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Presentation Design 101: How to Inform, Engage, and Persuade

A good presentation should be informative, engaging, and well designed.

A well-designed presentation can be the difference between an audience engaging with your message or walking away. Whether you’re trying to inform, persuade, or convert, audience buy-in depends on a good looking presentation.

But how do you create a presentation that really shines? What makes your information stand out and stay top of mind?

It starts with a sleek design. If you’ve ever sat through a bad presentation, you know that much of its effectiveness hinges on the look and feel of the deck. Here are 10 tips to help you create a compelling presentation design that your audience will actually want to sit through.

1. Keep it simple

You’ve probably heard of the design philosophy, KISS – keep it simple, stupid. This applies to every type of design, including a presentation design. You might be sharing important, complex information, but there’s no need to complicate the look of your design.

Simple slides are more likely to be read and understood. This simplicity extends to everything in the content and presentation design. Here are some tips to following through:

  • Create a unified message or theme that carries throughout the presentation

  • Skip transitions, sounds, or animations that clutter the screen (and the audience’s attention)

  • Create action-based messaging that encourages interaction

  • Stick to a single visual theme for visual consistency

2. One slide, one thought

Whether your presentation is 20 slides or just an individual frame, each single screen should only contain one idea.

Let that sink in for a minute.

The one-slide-one-thought philosophy helps you plan information in a visual format that the audience can easily digest. For in-person presentations, it will also help the audience focus on you and what you are saying rather than staring at an overwhelming block of information on the screen.

The design does more than make a presentation easy to see; it also helps create a flow from idea to idea.

3. Opt for simple typefaces

The typeface you use is almost as important as the words on the screen. You need to select something that’s highly readable.

Look for a typeface that:

  • Is sans-serif (or a simple serif) – these are easier to read on screens

  • Has a uniform stroke width

  • Is a regular or bold style (stay away from thin or italic typefaces)

  • Matches the tone of the presentation

  • Can be used at different sizes with ease

The common objection to using a typeface that meets the conditions above is that it’s “boring.” That’s just not so. Some of the most-loved typefaces in the design community fit these criteria. Think of them as reliable and readable.

Popular sans-serif font options include Helvetica, Futura, and Proxima Nova.

Using more standard typefaces can ensure that the presentation design is clean and professional. And if you want to go for a little typographic spark, consider using size variations and bold fonts for emphasis.

4. Limit text and bullet points

While we’re looking at text, one of the biggest presentation design problems is too much text. Think of each slide as a headline. What’s the most important point you will try to make while the slide is on the screen? Make that point. Period.

Text should be large (there might be people sitting far away from the screen), and it shouldn’t be in sentence format, in most instances. And stay away from the biggest mistake of all: Bullet overload. A slide full of bullet points just isn’t useful.

5. Stick to a single image

Each slide should contain one high-quality visual.

Don’t try to cheat, either. A background, photo, illustration or chart all count as an image when it comes to creating your presentation. Anything more and you’ll be overloading the audience with visual information that they can’t process effectively.

Quality imagery will sell your presentation design. Opt for images that showcase your messaging in a high-resolution format. Tiny, pixelated images look unprofessional.

Consider high-quality stock photography when you’re building out a presentation. Good stock photography doesn’t look silly or clichéd, and will help you make a visual statement.

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider Shutterstock Editor. The easy-to-use presentation design tool comes packed with high-quality stock images that will fit your business and help your slides dazzle.

6. Two colors are enough

Every good presentation design has a colour palette. Excluding black or white, the palette probably does not need more than two colours. Copy is typically rendered in black for readability, but you can apply the colour scheme to the background, headlines, and smaller accents like bullet points.

Start with your dominant brand colours when picking a presentation design palette. If your brand uses a colourless scheme such as a white logo, pick a pair of colours that match the tone of the message.

If you plan to go heavy on images, colour accents and text become less important. If you aren’t using a lot of imagery, a good colour palette can add visual impact. Choose a colour that’s bright and engaging, and which is dark (or light) enough so that the text can be seen.

7. Pay attention to contrast

Contrast separates elements so that there’s a clear focal point on each slide in the presentation design. Create contrast with elements that have different sizes or colours. Every slide should include a spot that the audience should look at first, then a secondary place before they take in the entire visual. This happens in mere seconds, which is why contrast — which aids readability — is so important.

Use a filter if you need to (think Instagram style) to create a layer that separates images and text. You need a combination of light background with dark text or a darker background with light text so that everything is easy to read and understand at a glance.

8. Go beyond a default theme

There’s so much more than the default presentation themes in programs such as PowerPoint. People have seen these themes in presentations so many times that they will not leave a lasting impression.

A more custom design will make much more of a statement — it’s something that the audience is more likely to remember. And you don’t have to be a professional designer to do it. There are great tools out there that allow you to create custom presentations or single slides for online and social media sharing in a matter of minutes.

9. Be consistent in the design

It’s important to pull all of these tips together into a design that’s consistent from slide to slide. The image style, colour choices, typography palette, and placement of elements (such as your logo) should follow a set of guidelines for the project.

You want all the slides in the deck to feel like a part of the same presentation design, not like mismatched parts. Think of it this way: If an audience member or user were to see one of the slides in isolation (which can happen with online presentations or when people snap photos during events) they should know visually who was presenting information.

When you are trying to create a style guide for presentation design consistency, keep the following things in mind:

  • Use the same typography throughout the design. Pick one font and size for headlines and another for body copy

  • Use common placements for text elements, such as headlines at the top centre and information below. You can also consistently justify text boxes to the left or right

  • Use the same background or style of photos throughout the design.

  • If you include company branding, such as a logo, anchor it in the same position for every slide

  • You can make a more of a statement with an interesting cover slide but stick to the same colours, fonts, and image style

10. Don’t forget the call to action

Leave your audience with something to do after the presentation ends by including a call to action (CTA) in your slide deck.

For presentation decks with multiple slides, include a call to action every 10 slides or so. For individual slide presentations — such as one shared on social-media — include a call to action every single time.

A call to action can include a link, phone number, or email form. It should include a simple bit of text that tells the audience to do something. For example:

  • Download the e-book

  • Find out more

  • Connect with me/us on social

Design the call to action as a full slide in the middle of a deck, or consider a button-style design on single slides. That said, you have to give users something in exchange for interacting with you. Be straightforward about what you are asking for with the call to action and show what the user will get in return. (The higher the reward, the more information users will provide. Coupon codes or exclusive downloads offer high value for users.)

Get started on your presentation

Creating a knock-their-socks-off presentation design doesn’t have to be a daunting task. You are now armed with plenty of tips for creating something that the audience will engage with. You just have to get started.

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