#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:
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.
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.
#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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.