosby or Brian Regan.

Whether you suck at delivering witty one liners or are a natural born comedian, it helps ease the pressure to let your slides handle some or all of the humor. This way you can be perceived as funny without worrying about screwing up the punch line.

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Remember that your goal doesn’t have to be audible laughter from the entire room. Even the occasional smile from a few audience members goes a long way because it shows that they’re actually paying attention!

My best advice in this area is to try not to pour the humor on too thick. The audience will notice if you seem to be trying too hard. Find the most boring or complicated parts of your speech and break them up with a funny slide or two.

Be sure to always consider your audience carefully when deciding what sort of humor is appropriate. Offending the audience is far worse than boring them.

If you find that you’re not a particularly clever person with either pictures or words, try inserting a simple comic that illustrates your point effectively. Just make sure the comic is a quick, near instant read and not something with lots of dialog spread across four panels.

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Again, notice how the example above is effective in setting a lighthearted tone to the presentation even though it is unlikely to actually make anyone actually burst into laughter.

Conclusion

To sum up, let’s take a quick look at all ten tips for designing presentations that don’t suck from both articles.

  • 1. Don’t Use a Built-In Theme
  • 2. Use Quality Photography
  • 3. Solid Colors Rock
  • 4. Typography Speaks Volumes
  • 5. Watch Your Readability
  • 6. Simpler is Better
  • 7. Avoid the Bullet Point Plague
  • 8. Create Clear Focal Points
  • 9. Create a Captivating Cover
  • 10. Make ‘em Laugh

I hope you’ve found these tips practical and easily implementable. Ultimately the goal here was to show you that you don’t necessarily have to be a professional designer to create great looking and effective presentations. Leave a comment below if you want to join the discussion and share your own tips and tricks for better slide design.

Comments & Discussion

58 Comments

  • http://www.standupandspeakto.us Richard Glover

    Thanks for the excellent overview! I believe that the design community can be a really positive force for helping people to stop the brutal abuse of PowerPoint presentations. This set of articles has done a really wonderful job demonstrating precisely the sort of advice that makes a big difference.

  • http://yologames.com janny

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    thanks for sharing..

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  • http://www.nicolebauer.com Nicole Bauer

    Oh thanks, perfect timinig, I’m just working on redesigning our company introduction and these tips are really helpful!

  • http://yologames.com simi

    wow..

    good site

    yologames.com

  • http://www.nicolebauer.com Nicole Bauer

    Awww, one thing that just came to my mind: do you think it’s necessary to have a Company logo and copyright on EVERY slide for a company presentation?

  • http://www.rabbit-lounge.de Andi

    thanks for sharing with us. I really see many, many ideas to improve my presentations

  • http://www.juliussolaris.com Julius Solaris

    Fantastic points. I love the cautions approach to making humor. I’ve experienced distressed faces few times when trying to be too funny. The templates for making your points are actually precious. It is so tough to find them around.

    Julius

    PS Get rid of the spammy comments above – they don’t belong to such a great post

  • http://www.mister-wong.es/ deytazan
  • http://www.facethebuzz.wordpress.com Andrew

    Great info, thanks for sharing!

  • Tony Burnett

    Cracy? Did you not mean Crazy?

    A minor point I’ll admit, but it leads me to point #11 Don’t read it yourself, get someone else to – that way you don’t read what you think you typed.

    All in all a very good list of 10 points though.

    many thanks for the two articles.

  • http://www.hazardawareness.co.uk Patrick Hazard

    Interesting thought @nicole. I’ve re-done a our company presentations a while ago and am about to re-do some more and i think most of that is wasted space. Directors, sales people and the like love to have your company logo and the logo of the company you’re presenting to on a strip at the top or bottom. They know their logo and if they see yours on the first page, I don’t think it’s isn’t necessary on every page.

    I doubt I’d ever be able to get one of the directors to agree that the space could be better used, but I don’t think that logos and page numbers are needed on every slide. As long as your brand identity is strong and you follow that in your slide designs, the argument about cementing brand recognition is moot.

    If you look at probably one of the greatest presenters, Steve Jobs, you’ll never see an apple logo on every page of his keynote.

    P

  • Joshua Johnson

    I’ve made plenty of presentations that had to have a logo on every page. It’s absolutely unnecessary and yet completely mandatory in many situations. I frequently create a thin horizontal bar at the very bottom of my blank slide template. Use this area for branding: logos, taglines, etc. and it will stay visually distinct from the slide material.

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  • http://www.nicolebauer.com Nicole Bauer

    I don’t see a reason to have the logo on each slide either, but my boss actually thinks the logo in the current version is too small! =O Haha.
    But after reading some more articles yesterday I think it depends on whether it’s a strategic presentation you give to a large audience such as a standard company introduction or a tactical presentation that would send to someone. If you send it out I think it makes sense to have the Logo and also Copyright on every slide, but for the strategic ones: hopefully the people you’re presenting it to know the name of your company. ^^

    So I guess I’ll try to convince my boss that we can get rid of the logo for our strategic slides. ^^

    Thanks for your answers!

  • http://pavelkozlov.com pavel

    Very useful. I always hated these powerpoint templates…

  • http://www.galointerativa.com.br Andre Darugna

    Very useful!! ;) Thanks for share.
    I hate powerpoint but sometimes we need it…

  • http://www.ogvidius.com/ Oggy

    Awesome post. Never was really a fan of the default themes so it’s nice to show some examples of really striking and effective slides. The minimal ones look awesome.

  • http://www.ntbaba.com 南通热线

    good…
    thanks

  • http://www.diegorodriguez.cc diego

    Great post.
    Gonna implement the 10th, never used it.
    Thanks!

  • JD

    OK that makes sense dude.

    Lou
    http://www.anon-vpn.us.tc

  • http://www.scaq.blogspot.com Tony

    Remarkable post. If I may add, I just reviewed a presentation today that featured way to many different styles of art and no contained consistent color palette. Every page was a explosion of new content and no consistency. It was life channel surfing through 50 cable channels.

    I would like to add that fonts, colors and the particular illustration or photo style used maintain a constant and predictable style.

    This presentation was like seeing an R. Crumb illo on one page and then an Ansel Adams photo on the next, followed by a “Rave flyer”, then a watercolor, an HDR image on ad absurdum.

  • http://www.bluskymarketing.com/ Richard – BluSky Marketing

    Hi,

    Thanks so much. Nicely concluded at the end.

    Cheers,

    Rick

  • http://www.krop.com/ariarsyadi/ Ari Arsyadi

    Fantastic & useful tips. Nice one! I agree mostly on point 2 & 3 as I think they’re really inevitable.

  • http://instatuts.com Rufino

    Thank you so much for the tips. Good to know these tips so that my designs dont suck, I dont want that to happen.

  • andyRespire

    Great tips! We’ve all been suffocated by bullet points before.

    I’m puzzled that your article images & ads are inseparable. Same width, same border. I realize you pay for stuff thru ads, but this is very misleading & annoying. Some visual discrepancy would be courteous. Thanks.

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  • Ben

    Great tips, this site is now bookmarked!

  • http://www.moonroo7i.com/vb sara

    Great article and very worthy follow-up, and I liked Alqrih

  • lot

    thanks… it does helps a lot ^.^

  • Jason

    Awesome list full of great suggestions and examples. If I could add one thing, it’s to proofread your slides (not just spell check). For example, one of the slides shown for tip 8 has typo “…simplicity of and iPad.” While it is a common mistake, it can detract from the professionalism of your presentation.

  • Lisa

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Cathy

    I actually used the technique “solid bar” technique. My presentation looked nice!

  • Chuck

    Awesome work, I plan to share this at the end of all of my presentations.

  • http://www.skda.co.kr SKDA

    Thanks for giving me an information

  • http://www.ernstdesigns.com Robert E

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. All too often people make the mistakes you outlined in your articles (myself included). I will be using this article again and again when discussing powerpoint with people.

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  • Liana Hernandez

    This is great. I’m a first semester freshman taking public speaking and this article has been a revelation. I can actually pinpoin the things wrong with my presentations, as well as with my classmates. I’m definitly favoriting this and using it in the future!

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  • Lana

    so i use this whenever i’m making a project handin, i’m studying architecture at university and this is what gets me good grades. excellent, thank you very much!!!!

  • Abigail

    This is super-useful! Thank you! any ideas on how to make a slide with a grading rubric not look like a bunch of boxes and text without compromising its readability?

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    :)

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  • Sylvia Eken

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for sharing ten great tips. I am just wondering why you use a sans serif for the body text isn’t it proven to be a better read with serif?

  • http://icocomo.org Cocomo

    Thank you for your two posts about presentation.

    After reading them, I cant help but notice that my former ppts are so boring.

  • sky_3305

    Great post! Will definitely take note of your advice and apply them during my ppt moments. Cheers!

  • Atul

    Great Article..Too Useful..
    Specialy for me At end time presentation Call…….

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