The following is an excerpt from Slide Satisfaction: The Secret Behind Great Slides by Toke Kruse, former CEO of Slideshop.com. Written with modern audiences and presentations in mind, the eBook provides a complete five-step guide to creating and delivering presentations that captivates and delivers your message with acuity and power. The full eBook is available free here.

Man Ray said, “To reproduce is human. To create is divine.” You’ve been involved in a creative process so far. It’s been mostly in the interior. You’ve been generating the electricity that will switch on the iconic lightbulb above your head and illuminate your audience with the power of your idea.

As stated at the beginning of this book, I don’t recommend you make your own slides all the time or even most of the time. It is specialized work requiring specialized skills and talent. But, realistically, you’ll need to pull together some slides on your own from time to time and it’s a good idea to understand the basics of good slide design so you can properly assess the work of the people who make slides for you. In light of these two requirements, this portion of the book will teach you the fundamental precepts of good slide design. You will learn the following:

  • Outlining
  • Simplicity
  • Visuals
  • Navigation
  • Color

2.1 Outlining

You know it’s there, lurking behind the slide format in your presentation software. There’s an outline that you can fill out and you should fill it out before you switch over to the slide mode. Move your thoughts from the paper to the software beginning with an outline that roughs in your structure without focusing you on doing that pretty business of designing slides.

Some people recoil at the thought of having to create an outline because they had bad experiences during freshman composition class or secretly skipped over this step and earned pretty good grades anyway. Either way, it’s time to put away your fears and prejudices and pick up your outlining tools.

Some people have difficulty with outlines because outlines are so relentlessly linear and life is not. Life is a jumble of elements that may or may not be related by cause and effect. Life’s specifics resist being bucketed into clear taxonomies and phyla. Establishing causation and correlation between elements and putting items into their proper bins is … well … work.

The work of outlining is worth it because a sales presentation is a deeply linear experience — as is any expository communications medium. One slide follows another just like one word follows another. Remember that time when you first met the love of your life and you could finish each other’s sentences like you were reading each other’s minds? –Presentations aren’t like that at all. The outline is the underlying chemical formula that must be created. This isn’t about love although there is some chemistry involved. For the correct reaction to take place in the audience.

Once that chemical formula has been completed, it’s time to start thinking about putting a few words on a few slides. –And I really mean “a few words.”

2.2 Keep Your Slides Simple. It’s Not a Presentation or Eye Examination

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” –Leonardo da Vinci

Do not, under any circumstances expect your audience to read a slide with anything more than a headline and three or four bulleted points. A presentation is not the medium to deliver a spreadsheet with 50 cells or even 10. It is not the correct medium for paragraphs of text or complex charts. If you need to distribute a report with supporting data, then do that … after you finish your presentation so the audience won’t be making any deep dives into the data while you’re trying to make your point.

But a presentation is a great medium to summarize data and even a better venue for communicating your insights about the data and your recommendations on what to do about it. It’s about persuasion, not just information.

Furthermore, the slides need to be kept at the right communication level. A good rule of thumb is to budget one slide for every two minutes of presentation time. This pace gives you a chance to
say something smart about each slide and not constantly fret about changing slides at exactly the right time.

If your hands are constantly busy advancing the slides then your mind will be preoccupied as well. It’s a bad idea for you to be focused on advancing slides instead of advancing the story much less possibly closing the sale. Remember: The slides are in service to your story and not the other way around. One easy way to help you establish your pace and keep to it is to use the stopwatch program that’s built into PowerPoint.

If you still have more slides than you can use and can’t bear to delete them, put them at the end of the presentation and use PowerPoint’s “hide” feature. This way, if a question comes up relative to one of your hidden slides, it’s right there and ready.

2.3 Think Visual Because … It’s a Visual Medium

Remember that old adage that one picture is worth 1,000 words? It’s true and not only does that one image communicate a lot of information, it also communicates feeling. An image might be the perfect combination of fact and emotion. Just make sure the images are clear, in focus, and not watermarked by the copyright owner. Don’t waste too much time looking for the perfect picture because your designer is probably far more adept at finding the right picture. (Or ought to be.)

The advantage of visual elements is they are universal, most any member of the audience will be able to instantly decode them. This can strengthen and speed understanding and allow you to quickly move from one point to the next. Visual elements can include photos, drawings and short videos.

2.4 Location, Location, Location

Your audience wants to know where they are. They want to know when you’re half-way through your presentation and when they’re five minutes from the end and all the other time checks in between. So let them know. Think of it as if they’re reading a book. By design, they know when there are only a few pages left under their right thumb. They know when they’re nearing the end of the book. So why let your audience squirm in their seats, wondering how much more time they’re investing in your presentation? Some presenters cue the audience on location with page numbers in a bottom corner of the slides such as “4/20.” Other presenters use a “progress bar” at the bottom of the slide for a graphic indication of how “where” everyone is in the presentation.

2.5 The Truth, in Living Color

Colors mean a lot more than most people think and wise use of color can make a big difference in how well your message is received. Have you ever seen a presentation whose slides were all plain white with only black or single-color text? Maybe a better question would be, “How many such presentations have you seen?” What sort of impression did they make on you?

By skillfully using colors in your next presentation, your message will reach more of your audience, more memorably. For instance, if most your slides have white backgrounds and then a slide appears on the screen with a black background, the change and contrast is major and immediate and the audience can’t help but see and feel the intended emphasis.

Far too many presentations stick to conservative, white backgrounds and that’s a shame because colors often carry a message much better than white – for a change.

Think about experimenting with color contrasts such as placing a red icon on a black background and then comparing that to the same icon on a white background. Which carries your message better? Don’t change background colors too often though because you’ll end up with a chaotic appearance and lose any sense of continuity. Try changing your background color when you change the subject or when you reach a conclusion or want to emphasize an important message.

In addition to changing background colors, you can also use background images to enhance your messages, just make sure the images are either very dark or very bright, so the text you place on top of the image clearly stands out.

Another graphic trick to emphasize a point is to place a bright or dark box over the image and set the opacity of the box to 20%. Text added to this box can be more easily seen than if it were placed directly over the image.

Once you have figured out how to use different background colors to your advantage, focus on the colors of other elements in your presentation: text, icons, illustrations, graphics, images and charts, and so on. For example, if you are creating a presentation for a particular company, you can make the colors of that company’s logo prominent in your slides.

And with all this talk about colors, don’t neglect three of your most important colors: black, white and gray. These colors are very useful and particularly well suited for text, lines and simple graphic elements.

To maintain graphic continuity, it’s a good rule of thumb to use no more than three different main colors. Too many colors can lead to confusion and make your presentation look messy and distract
viewers from your message. The right colors highlight the point you want to make, reinforce your brand and can help determine whether your audience experiences a sense of coherence in your presentation. These are some of the traditional associations people in the west hemisphere make between colors and feelings:

Red
Excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence.

Blue
Peace, tranquility, cold, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness.

Green
Nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy.

Yellow
Joy, happiness, betrayal, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, gold, philosophy, dishonesty.

Black
Power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, evil, unhappiness, depth, style, evil.

White
Reverence, purity, birth, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, sterility, cold.

Grey
Security, reliability, intelligence, staid, modesty, dignity, maturity, solid, conservative, practical, old age, sadness.

2.6 Reload Your Bullets

As stated above, visual consistency reinforces and harmonizes the content consistency of your presentation. This way, it will look — and sound — as if you know what you’re talking about. Here are some guidelines for visual consistency:

Fonts
Select a maximum of two different fonts, usually a serif and sans-serif font. Assign one to your headlines and the other to the body text.

Font Sizes
Select a range of three: headlines, body text and secondary body text.

Font Colors
As with font sizes, choose a maximum of three: one for your headline, one for body text and a third for secondary body text. (Psssst: You don’t have to use three. One will do but you can’t use more than three.)

Structure:
What are the big chunks of your presentation? Such as…

– Problem

– Solution

– Benefit

Or…

– Background

– Action

– Recommendation

When your presentation is well structured, it is easier for the audience to follow your story from beginning to end. And when your delivery is smooth, polished and confident, they’ll feel comfortable during your presentation.

Tip: Keep in mind that if you display on a slide everything you’re going to be saying while that slide is visible, the audience is likely to start reading the slide, rather than listening to you. It will work to your advantage to condense the slide’s text down to short bullet points, emphasizing the most important concepts. This way, the audience has to listen to you to know what’s going on.

And, speaking of “what’s going on,” it’s time I help you go on stage and deliver your awesome presentation.

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