Bad presentations. We’ve all had to sit through them.
Heck, we’ve probably all given one or two. I know I have.
You know the type: twice as long as they need to be, slides chock-full of text, no visuals in sight.
Incredibly boring and painful to watch.
How can you ensure you don’t fall victim to these presentation faux-pas when designing your next slide deck?
Include less text and more visuals in your presentation design
According to David Paradi’s annual presentation survey, the 3 things that annoy audiences most about presentations are:
- Speakers reading their slides
- Slides that include full sentences of text
- Text that is too small to read
The common thread that ties all of these presentation annoyances is text. Audiences are very picky about the text found in presentation slide decks.
In my experiences speaking at events over the past few years, audiences respond much more positively to presentations that use visuals in place of text.
Audiences are more engaged, ask more questions, and find my talks more memorable when I include lots of visual examples in my slide decks.
I’m not the only one who has found this. We recently surveyed nearly 400 conference speakers about their presentation designs and found that 84.3% create presentations that are highly visual.
A great example of a high visual presentation is the iconic AirBnB pitch deck design, which includes no more than 40 words per slide. Instead of repeating the speaker’s script on the slides, it makes an impact with keywords, large numbers, and icons:
To help you take your presentations to the next level, I’d like to share my process for creating a visually-focused presentation like the one above.
I’ll give you my top presentation design tips that I’ve learned over years of presenting in front of countless peers, colleagues, and strangers.
We’ll cover the most important steps for summarizing lengthy text into a presentation-friendly format. Then we’ll touch on some presentation design tips to help you get visual with your slide decks.
How to summarize (and organize) information for presentations
1. Identify one core message to center your presentation design around
We know from David Paradi’s survey that audiences are easily overwhelmed with lots of text and data, especially when presentations are long.
That would be a recipe for disaster.
Instead, identify a single central message that you would like to communicate to your audience. Then build your presentation around that core message.
By identifying that core message, you can ensure that everything you include in your presentation supports the goal of the presentation.
As seen below, a great presentation tells you exactly what you’re going to learn (the core message), then gets right to the facts (the supporting information).
To ensure you create an asset that’s clear, concise, impactful, and easy to follow, design your presentation around a single core message.
2. Eliminate any information that doesn’t support the core message
Next, use that core message to identify everything that doesn’t belong in the presentation.
Aim to eliminate everything that isn’t immediately relevant to the topic at hand, and anything remotely redundant. Cut any information that isn’t absolutely essential to understanding the core message.
By cutting these extra details, you can transform forgettable text-heavy slides:
Into memorable slides with minimal text:
Here’s a quick checklist to help you cut out any extra detail:
Get rid of:
- Detailed descriptions
- Background information
- Redundant statements
- Explanations of common knowledge
- Persuasive facts and figures
- Illustrative examples
- Impactful quotes
This step may seem obvious, but when you’re presenting on a topic that you’re passionate about, it’s easy to get carried away with extraneous detail. Use the recommendations above to keep your text in check.
3. Use text to reinforce, not repeat, what you’re saying
According to Nancy Duarte (a presentation guru), your audience should be able to discern the meaning of your slides in 6 seconds or less.
Since your audience will tend to read every word you place on each slide, you must keep your text to an absolute minimum. The text on your slides should provide support for what you’re saying without being distracting.
Never write out, word for word, what you’re going to be saying out loud.
Instead, use text to reinforce what you’re saying.
Like in the presentation design below, paraphrase long paragraphs into short bulleted lists or statements by eliminating adjectives and articles (like “the” and “a”).
Pull out quotes and important numbers, and make them a focus of each slide.
4. Design your presentation with one major takeaway per slide
As I mentioned above, audiences struggle when too much information is presented on a single slide.
To make sure you don’t overwhelm your audiences with too much information, spread out your content to cover one major takeaway per slide.
By limiting each slide to a single simple statement, you focus your audience’s attention to the topic at hand.
My favorite way to do this is to pick out the core message of whatever I’m talking about and express it in a few keywords, as seen in this presentation slide below.
This helps ensure that the visuals remain the focus of the slide.
Using the text in this way, to simply state a single fact per slide, is a sure-fire way to make an impact in your presentation.
Alternatively, pull out a significant statistic that you want to stick in your audience’s minds and make it a visual focus of the slide, as seen in this popular presentation by Officevibe.
This might mean you end up with a slide deck with a ton of slides. But that’s totally ok!
I’ve talked to many professionals who are pressured by their management teams to create presentations with a specific number of slides (usually as few as 10 or 15 slides for a 30-minute presentation).
If you ask me, this approach is completely flawed. In my mind, the longer I spend sitting on a single slide, the more likely I am to lose the interest of my audience.
A good rule of thumb is to have at least as many slides as minutes in your presentation.
Use as many slides as you need, as long as you are presenting a single message on each slide, (as seen in the lengthy presentation template below).
5. Use visuals to highlight the key message on each slide
As important as having one major takeaway per slide is having visuals that highlight the major takeaway on each slide.
Unique visuals will help make your message memorable.
Visuals are a great way to eliminate extra text, too.
You can add visuals by grouping and integrating information into visual frameworks like timelines:
Or flowcharts and funnels:
Or by representing simple concepts with icons, as seen in the modern presentation design below. Using the same color for every icon helps create a polished look.
Similarly, any time you have important stats or trends you want your audience to remember, consider using a chart or data visualization to drive your point home. These visualizations can really make an impact, encouraging your audience to act upon your message.
One of my personal favorite presentations (created by a professional designer) takes this “key message plus a visual” concept to the extreme, resulting in a slide deck that’s downright irresistible.
When applying this concept, don’t fall into the trap of using bad stock photos. Irrelevant or poorly chosen visuals can hurt you as much as they help you.
Below is an example of how to use stock photos effectively. They are more thematic than literal, and are customized with fun, bright icons that set a playful tone.
To sum up, here are the 5 most important things to keep in mind when summarizing content for a presentation slide deck:
- Identify one core message to center your presentation design around
- Eliminate any information that doesn’t immediately support the core message
- Use text to reinforce, not repeat, what you’re saying
- Design your presentation with one major takeaway per slide
- Use visuals to highlight the key message on each slide
Presentation design tips for more impactful slide decks
The content and visual design of a presentation should be seamless.
It should never seem like your text and visuals are plopped onto a template. The format and design of the slides should contribute to and support the audience’s understanding of the content.
Here are a few simple ways to make your presentation slide design more effective.
1. Use scaffolding slides to orient your audience and keep them engaged
It’s easy for audiences to get lost during long presentations, especially if you have lots of slides. And audiences zone out when they get lost.
To help reorient your audience every once in a while, you can use something I like to call scaffolding slides. Scaffolding slides appear throughout a presentation to denote the start and end of major sections.
The core scaffolding slide is the agenda slide, which should appear right after the introduction or title slide. It outlines the major sections of the presentation.
At the beginning of each section, you should show that agenda again but highlight the relevant section title, as seen below.
This gives audiences the sense that you’re making progress through the presentation, and helps keep them anchored and engaged.
Alternatively, you can achieve a similar effect by numbering your sections and showing that number on every slide. Or use a progress bar to the bottom of each slide to indicate how far along you are in your presentation. Just make sure it doesn’t distract from the main content of the slides.
2. Use text size, weight, and color for emphasis
Every slide should have a visual focal point. Something that immediately draws the eye at first glance.
That focal point should be whatever is most important on that slide, be it an important number, a keyword, or simply the slide title.
We can create visual focal points by varying the size, weight, and color of each element on the slide. Larger, brighter, bolder elements will command our audience’s attention, while smaller, lighter elements will tend to fade into the background.
As seen above, this technique can be especially useful for drawing attention to important words within a long passage of text. Consider using this technique whenever you have more than 5 words on a slide.
And if you really want your audience to pay attention, use a high-contrast color scheme like the one below.
When picking fonts for your presentation, keep this technique in mind. Pick a font that has a noticeable difference between the “bold” font face and the “regular” font face. Source Sans Pro, Times New Roman, Montserrat, Arvo, Roboto, and Open Sans are all good options.
The last thing to remember when using size, weight, and color to create emphasis on a slide: don’t try to emphasize too many things on one slide.
If everything is highlighted, nothing is highlighted.
3. Apply design choices consistently to avoid distraction
Audiences are quick to pick out, and focus on, any inconsistencies in your design. As a result, messy, inconsistent slide decks lead to distracted, disengaged audiences.
Design choices (fonts and colors, especially), must be applied consistently across a slide deck. The last thing you want is your audience to pay attention to your design choices before your content.
To keep your design in check, it can be helpful to create a color palette and type hierarchy before you start creating your deck, and outline it in a basic style guide like this one:
I know it can sometimes be tempting to fiddle around with text sizes to fit longer bits of text on a slide, but don’t do it! If the text is too long to fit on a slide, it should be split up onto multiple slides anyway.
And remember, a consistent design isn’t necessarily a boring one. This social media marketing presentation applies a bright, color scheme to a variety of 3-column and 2-column layouts, balancing consistency with creativity.
Audiences don’t want to watch presentations with slides decks jam-packed with text. Text-heavy slides only hurt audience engagement and understanding.
By summarizing our text and creating slides with a visual focus, we can give more exciting, memorable, impactful presentations.
Give it a try with one of our popular presentation templates:
Want more presentation design tips? This post should get you started: