***originally posted on Medium.com on October 18, 2019***
It’s insane to have to talk about this in the year of our lorb 2019, but here we are. People are still out here putting together presentations that are utterly ineffectual and—more importantly—make my heart hurt.
If your presentation looks like a brochure then congratulations, you made a brochure, not a presentation. This is the most common AND most egregious mistake I see people making when building out a presentation. People would much rather watch you flip through 100 clean, simple slides than be confronted with 10 slides sporting 8pt fonts that look like entries from Encyclopedia Britannica. So this post isn’t just about making your presentation look pretty, it’s also very much about making you a better presenter (I can’t help you with public speaking however, it’s terrifying and I hate doing it).
You don’t have to be a designer to make a decent presentation. You just need to embrace minimalism and try to follow as many of these rules as you can:
- Don’t put the things you’re saying verbatim on the slide. Doing that eliminates the need to be there in person. Leave-behinds and handouts are fine, but your presentation should never double as a handout. If it does, you’ve made a good handout and a bad presentation.
- Don’t put complex copy or data on your slides. I’m talking complicated charts and tables, long passages of copy, or dense data sets. Go high level. What’s the trend you’re trying to show? Highlight that. Put THAT in big text across a slide, then talk about it and what it means. If you are going to put a chart on a slide, simplify it down to the most important information. Save data sets and detailed charts for your leave-behind piece.
- Be unexpected. Use images as metaphors, especially if your content is dense. Leave people wondering what they’ll see when you flip to the next slide, instead of horrified by yet another wall of text.
- Try to keep most of your text slides to either short bold statements or short leading questions. It provides context for what you’re talking about, while allowing your audience to focus on what you’re saying to address the statement or question.
- Minimalist but not default. If possible, ditch the default typefaces and colour palette (just make sure you have all fonts loaded on the machine you’re presenting on). Use vibrant coloured backgrounds and white text. Maintain tons of whitespace (whitespace does not literally have to be white—it’s just space that isn’t consumed by images, graphics, or text—whitespace is what allows your content to breathe). Dig into that font palette. If you don’t have any good typefaces loaded onto your computer, visit Google Fonts—there are lots of good, free fonts on there. Not using Calibri in black on a white background will go a long way to creating a more compelling looking presentation.
- Avoid unnecessary embellishments. Stop peppering your presentations with clip art and unnecessary photos. Every single thing you put on the slide should either be content, or a design element that helps support the content—ie. makes it stand out more.
- Cool it with the barn door transition, psycho. Animation is fine, but keep it tasteful. Keep slide transitions subtle (“fade” is a nice one), and keep content animations relevant (like posing a question onscreen and then clicking through for the answer—again, you can never go wrong with a nice subtle fade in or out).
- Images should either be subtle background elements or crucial to the content. Related to the point above, don’t use images to “fill space” on your slides, and please please please don’t pepper a single slide with a bunch of images unless you’re intentionally creating a photo collage to make a greater point. It should be abundantly clear on every slide what you want your audience to be focusing on. Images on slides should be part of the content, not cake decorating. If you need stock images to use as backgrounds or to convey metaphors, try Unsplash.com—high-quality images you can use for free with no attribution.
- Keep template elements to a minimum. No one needs to see your logo or the presentation title on every page. Ditto for slide numbers or the date. If you need to keep reminding people of who you are and what you’re talking about then you’ve utterly failed as a presenter. Keep that stuff to the first slide and the last slide—administrative elements that act as a bookend to your SUPER COMPELLING PRESENTATION GUTS.
Keep it simple, keep it colourful, keep it minimal.
Stop making this:
Start making this: