When I was a kid, my dad would tell me to do or not do something and I would listen. That’s the role of being a kid. But like everyone as they get older, I started to question the why behind his advice. Why shouldn’t I cross the street when the light is red? Why shouldn’t I take that candy bar? Why shouldn’t I punch my way out of every argument? (I was a stupid child) Understanding the why behind advice makes the advice more useful, because we are able to extrapolate other wisdom from it.

When it comes to creating Marketing presentations and slideshows, there are common tips and suggestions that gets toss out across all the blogs, but rarely do they go in-depth as to why they are good suggestions. Let’s examine four of our favorite tips for better presentations and delve into the essence of why they make for solid advice.

Use check boxes, aka the power of editing.

The common advice is to utilize bullet points in your Marketing presentations. However, we prefer to use check boxes for a couple reasons. One reason is for your audience. Not only do check boxes imply an action item, if they ever download your slideshow later, they can actually use the check boxes for the actual reason they were created. The second reason is for you: check boxes force you to write these as action items. Writing in an active voice with actionable tasks keeps your presentations more engaging. Instead of a passive list, an active list is motivating.

But the core philosophy of using check boxes lies in the power of editing yourself. About distilling your thoughts into short, memorable points. You’ve seen those bad presentations that just have walls of text on a single slide. They’re not effective. In fact, Presentation Magazine suggests keeping the word count on a single slide to less than 40. And if you ask us, it should be even less.

Forcing yourself to use check boxes physically shortens the space you have to write down a thought, because they are usually indented. Look at the slide above, where the check boxes are placed. There is simply no extra room to have flowing text; the layout creates a constrained space that you have to work with. This is a great way to learn to be more economical with your thoughts.

So instead of “Create material that is engaging to your audience,” it becomes “Invest in engaging copy.” There’s almost always a shorter way of saying something. Check boxes are your guide rails to finding that shorter way.

Use icons, aka, provide breadcrumbs so your audience doesn’t have to think.

It’s good practice to pick an icon for a section of your slideshow, and continue using that icon for each relevant slide. If your marketing presentation has 4 slides on “cost effective” campaigns, lead with that cute piggy bank icon for each of the four slides. Breadcrumbing in this way helps your audience keep track of your slideshow and major points, even if most of their brains are half asleep. And they usually are.

The take-away from this tip is to spoon-feed your audience as much as possible. Let’s face it, most people think that PowerPoint presentations are a necessary evil in the workplace (we don’t share this sentiment!). They’ve mentally checked-out on their way from their desk to the conference room. It’s your job to force the relevant information through their eye-sockets so maybe 40% of it will be retained, if you’re lucky. In order to do that, you can’t waste any of their attention on things that don’t matter.

In other words, not only should your marketing presentation be pared down to the bone, you should also make it dead-simple to follow using tricks like employing repeated icons, color-coding slides, and including mini-summary slides at the end of each section. If you have just half their attention to work with, then cater to that half. After all, remember that common adage that newspapers are written at the 8th grade level? Well we get our news from Facebook now, and most of the posts you see there are at a 5th grade reading level, at best. We haven’t gotten better at reading in 20 years. Don’t make your audience strain their brain trying to follow your slideshow.

Use splash pages sparingly, aka, build your presentation around the impactful.

Splash pages! They’re visual, memorable, and easily over-used. Using splash pages in a Marketing presentation is a good idea; but it’s a bad idea to use them more than about 4 times. Not only will they lose their impact, but if splash pages are the culmination point of your presentation, having many of these means your presentation is unfocused.

Do you know how most action movies are written? The set pieces (aka, the big action sequences) are thought up first, then the plot is written around them, stringing them together. The latest Mission Impossible started shooting without a script, but they knew they wanted a helicopter chase from the get-go. That’s the philosophy behind your splash pages, and by extension, the major points of your presentation.

Novice slideshow creator start from the beginning and make their slides until they get to the end. Professionals don’t create decks that way. They start with the set pieces, the big memorable points they want the audience to go away with, and build the rest of the presentation around them so they are natural crescendos. In other words, your slideshows should be created around promoting about 4 big ideas. The splash pages are the action sequences they’ll talk about later. The rest is plot dialogue.

In practice, approaching the start of a slideshow in this way clarifies the slides you need to include. If you’re building to a big point about “and this is how we’ll make a billion dollars!!” you’ll have a good idea of how to structure the slides leading up to that important statement.

4 is enough, aka, 4 is the perfect number.

If you didn’t pick up on the subtle number I’ve been using throughout this post, it’s all about the number four. Intuitively, slideshow creators seem to understand this. Three points on a slide usually seem like not enough. Five, that starts getting crowded. There’s something about four items that seem to work well. And well, there’s science to back it up.

According a 2010 psychology paper titled “The Magical Mystery Four: How is Working Memory Capacity Limited, and Why?”, people seem to have a “central memory store limited to 3 to 5 meaningful items.” It seems we are just wired this way, where we can only hold about 4 important items in our brains at a time. When crafting a marketing presentation, keeping this in mind can help you not only edit down the words on each slide, but section multiple slides in groups of four for maximum impact.

Try this out. The next time you put a presentation together, focus it around four major ideas and allot four slides for each idea. The 4 x 4 slideshow (excluding a title slide and summary slide at the end) might be the all-purpose format that can work around almost any 10 to 20 minute talk.

Now with a deeper understand of why these four presentation tips are effective, how will that impact how you design your next deck? And if you like the look of the marketing slideshow used throughout this post, you can download it from Slideshop.com right here.