How to Create Great Slides

I’ve been working with a couple of speakers and trainers recently to help them with the creation of their slides for their upcoming presentations. And, having worked with a number of people in this area I can now see some of the core principles that I consistently use to create great slides.

Here are seven rules you can use to help you make your next presentation stand out for all the right reasons.

The examples shown are mostly from a project I did for Roger Simpson at The Retail Solution. We interviewed Roger here for the Ideas Architect Podcast.

1 Listen not Read

If you’re talking to an audience then you’re number one priority is to have them listen. That’s obvious, right? And, the design of your slides can make or break this goal. The classic ‘death by Powerpoint’ mistake is to put too many words on your slides. When you do this the audience stops listening to you and starts reading instead. Instant disconnect!

TIP: Use an emotional image and a maximum of 7 words per slide. Notice the lack of words on the examples on this page.

TIP: Instead of cramming a lot onto one slide, if you have a complex idea, break it down and show this over several slides.

[Tweet “Seven rules for creating sexy slides for your next presentation #slidedesign”]

2 Visual Numbers

Stats can be super effective in persuading your audience. And, the meaning is not in the numbers it’s in the trend. Like the previous point, our brains process visuals quicker and easier than words and numbers so translate your numbers into graphics. This could be as simple as showing a percentage as a pie graph or a trend line. Notice in the example below left there are no numbers at all. And by visualizing people, we turn an abstract idea into something more concrete.

TIP: Make your numbers meaningful by making them visual.

Great Slides - Visual Numbers

3 Models as Stories

I think every presentation needs a big idea. And, one of the best ways to present this is as a visual model or diagram. The big problem I see around the presentation of visual models is that they’re often thrown at an unsuspecting audience as one big lump on a single slide. This not only makes it extremely difficult for your audience to track what is going on, it misses a huge opportunity to tell a story and engage your audience.

TIP: Break your models down into a series of steps and present each layer in a separate slide. In this way you can engage your audience with the story of the diagram rather than simply whacking someone over the head with it.

Great Slides - Diagram as Story

4 Provide the Map

I don’t know about you… And, I like to know where I’m going! And, I think we should treat our audiences with the same respect. Steve Jobs was brilliant at this. He would say something like, “today we are introducing 3 revolutionary products,” or “I want to spend time with you talking about the economy, our industry and the work we are doing at Microsoft.”

TIP: Provide a simple map of what you’re going to cover in your presentation to manage the expectations of your audience.

5 Give Me a Break

There’s nothing worse than a confused audience. A simple way to avoid this is to provide an overall structure for your presentation that is easy to follow. It’s starts with our previous point – provide a map of the key ideas. Then to be consistent I suggest you provide key milestone markers along the way.

A simple way to do this visually is to provide a contrasting slide style. In the example below on the left is a section or chapter slide that is solid blue. This contrasts with the usual slides that have a white background.

TIP: Use a visual language or style to provide distinct breaks and milestones in your talk.

Great Slides - Section Break

6 Mix it Up

There is nothing worse in a presentation than a monotone voice that drones on for what seems like hours. The same applies to your slides! Instead of same-same-same I think it’s good to mix up your slides. I suggest that you have a variety of slides styles. For example:

  • A typical slide
  • A section break slide (previous point)
  • An emotional image slide
  • A surprise slide that is completely different to everything else in your slidedeck.

Also, consider the pace that you show your slides. Sometimes you want to flash through ten slides in a minute and at other times you might have one slide that is displayed for five minutes whilst you tell a story. This builds interest, rhythm and cadence.

TIP: Mix up your slides by having a variety of slide styles.

TIP: Mixing it up has it’s limits. Don’t mix up your fonts. As a rule of thumb either use one font only throughout your entire presentation. Or, if you are using two fonts make sure they are very different, for example:
• Bold and thin
• Serif and non-serif
•Handwritten and print

7 Leave them Thirsty

The greatest mistake that I see consistently made by presenters, including me, is that we try to cram too much content into too short of time. And, this is usually a function of information bias where we think more is better. Unfortunately it’s not. In particular, we are all busy and our bandwidth for listening is limited. A better approach is to only cover a handful of key points.

TIP: Make it easy for your audience to digest your content by using the rule of three. Limit yourself to only three main points for your entire presentation. This can then be reflected in your slides with ‘3 things we’ll cover today’ and ‘three sections’ for your presentation.

TIP: Always offer a next step for your audience to add action and value. This might be to:
• Contact you
• Some resources to access
• Some action to take to reinforce what has been learnt during your presentation.

MORE: Here’s more on how to present from Steve Jobs via Book Rapper

COMMENT: Which of these seven items are you going to employ in your next presentation? And, anything you’d add to this list?



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