Designing effective slide decks and presentations

Powerpoint and slide decks have become the ubiquitous go-to document for sharing and presenting information, but what’s best practice and should all presentations be like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation or Steve Job’s Apple product launch presentations?

Is it simply about creating decks with full-slide images or writing a single catch-phrase on each slide?

The answer is no, and actually there’s no single template for a great presentation because it depends on the audience and the context of where the presentation will be shown.

Slide decks range from the serious end of business presentations and sales/investor pitch decks, to educational online courses, through to big keynote presentations at events. They’re used in meetings with only 1 or 2 people, at live-events with hundreds of people or online where the viewers could be in the millions.

In short, presentations are ubiquitous. Memorable presentations, however, are not.

How do I start writing a presentation?

Regardless of the type of presentation you’re creating, start by writing the outline in a storyboard. Strong visual presentations can take hours to create, sometimes 10x the amount of time of the presentation itself, because the creator will have thought carefully and deeply about their audience and what will resonate with them.

Good presentations are stories that resonate with the audience. To write a good story you need to know what will captivate your audience - what will they “believe in” or connect with? This becomes the essence of the story that you weave for your audience in your presentation.

Pixar's 22 Rules to Phenomenal storytelling
If anyone knows good storytelling it's Pixar.
Eric Schmidt's How Google Works slide deck
Despite the 54 slides in this deck, Eric Schmidt's "How Google Works" has an engaging storyline that holds attention.

What is the "rule of 3" writing technique?

The rule of 3 is a useful writing technique for any form. It helps to create a clear story structure in 3 sections (usually the start, middle and end). This makes it easier for your audience to follow, but also to remember 3 key points from your presentation.

How much information should be on a PowerPoint slide?

This depends on the type of presentation you’re creating and the size of your audience. As the size of your audience grows the more difficult it becomes to hold every single person’s attention, as if you were having a 1:1 conversation with each of them.

So in general, the more people you present to the simpler your message needs to become. This usually translates to fewer words on a slide, hence the single image slides you see on TED Talks.

Simple minimalist slides for your presentation.
Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability using very simple slides to support her narrative. Although, from a design perspective we’d recommend changing the colour of the text to white for better readability on the red background.

How do you make a creative business presentation?

Pictures do paint a thousand words. Particularly for business presentations, where data in the form of infographics or charts makes it easier for your audience to understand your message.

How to use icons to improve your presentation
Cadee in their pitch deck make great use of icons to hit home their messages
TED Talk on use of data visualisation in presentations.
David McCandless talks about the beauty of data visualisation with his own slides of data in visual-format.

Strong presentations use meaningful visuals

Stock photos are perfectly fine and can help break-up text, but avoid cheesy overused images. Instead consider what type of visuals will resonate with your audience - are they likely to have an interest in a particular theme?

Unfortunately good design isn’t free and engaging a good designer can help create unique visuals for your brand and message to stand out.

How do you make a good presentation design?

Consistency is a key design principle. Even if you’re using a template from Canva or the brand template from work, some of the basic design elements to maintain consistency in your presentation are:

  • Colours: businesses usually have their own brand colour palette, otherwise select one to use throughout your slides
  • Typeface and fonts: different typefaces can be combined, but use the same combinations consistently
  • Image types: photographs vs illustrations, again, pick either and use that type of image consistently
  • Alignment: stay consistent with aligning text and images either left, middle or right aligned

Don’t be afraid to leave white-space or negative space on your slide, and be aware of the visual hierarchy of your content, not everything should feature large or the same size.

Creative slide to evoke a response
This slide deck from GYK Antler has very consistent use of imagery, visual elements, an italic typeface, colour and alignment.

What is the ideal number of slides for a presentation deck?

Apart from Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30/ Rule about how many slides should be in your presentation, the other rule I like to use is that most people have poor memories and short-attention spans. So there’s not much point packing in as much information as possible in the time-limit you have for your presentation - they won’t remember even a fraction of it!

Instead, the number of key messages you want them to recall and the complexity of delivering those messages will determine how many slides you’ll need. A presentation that only has one complex message could easily use 5 slides to break-down the message, while a presentation with 5 simple messages could also use just 5 slides, one for each message.

The 4 key elements in great presentations

In summary, here’s what to keep in mind when you write your next attention-grabbing presentation:

  • Audience: know who your audience is so you can write the “story” that will resonate with them
  • Context: the more people you present to the simpler your message
  • Message: one key message per slide, anticipate the level of questions from your audience, and use the Appendix for additional details
  • Design: maintain consistency in colour, typography, image-style and alignment

Finally, to end a presentation, don’t forget about “the ask” for your audience. What is your call- to-action they should be inspired to take from your story?

If you’ve read this far, my ask is to reach out to us at Kuriet! We love helping businesses present their brands in compelling ways that capture their audience. Register for a complimentary Strategy Session to see how we can help.

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