Before elaborating on your next award winning pitch for your product, you might want to consider some hints on how not to go completely wrong with designing the slides you are going to present.
Consider this request first:
“Design me a slide that will make the audience fall of the chair”.
That ridiculously accurate states what the manager of one of the companies I worked for, asked me during a not-so-casual discussion. That specific request followed me for a while and I was like: “Is that even possible? Is there any ingredient that will make a slide have such an impact?”. In short, no. Actually, there are three important aspects of a presentation (which here I call a collection of slides): delivery, development and design. Design alone will not make anyone fall of the chair. It is the compelling story, tone of voice or other body language attributes that will also tremendously contribute to making a presentation memorable. Nancy Duarte advices on the subject are of real value and I highly recommend one of her books.
These would be some points that you should check when preparing the presentation.
- Make the Overall Message of the Presentation Clear
It could be that your presentation is intended to sell, or you want to build trust, or persuade someone into taking an action of whatsoever. State that clear. The reason for this is that each time you find yourself in doubt regarding a specific slide or piece of content ask yourself: “Would that reinforce the overall message of the presentation?”. If not (and most likely that photo with your grandma’s cat will not), consider removing it.
- One Idea per Slide
Each slide is about one single message. If you think that your slide should equally deliver two different ideas, think harder.
- Use Visuals
Chances that a slide containing text to be remembered is 10%. Add an image and that percent raises to 65%. So, don’t neglect the power of images. You know what they say: A picture is worth a thousand words (unless of course you choose a stock photo with a boring corporate white collar blonde woman holding a folder and fake laughing — that will make only around 200).
- No Bullet Points
I thought twice before mentioning this. But seriously guys, don’t.
- First Slide
Have you ever picked a book because of how fascinating the book cover was? Then, you know what I mean. On a side note, the first 30 seconds are the most important. Go Maverick style and dive directly into the subject.
- Three Seconds Rule
Build a slide that the audience can understand in 3 seconds. Facilitate scanning not reading. People cannot read and listen to you, both at the same time. If they begin to read, they won’t listen. If they don’t listen, you lose connection with them. Losing the connection with the audience is the road to failure.
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I wish I wrote this quote, but I didn’t. Simplicity could be achieved in many ways. First, compress the content; so that one phrase will sum up all the other five, you initially wanted to have there. Additionally, making use of white space (or negative space), alignments, consistent fonts and colors will also contribute to the overall simplicity of the presentation. Make sure the plate on which the message is served, stays clear. What’s extra is noise. And noise interferes with the message. You don’t want that.
We can all tell from miles when people talk with passion about something. I noticed that when I skip slides that don’t inspire me, things become much easier. I only talk about topics that I can handle. Consider providing more insights, with those boring unreadable pie charts or market segmentation details, through handouts. Or better, leave them for the Q&A session — and by the way, you should always have a Q&A session. You got the point. Don’t dedicate whole slides for topics out of your knowledge area. If you struggle to explain, they will struggle to understand.
Remember: the slides you present exist only to honor the message you deliver. Don’t assume that a beautifully crafted presentation will narrate everything for you. That’s exactly what most people think. I always say that you should be able to convince someone of the next big disruptive startup you are building, without any slides at all — they are there only to enhance the story.