Imagine the worst presentation you’ve ever sat through. I know, it’s a painful memory, but work with me here. I bet I can guess one component of this experience—terrible slides.
You know the slides I’m talking about. They are from some PowerPoint or Keynote template. They have a dark background and light words that are difficult to read. And read you must because they look like books. These slides seem to include all of the words. All. The. Words.
And, let’s face it, you decided when you saw that first slide that you didn’t want to listen to this presentation because it was going to be boring. In fact, you probably spent most of the presentation either planning your escape or just praying for it to end.
Slide decks have become a popular tool for giving presentations. And, honestly, I love slides and use them myself in pretty much every presentation I give. But I too have experienced “death by PowerPoint,” and I agree that it has to end.
I’ll admit that I’ve become better with creating presentations through time. Here are some of my best tips for creating professional presentations.
Research your audience
Find out everything you can about your audience before you start building a presentation.
Who are they?
What do they know?
What do they need to know?
Researching your audience’s needs will help you be sure you fulfill them.
Identify your objective
Once you’ve researched your audience, you can begin to identify the overall purpose or objective of your presentation.
What is the single thing you want to make sure your audience knows, understands or remembers after listening to your presentation?
Identify key points
Based on your overall objective, identify a handful of key points that you need to communicate with the audience. These points should support and explain the presentation’s overall objective.
You want every slide you include in the presentation to focus on these key messages, which you will repeat several times throughout your presentation.
Think “companion piece”
Your slides are not your presentation. The purpose of your slides is to serve as a visual companion to your spoken communication.
People can only focus on a topic for about 25 minutes without something to break up the visual monotony. Well designed slides can do this for you repeatedly.
But you will never even look at your slides during your presentation. You will look at your audience.
My students tease me when they see the number of slides in my decks. I typically plan about 40 slides for a 50 minute class. The same is true for a more traditional presentation. This gives me five minutes of introduction to tell a story or make an interesting observation that supports the presentation’s objective. It also gives me five minutes or more (depending on how quickly I get through the slides) of Q&A at the end. So, I average about a slide a minute.
It’s ok that I have a lot of slides because they aren’t all bogged down with information. Instead, I make one point per slide. So, each slide has, at most, a single sentence on it. Most of my slides have one or two words on them. This helps the slides complement my speech instead of becoming my presentation. You need both the slides and my accompanying words to understand.
One of my favorite leadership authors and speakers, Michael Hyatt, elaborated on this point, saying:
If slides are done right, they don’t make any sense without the presentation.”
Create visual appeal
This may be the most difficult part of building slide decks for many people.
If you’re using a pre-set template to build your slides, stop.
If you’re using a header and a bunch of bullet points, stop.
I did this for years, and it doesn’t work. People recognize these trite ways of presenting and they stop listening almost immediately.
Now when I build a presentation, I think about everything I know about design. I start with a white slide, and work from there.
If you don’t know anything about basic design principles like color usage, white space, balance, symmetry, and typography, you must learn before your slide decks will improve. I recommend Garr Reynolds’s book, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, as a place to begin this learning. Just reading this book will give you a lot of ideas about how to improve your presentations.
Use good images
A key to good slides is images that are engaging, not cliché. Make sure the image(s) on a slide are good quality and represent the slide’s point. Use your own images when possible. Otherwise, consider using free stock images.
Once you’ve made your deck, go through and take out any slides that don’t support your objective or aren’t necessary to make your point. You want to communicate your message as simply as possible, which means you can’t clutter it up with too much information.
When you think your presentation is complete, be sure to spell check it and then proofread your slides. An error of this nature will make you look less professional, harm your credibility and, potentially, embarrass you. It also will distract your audience, who will notice.
Once you’ve completed your slide deck, back it up on an external drive and print it. Take both of these items with you to the presentation, just in case.
If you’re nervous about presenting, check out my post on overcoming your fear of public speaking.
Hopefully just knowing you have a strong deck with help eliminate some of your nerves and make you excited to share your full presentation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”