In the past few weeks, I’ve been to a few conferences and seminars that had one thing in common: terrible presentation slides. Even worse, the slides made otherwise good speakers look bad.
The availability of software such as PowerPoint and Keynote coupled with their ease of use can give a false sense of security. Availability and ease do not compensate for well-thought-out and attractive presentations. Whether the subject matter of your presentation is apparel, penguins or financial data, poor slides can ruin even the most polished presenter.
Regardless of the subject matter or venue, I always take plenty of time to make sure that my support visuals provide exceptional support to what I am presenting. In fact, bad slides are a bit of a pet peeve of mine.
Because of that, I want to share 15 things that I consider when creating my slides that can help you create slides that will enhance, and not detract from, your presentations.
Death To Text. Long Live Text.
1. Use Text Sparingly
Text can be your enemy on slides. I’ve seen slides that have so much text packed onto them that they aren’t remotely useful. The purpose of a presentation is for you to present, not to give the audience an opportunity to catch up on their reading. Every time your audience stops to read they disconnect from you. When they disconnect from you, you may find it hard to reconnect.
2. Do Not Read Text On A Slide
No one wants to sit through you reading something that they can read themselves. You are the presenter. The slides are your support. That relationship should never be inverted. When you read your slides, you are implying that you don’t know the content or aren’t prepared. It’s the easiest cheat in the book.
3. When You Use Text, Give Your Audience Time To Read It
There are some times when printing text on a slide for the audience to read is a good thing. Quoting a famous person is a good example. When you do this, pause. Give the audience time to read the quote. Then do the unthinkable; read it out loud once for impact. When used judiciously, this can be a powerful tool for emphasis.
Plan And Then Plan
4. Do It On Paper First
Computers are awesome. And fast. But no invention will ever be greater than paper and pen; except maybe the index card. The index card is amazing. It’s compact. It has dual writing surfaces. It can be combined and recombined with other index cards. You can even get them in different colors and sizes.
Beat that, iPad.
Scribbling and sketching your ideas on index cards will cut your computer creation down by a billion percent. Approximately.
Whiteboards work just as well. And never underestimate the power of a pen and napkin at dinner.
5. Know Your Stuff And Rehearse
Did you ever sit through a horrible presentation where the person wasn’t prepared? The answer is probably yes. People know when a presenter is unprepared or doesn’t know his own content. Does this endear the audience to the presenter? Heck, no. You can have every bell and whistle imaginable, but if you are not prepared, your presentation is destined to crash and burn.
Rehearsal is the single most important ingredient to a good presentation. You should be familiar with your slides, how they flow and what their sequencing is. Many presentation environments such as PowerPoint and Keynote give you a preview screen with upcoming slides. This is good, but if the upcoming slides aren’t familiar to you, it will show.
As a rule, you should rehearse as much as possible. Comedians do this all the time. When they perform at the sold out venue and get paid the big bucks, it’s only after performing their act over and over at hole-in-the-wall bars.
If you get to the point where you can talk through your slides and visualize those slides in your head without having to use the preview feature, you’re almost there.
6. Get Help. Accept Criticism.
Is your presentation great or is it just great to you? Preview it by presenting it to a small audience; even if it is an audience of one. Make sure to present with your index cards or electronic presentation. Consider it a dress rehearsal.
Listen to feedback and ask for the good and the bad. The good can be very rewarding, but the bad can strengthen your presentation.
7. Hire A Designer
Using a designer can be expensive. But a good designer can turn a dull presentation into fireworks.
Good design will give your presentation visual appeal to complement your polished, well-rehearsed presenting skills. And if your presentation looks like a rock star, then you probably look like a rock star.
If you can’t afford to hire a designer to build all of your slides, you can hire someone to create templates that can be used by you and your colleagues to create your own presentations. This will give you the freedom to create your own content while being supported by strong design.
Remember that good typography is part of design. No self-respecting person should ever use Comic Sans no matter how cute it is.
8. Use A Consistent Theme, Not A Consistent Background
Whatever path you take on design, your presentation should look cohesive.
A standard theme will bring your presentation together and create a narrative flow. But consistent does not necessarily mean “the same”. A standard theme does not mean an exact background for every slide. Different backgrounds can be used to highlight different segments or product lines. You can also use different backgrounds to create context for your audience.
Content Is Still King!
9. Use An Introductory Slide
Consider the time from the moment you walk to the presentation area to the time your presentation begins. What is on the screen? You should have something up there for people to look at. At a bare minimum a logo will do, but a better use of that time and space would be to have your name, the name of the presentation and some information that would be helpful to the audience. Your email, phone number or Twitter name would be great to have on screen so that people can write it down while they are waiting.
10. Provide A Table Of Contents
A great way to present is to tell your audience everything you are going to tell them first. This provides context for your audience and it prepares them for the narrative you are about to deliver.
Dedicating a slide to this will also give your audience an opportunity to prepare mentally if they are taking notes.
11. Create Context
Dedicate space on your slides to keep standard information. For example, if the first section of your presentation is about the mating cycle of manatees and the second section is about their habitat, you may want to consider having those words on the corresponding slides in a dedicated header area. Changes to that header area will be a visual cue to your audience that you are moving from section to section. Information can sometimes be better than a logo always hovering in the same place.
You want to keep text to a minimum, so be careful with this one.
12. Provide A Roadmap To The End
If you have divided your presentation into several parts, say so on your slides. Let the audience know that they are on section 4 of 5. This constant reminder will keep your audience engaged and will provide a thread that you can wrap your narrative around.
Don’t overkill on this one. For example showing “5 of 57” on a slide might be too granular. Plus it creates a maintenance headache for you when you are editing or reshuffling slides.
Give your audience a reasonable idea of where you are going and where you are. Something like “Section 2” or “Part 1 of 3”.
You can also use a pie graph or similar visual to show a percentage of completion.
13. Leave Yourself Space On The Perimeter Of Your Slides
Here is a problem I see all the time. Most people create their slides on a computer where they can see the entire slide, but in practice when the slide is projected on a screen sometimes a small part of the slide is clipped. Sometimes, projectors are set up so they overlap the screen improperly and you lose some visual data on the edges. Other times, projectors will project the contents with the edges missing because the projector is either damaged or old.
To compensate for this type of undesirable effect, create your slides with a safe zone border that will not have any content in it.
The last thing you want is to put your amazing logo on the lower right of every slide and then have it cut off either due to the projector or the screen.
14. Use Transitions That Complement Your Slides
Bad transitions can be the death of a good presentation. Yes, computers have become powerful enough to produce amazing visual effects, but those effects can also be distracting. Transitions should do just that; “transition” from slide to slide. If your transition becomes the focal point, then you risk pulling the audience out of your narrative. One of the tricks I like is to create a series of backgrounds that are seamless so that I can use “pull” and “push” transitions. These transitions are not obtrusive and the seamless backgrounds create the illusion that the audience is “moving” through the presentation.
15. Make Your Slides Available After Your Presentation
Give a presentation the gift of immortality by publishing your slides online for your audience to review. This has implications depending on the type of presentation or the sensitivity of the content.
Providing your slides allows your audience time to review your presentation in a different context and gives them the ability to absorb additional information that they may have missed.
It also fosters a social component where your audience can reach out to you with additional questions or comments. These follow ups can help you refine your presentation if it’s a presentation that you give with some level of frequency.
Be Social With Me
Do you create slides for your presentations? If you do, let me know your tricks and I’ll update this article.
If you enjoyed this article (or hated it), send me a tweet on Twitter at @RalphMRivera.
Happy slide creating!