Presentations: 6 Guidelines to Follow

Dec 26, 2016

Powerpoint or Keynote presentations are infamously terrible. In the software development world (and the rest of the world, for that matter), most people would rather stick pencils into their legs than sit through a typical 40-slide presentation. But, I have good news for you; you can put presentations together that don’t make people scream inside their heads. Here are 5 guidelines to follow when you create a presentation.

Keep It Short

Not to start off on too obvious of a note, but this is the main issue I see with presentations. If you’ve ever sat through a long, dry series of slides, then you’ll know that it’s like driving down a mountain of bends in the road, always hoping that the next one will be the last. “Short” doesn’t have to mean the amount of slides if you use a quick-transition technique, but more than likely, your presentation is too long. Please cut it down.

Don’t Use Distracting Backgrounds

There’s no need for that glaringly-obvious gradient background, that squiggly pattern background, or that multi-color abstract background. Why take away from the readability of your message? Use color to highlight or reverse expectations, but stick to solid colors that provide contrast if you have text. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a default white or a black background.

Reduce Visual Clutter

Presentations often need branding. But I would encourage you to use the bare minimum of design elements to bring your identity to your slides. Every footer, header, logo, or shape will pull the audience’s eyes away from your message. Every bit of design can be a distraction, so make what you use count.

Use Images with a Purpose

Images can make or ruin a presentation. Never use images just to take up space. Use them to make a point, to reinforce something you’re saying, or to metaphorically illustrate what you’re talking about (e.g., a ship in a storm when you’re talking about turmoil). No one wants to see stock images of models with unnaturally white teeth grinning at them just because you were uncomfortable with some white space.

Use Less Text

If your presentation is anything like the majority of slide decks out there, you are almost certainly using too much text. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen use little to no text. Why? Because you’re giving a presentation, not typing out lecture notes. Your slides are there as a tool to complement what you’re saying, not to say it.

Use Blank Slides

This is more of a tip than a rule, but it makes a significant difference. When planning your presentation, I would strongly recommend including blank slides (preferably with a black background) when you want your audience to really listen to what you’re saying. This takes the emphasis off of the slides and puts it onto you. You can even create a spotlight by putting a white circle in the middle if you have a flair for the dramatic.

If you’d like some examples, take a look at these presentations.

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