What makes a presentation memorable?
It usually comes down to three things:
- The main idea.
- The presenter.
- The visuals.
All three elements work together to create a successful presentation. A good idea will give the audience a purpose for listening. A good presenter communicates the main idea so that the audience cares about it. And compelling visuals help clarify concepts and illustrate ideas.
But how the presenter delivers their presentation and what visuals they use can vary drastically while still being effective. There is no one perfect presentation style, or presentation design.
In fact, the folks at Make A Powerful Point identified 6 types of presenters: the Coach, the Inventor, the Counselor, the Storyteller, the Teacher and the Coordinator.
They each have their own approaches to creating and delivering presentations, and each approach has pros and cons.
The question is: when the time comes to create a slide deck, how can each presenter type design a presentation that brings their strengths forward?
Since I always have visual content on my mind, I wanted to identify what the best type of PowerPoint presentation is for each type of presenter. So I decided to look at some well known, successful presenters to see how they approach designing their slide decks. Then I pulled some helpful presentation design tips for how you can design your slide deck, based on which type of presenter you are.
Not sure what presentation design style you should use? Take our quiz:
Coaches are all about engaging their audience and inspiring people to take action. They’re often the motivational speakers and the mindset shifters. A large part of their success is their physical presence on the stage–their movements and their energy.
One trap that Coaches can fall into is talking too fast for their audience. That’s why, when it comes to creating their slide decks, they might find it helpful to create slides that ask questions that require pause, or to even repeat slides so that they remember to hash out important topics.
Tim Ferriss is more on the stoic side as far as Coach-type presenters go but as you’ll see in his TED Talk on stoicism, that makes a lot of sense. His delivery is calm and measured but still charged with emotion, and he helps keep that charge going by designing his slides to deliver emotional impact.
Let’s take a closer look at his presentation on stoicism.
Include examples of inspiring people
People like having role models to look up to. If you want to motivate your audience, including examples of people who demonstrate the traits you’re advocating for in your presentation (stoicism, perseverance, etc.) can give people something to aspire to.
Pick photos that show these people in moments of triumph. For example, Tim Ferriss includes this photo of Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, in his presentation. Tim Ferriss uses Bill Belichick as an example of someone who demonstrates stoicism, to his benefit.
Even if you don’t want to include an example of a real person, you can include stock images of people experiencing the feeling of triumph or excitement and contentment. Sites like Unsplash or Pexels have a bunch of professional, not cringey stock photos.
Dedicate slides to poignant questions
While you might be tempted to fill your slides with decorative visuals and splashes of color, consider that sometimes simplicity is more effective than complexity. The simpler your slide is, the more you can focus in on one thought-provoking idea.
For example, take a look at this slide in Tim Ferriss’s presentation:
Notice that he has picked an intense, black background with white font. It’s simple, but it allows for nothing on the slide to distract from the question.
Color can influence how we perceive things. A lot of people in the audience are probably considering dark times in their lives when they feel like they have failed. Now they are being asked to consider attempting something as a success in and of itself. Pretty powerful, right?
Find quotes that will inspire your audience
A really good quote can stick in a person’s mind of weeks after your presentation. Creating a slide that features a quote can be a nice way to either begin or finish off your presentation.
Tim Ferriss uses the stark black background and white font design as well in slides where he delivers powerful quotes.
Another approach you could take to slides featuring quotes: pick an evocative photo that reflects the theme of the quote and use it as the background of your slide. Then, place the quote over the image. This will give the quote a visual that reinforces the message.
Coach presentation design tips
Because Coaches tend to feed off their audience’s energy, it can be helpful for them to create a slide deck that will draw out people’s emotions. Remember that simplicity is often more effective than complexity and use that to guide your design.
Pick evocative photos that shows examples of people, places or activities, or that help illustrate intangible concepts. Pictures of people are particularly evocative. Overlaying images with bold one-liners and actionable tips can also hype up your audience.
Here are some quick tips for Coach presentation design:
- Pick evocative photos that feature real people and amazing places.
- Dedicate slides to bold one-liners and actionable tips.
- Pick intense color schemes that lend to the emotional feel of your presentation.
Elon Musk is the perfect example of someone with this presenter style. If you have never compared the difference between Elon Musk in a presentation vs. Elon Musk in an interview, take a few moments to do that now.
Yeah, he definitely seems more comfortable with the interview format. That’s understandable–he’s at the heart of all the amazing tech he talks about. He’s an inventor first and foremost, and a presenter as a by-product.
Let’s take a closer look at Elon Musk’s 2017 Making Life Multiplanetary presentation. Granted, it’s mostly diagrams since he is introducing the new Mars rocket. But there are some techniques he uses that could be applied to any presentation.
Label your slides to prompt your memory
Often, presenters will write out an entire script for their presentation and read it off a teleprompter. The problem is, that can often make your presentation seem too rehearsed and wooden.
But even if you don’t write a complete script, you can still put key phrases on your slides to prompt jog your memory. The one thing you have to be weary of is looking back at your slides too much.
Take a look at this slide in Elon Musk’s presentation:
This slide notes some of the specs of SpaceX’s rocket engine. It isn’t a particularly text-heavy slide, but the combination of the clear label and key points gives Elon Musk a touchpoint to work from.
Use mixed chart types to enrich the data
When it comes to creating charts for presentations, it’s generally a good idea to keep your charts as straightforward and uncluttered as possible. But in some cases, using two simple charts side by side can deepen the audience’s understanding of a concept.
For example, this slide in Elon Musk’s presentation shows an illustrated diagram and a line chart side by side. The diagram helps explain the data in the line chart, which better illustrates the concept Elon Musk explains (how refilling the rocket tanks mid-journey will enable them to reach Mars).
They key is to make sure your mixed charts are both simple and don’t cover too many data points. You should also make sure that a slide like this stays up for a while, so your audience has a chance to process it.
Combine charts and photos to illustrate the concept behind the data
A simple design hack to make your charts more impactful is to use an image as a background. Not only does the image make your chart more interesting to look at, it should also reflect the theme of the data.
It can be hard for people to visualize a concept when they’re just given a chart, and an image helps bring the data and the concept together.
Now, you need to be careful how you approach this. If the image is too distracting, it can distort how your audience reads the data.
This slide in Elon Musk’s presentation find a good balance:
The image of the Earth doesn’t interfere with the graph. Instead, it gives the chart a feeling of grandiosity that reflects how exciting the data is (we’re going to Mars, people!).
Inventor presentation design tips
Because Inventors often have trouble putting all of their knowledge into words, it can be helpful for them to incorporate key phrases into their slides to jolt their memory.
Including discussion questions throughout the presentation may also help Inventors communicate ideas more clearly, as they often feel more comfortable in Q&A settings.
An neat and organized flat design works well in this case, because it’s easy to read and there won’t be much distracting from the charts, diagrams and images. Inventors often prefer a modern design because it’s efficient.
Here are some quick presentation design tips for Inventors:
- Incorporate visuals cues for talking points.
- Combine types of charts and visuals to better illustrate your data.
- Use a minimalist flat design that places the focus on the visuals and key phrases.
Counselor-type presenters are eloquent speakers who love to talk about big ideas. They’re good at moving easily between the big picture and the smaller details. But because they’re so interested in working through ideas, they don’t always make an effort to engage directly with their audience.
Leila Janah, founder of Sama Group, could fall into this category. Her Innovation and Inspire talk about Sama Group is an example of a presentation that is well organized and very easy to follow.
Her presentation follows a logical, steady stream of ideas. She seems comfortable talking in front of a crowd but doesn’t make any attempts to engage directly with them.
That being said, her presentation is impactful because of well she communicates the problem Sama addresses, the steps they took the solve the problem, and the results of the nonprofit’s efforts.
Let’s take a closer look at how her presentation design powers her talk.
Break your presentation into sections with headers
Similar to how you would write different chapters in a book, dividing your presentation into sections can help you organize your information and communicate your ideas in an impactful way.
You could divide your presentation by steps in a process, by themes you want to unpack, by case studies–whatever will let you work through your main idea in a logical sequence.
Leila Janah divides her presentation into sections, with a title slide for each.
She then tracks which section she’s on in the top left corner of the subsequent slides. This is a simple way for her audience to follow along with what she’s saying.
Another options is to show a progress bar along the bottom of your slide, to keep your audience (and yourself) on track.
Visualize timelines to help tell stories
Timelines allow you to visualize the passing of time. They also help contextualize important dates and events.
Typically, horizontal timelines work best for PowerPoint slides. You should also try to keep your timeline to only a few big dates, so your audience will be able to read it easily.
Take a look at this simple timeline Leila Janah uses to show the evolution of fair corporate social responsibility:
She focuses in on two big years in this broad history, giving the audience a timeframe for the points she talks about. You could do the same thing to visualize the history of a product, a movement, or even a person.
Use pictures of real people to engage your audience
While their presentation tend to be bursting with great ideas, Counselors can often have trouble involving their audience in their presentation. One way Counselors can engage their audience, even when they forget to interact with them directly, is by using relatable visuals.
Pictures of people–and in particular, people’s faces–engage audience members because they can connect with them. At the core of most presentation is a human problem that needs to be solved, and pictures of real people can help those problems hit close to home.
Leila Janah incorporates stories about real people Sama Group has helped into her presentation. This not only allows the audience to connect with their story, it also enforces her organization’s credibility.
She also uses photos of people in the background of certain slides, with keywords on top.
Here’s a slide design hack to keep in your back pocket: if you want to use a photo as your slide background, overlay the picture with a transparent color wash so that your text will stand out.
Counselor presentation design tips
Look for ways to connect to your audience with your slide design. While your instinct might be to pick a neutral slide, look for opportunities to introduce some color into your design.
Colors can serve the dual purpose of embellishing your design while also organizing the information. For example, you could color code each section of your presentation. You could also use colors to categorize types of information throughout your presentation. The key is to use your colors consistently throughout the presentation.
Here are some quick presentation design tips for Counselors:
- Divide your presentation into sections and track your progress on your slides.
- Color code your sections, or types of information to make it easier to follow.
- Use photos of real people to help your audience connect to your stories.
- Use data visualizations like timelines and simple charts to illustrate your ideas.
Pick a presentation template with a solid structural foundation, then look for ways to personalize it with your own photos, data visualizations, and points.
Storytellers are particularly adept at engaging their audiences. But it’s easy for Storyteller-type presenters to become side-tracked and lose focus of their central point.
Visual cues are important in a storyteller’s presentation. Presentation section headers, for example, can help set a storyteller back on track.
A prime example of someone with this presentation style is Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of Trend Hunter. I had the pleasure of watching his Better and Faster keynote about innovation at Future Festival in Toronto this year and let me tell you, this guy likes to tell a good story. His keynote was engaging and left me, and most of the crowd, I would say, feeling pretty pumped to look for ways to innovate.
Again, always keeping an eye out for awesome information visualization, I noticed that his slide deck was particularly effective at enhancing his storytelling and driving the big points home. Here’s some of the particularly effective visual element of Jeremy Gutsche’s presentation.
Use images that build suspense
What is one of the most effective storytelling techniques to keep listeners engaged? Building suspense.
Suspense can be worked into virtually any presentation, for any topic. Jeremy Gutsche’s keynote about innovation is an example of this. He shows four GIFs with seemingly no connection and tells the audience that he’s going to explain how they all have something to do with origami?
Immediately, the audience is hooked. What the heck could these things have to do with origami?! (Hint: it has to do with folding things).
By building suspense, you are much more likely to maintain your audience’s attention. Images are a great way to build suspense, because you can show them again and again throughout your presentation to spark curiosity in your audience. Not to mention, images stick in people’s memory much easier than words do.
That’s why the images you use to build suspense shouldn’t be too detailed. They should focus on one object or uncluttered scene, so that the audience will be able to commit it to memory easily.
Use diagrams to show connections
One of the traps that Storytellers can fall into is going on tangents and getting sidetracked from the main point. Diagrams that visualize connections can act as visual cues to help keep you on track, while also making it easier for your audience to follow your train of thought.
Take this simple diagram that shows the mindset you should adopt to be innovative (“farmer” vs. “hunter”):
Jeremy Gutsche uses icons to visualize the traits of both mindsets. Icons are a creative alternative to using bullet points–they illustrate ideas and make points more memorable.
Some of the same icons pop up again later on in the presentation, this time to show how the same concepts relate to areas of innovation. This create a cohesive flow of information that the audience can follow along with, their memory of the “hunter” traits jogged by the icons.
Use a mindmap to tell your story
Many Storytellers like to work their own experiences into their presentations. It’s a great way to connect with your audience and establish your credibility as a speaker.
A simple but effective way to tell your story is with a mind map. Mind maps allow you to take one central idea and branch off into its contributing parts.
For example, Jeremy Gutsche uses a mind map to show his career experience that led him to founding Trend Hunter. He shows how his past experiences contributed to his passion for innovation, and created the foundation for him to found his own business.
Storyteller presentation design tips
Storytellers can benefit from creating slide decks that help keep them on track. But just because they could use a little extra structure doesn’t mean their slides have to be boring. In fact, Storytellers will benefit from bold, vibrant images and icons, to help bring their stories to life.
Because Storytellers tends to be better at spinning memorable phrases off the cuff, they can afford to use slides that are lighter on text and heavier on visuals. The slides that are more text heavy could be quotes from people who appear in the stories, or strategies that people should jot down.
Here are some design quick tips for Storytellers:
- Create mind maps to help tell your story.
- Pick images that build suspense.
- Incorporate plenty of photos to show your own experiences.
- Use icons to illustrate ideas and and connect points.
Teacher-style presenters have a knack for making complex concepts easy to understand. They tend to use plenty of visuals in their presentation but each visual serves a specific purpose.
Al Gore is a classic example of the Teacher style. His presentations are structured to educate and enlighten his audience by presenting complex information in a easily digestible way.
In his TED Talk about solutions for climate change, he uses some powerful design tactics to demystify complex concepts and make an impact on his audience. Let’s take a closer look.
Use simple, poignant charts to simplify complex concepts
Charts have the ability to make concepts easy to understand 5 seconds or less–when done well. But a complicated chart can take a lot longer.
When it comes to creating charts for your presentations, keep them simple. They should make a concept easy to understand in the time for the slide after it.
Al Gore uses simple, uncluttered charts, graphs and diagrams in his presentation to illustrate concepts. Not only that, he uses a variety of chart types to keep his information engaging.
Take this map chart that shows the spread of microbial diseases:
The dots are colors coded, making it easy to identify which disease is being pinpointed. If you watch the actual presentation, too, you can see that the dots move, giving you an even better sense of just how quickly these diseases spread.
Or take this simple bar graph:
The graph is clearly labelled, with a color scheme that makes it easy to read. This graph doesn’t require any deciphering on the audience’s part. It’s delivers the data, no fuss.
Use impactful photos to drive points home
I’m not going to say how many words a picture is worth, because you know already. But I will say that pictures help people retain information better, and they can elicit visceral emotional reactions.
Al Gore uses impactful images to help drive home important points in his presentation. But while other presenters use photos to illustrate intangible concepts like “motivation” or “open-mindedness”, he uses photo examples to bring his concepts to life.
In his TED Talk, Al Gore shows shocking photos of the effects of climate change in specific parts of the world. It definitely leaves an impression.
Using images that elicit shock can be very effective if used sparingly. They can drive home the gravity of a situation.
Al Gore finds a good balance in his presentation of showing shocking images without inundating the audience. After all, you don’t want your audience to become desensitised to a problem!
Emphasize key points with text and images
While Al Gore’s presentation is not particularly text-heavy, he does use text to emphasize particularly important points. Doing this achieves two things:
- When audience head a point and simultaneously read it on the screen, it’s easier to retain.
- Audience members can photograph/screencap the slide and share it with their networks.
When you pair concise text with an image, you’re presenting the information to your audience in two simultaneous ways. This can make the information easier to remember, and more memorable (and there you’ve got the basis for creating infographics, my friends).
For example, look at this slide:
He uses a combination of white and red font to emphasize the key words in the sentence. Meanwhile, the diagram of the sun’s rays hitting the earth help to create a sense of abundance in sun’s resources.
Teacher presentation design tips
Teachers often have to communicate complex concepts in a way that will be easy for anyone to understand. Look for every opportunity you can to visualize information – charts, bold fonts, photos, icons, GIFS, you name it.
Not only will this combine two learning styles (visual and audio), it will also make it easier for your audience to go back and study the slides later.
Here are some quick presentation design tips for Teachers:
- Use data visualizations like graphs, charts and pictograms to illustrate complex topics.
- Vary the types of data visualizations you use, to keep your audience engaged.
- Pick photos that drive home important concepts.
- Create text slides that emphasize key points and define complex concepts.
A fun way to give your slide deck a cohesive feel is to pick a design theme. For example, if you’re teaching your audience about a historical topic, you could give your slides a classic, print-like feel.
Coordinator-style presenters often prefer to be in the audience than on stage. But they don’t let that stop them, and their meticulous nature can lend to very well-structured presentations.
Generally, Coordinators need their presentations to be well-rehearsed. Their slide decks are organized, each section building towards a main point. This can be very useful for audience members, especially if a presenter sends them the slide deck following their presentation.
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is an example of someone who could fall into the Coordinator presenter type. She is a master of laying out a foundation for the topic she will be discussing and pulling components together until she gets to the main point.
That’s exactly what she does in her talk about deliberate practice. Let’s dig into how she designed her slide deck to help her build her argument.
Use charts to show how parts make a whole
A big part of structuring a presentation well is making sure that every point you touch on has a clear path back to your main argument. It’s also often easier to get people to understand concepts when you are able to break them down into parts.
Visuals like pie charts are a great way to show how parts contribute to a whole. Here’s an example of a pie chart that Angela Duckworth uses in her presentation to break down character:
This visual helps get the audience to think within a framework of multiplicity.
Use flowcharts to visualize steps your audience can take
Flowcharts are a great way to visualize processes, decision-making, and showing cause and effects. While you won’t have the space on a slide to show a complex flowchart, you can create a condensed, high-level flowchart that gives your audience an idea of what the process looks like.
For example, Angela Duckworth uses a flowchart to show how understanding the purpose of their schoolwork has an effect on the student’s performance:
It’s simple but effective because it offers the audience a snapshot of a process that could have a huge impact on how they approach teaching.
Note that the flowchart also uses a combination of shapes and colors to pack more meaning into one concise visual–for example, the speech bubble indicates what students might be thinking without stating it outright.
Use two similar images to compare information
One of the easiest ways to compare information visually is to split your slide down the middle and to place the information side by side. If you’re comparing two perspectives or approaches within the same theme (for example, two opinions about the same topic), then using two similar images can work well.
Take a look at this diagram that Angela Duckworth uses:
The same illustration of the brain is inverted with a different color to show two mindsets. The Fixed Mindset is pointing backwards, indicating a lack of growth, while the Growth Mindset is pointing forwards towards progress.
You can easily create a similar visual by using an icon that reflects the theme of your information, copying and inverting it, and changing the color.
Coordinator presentation design tips
Coordinators will probably benefit from a slide deck that is thoughtfully structured to build towards a main point, with plenty of examples. This could be done by structuring your presentation as a series of steps in a process, or different hacks to achieve a major end goal, or even trends for a specific industry.
A more classic slide design works well for this type of presentation–headers on each slide and a concise text descriptions. A neutral background with pops of color will give your presentation an organized and efficient feel.
You may also want to include a legend at the beginning of the presentation, to give your audience a framework of how each point in the presentation will be worked through.
Here are some quick presentation design tips for Coordinators:
- Organize your presentation so that it builds towards a central point or argument.
- Use diagrams to compare information in one concise visual.
- Use a neutral background with pops of color for emphasis.
- Label your slides so the meaning of each one is clear.
Find what works for you!
An important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to stick to one style. Depending on who your audience is, what the topic of your presentation is, and how you are growing as a presenter, you might find yourself wanting to switch up your presentation style and presentation design.
That’s completely OK!
If you’re not sure what type of presenter you are, let the purpose of your presentation guide your design decisions.