15 Design Principles For Crafting Persuasive Presentations

Written by Eugene Cheng

What do you think makes an impactful presentation deck? Many tend to think that it is the designing part that makes the cut. While this is somewhat true, there is no point of you having a beautifully designed presentation deck if it’s not designed in a functional way – where your message is able to be conveyed to your audience.

“What separates design from art is that design is meant to be functional” – Cameron Moll

An impactful presentation deck does not compromise the design or content. Or both. Instead, it reinforces the two so that the presentation deck has the best of both worlds – it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye while still being informative and succinct at the same time.

In short, it is a captivating visual presentation that sell.

So how do you make sure your presentation sells? There are so many different factors that come into play. From the structure and colour, to the typography and image used.

All of these elements have a part to play. Hence, it’s important to understand these design principles which can help make your presentation much more impactful.

To make this easier, we have broken down the principles of design in a step-by-step guide. This guide will give you a solid foundation to launch any impactful presentation if you follow it closely.

Design Principles:

1) Structure Your Content

First and foremost, it’s essential that you organise and structure your content. Many make the mistake of jumping right into designing their slides when they have not even created an outline for their content.

Even a great topic with the best content and ideas will be rendered useless  if it’s not organised in a coherent manner. Not only will you confuse your audience, you’ll also find it difficult to design the slides – disorganised content entails an even more disorganised presentation deck.

One way to organise your content is to create an outline as it restructures your speech to make it clear and concise. After you’ve decided the points you’d like to bring up, start arranging them in a way where it can smoothly transition from one point to the other.

This leads me to my next point.

  • One idea per slide

Take a look at this slide:

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Credits: http://slideplayer.com/slide/3850890/

Do you feel overwhelmed? Or as if you can’t tell what the slide is trying to convey? You aren’t the only one. The reason  you may feel this way is because there are too many ideas placed on one slide.

Let’s face it. Everyone gets overwhelmed and blank out when bombarded with a sea of information. There is also a scientific reason behind this.

Low memory retention happens when your audience has to split their attention between reading the text on the slide and listening to you speak – an almost impossible task to absorb anything.

Therefore, ‘less is more’ when it comes to presentation slides. It all boils to breaking down the content in a way that your audience is able to digest and keep up with.

Here’s how to organise your points so that they are informative yet concise:

  1. Identify the main points
  2. Assign one slide per main point
  3. Elaborate the details – the sub points and etc – in your speech instead (or put it under your notes as reference)
  • Visual Hierarchy

It’s important to be attentive to visual hierarchy. Take a second to think about the eye movements of your audience as they look at your slides.

Are they reading from left to right? Or vice-versa?

Take note of where, you should position your text based on the language you use. In most western languages, people typically read from left to right. However, other languages like Arabic, Persian or even Japanese are read the other way round.

People are also conditioned to read from top to bottom. So it is best to adjust your visual elements to go with the flow of their eye movements.

2) Create a Moodboard

After you are done organising and structuring your content, comes the conceptualisation of the presentation deck. One of the difficult parts of designing is executing it. Even if you have great design ideas in mind, it can be tough to know how exactly you will execute it. This is the part where moodboards come in.

So what is a moodboard?

In simpler terms, it is a collage of images and colours that help inspire the beginning stages of your presentation deck.  It gives a rough idea of the look, feel, and tone of your presentation –  a roadmap that shows the outcome of your presentation deck.

Moodboards of presentation decks usually consist of the following:

  • Colour Scheme
  • Images/Icons
  • Fonts
  • Inspirations

a) Colour Scheme

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It’s important not to underestimate the effect of colours. A recent study called the “Impact of Color in Marketing” discovered that 90% of quick judgments made about purchase can be based on colour alone.

Colours are able to evoke feelings, associations, and experiences in us. Knowing this, you should make use of the appropriate colours to use for your slides to bring out a certain feeling you have in mind so that you can further reinforce your message.

Here’s a video explaining the meaning behind certain colours and what they are associated to:

With that in mind, now ask yourself what is the emotion or feeling you wish to evoke in your audience? When you’ve decided, create a colour palette that meets the emotion you wish to evoke.

Coolors and paletton are great if you need inspiration to create a colour scheme.

Mix & Match Colours

When selecting colours, you need to choose a harmonious combination that accentuates the message of your slides.

A good strategy for selecting a colour palette is to choose three that represent the following:

  • Background
  • Base
  • Accent Colour.

The rule is simple: background and base colours should be in a similar range of the colour wheel while the accent colour should represent a shade furthest away from the background and base.

Ensure that your background and base colours pale in comparison to your accent colour as the accent colour role is to captures your audience’s attention in the presentation. To make sure your accent colour remains in the limelight, it is best to make it the ‘loudest’ colour among the three.

b) Images

You’ve probably heard this many time but a picture really is worth a thousand words.

According to brain research studies, we are six times more likely to remember visuals compared to text-based content.

With that being said, including images on your slides are not enough. This brings me to the next point.

Use High-Quality Images

When selecting images, it is essential you find high quality ones. Many speakers make the mistake of choosing low or medium quality images as from their laptop screen, it looks normal – fine even. However, if it gets showcased on a full-sized screen, it may end up looking grainy. So even if you provide great content, your slide designs will suggest otherwise.

Avoid going to Google Images and selecting the first image that appears on the search results – who’s to say the next person won’t do the same?

Visit this list of websites that offer free stock photos instead. If you are aiming to go full screen, we recommend that you go for pictures that are of at least least 1,000 pixels.

Apply The Rule of Thirds

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Here’s a key principle to take note of when selecting an image.

Rule of thirds dictates that the most powerful images have their focal points at the intersection of the thirds of the lines on a given canvas.

So, if you divide your presentation slides into vertical and horizontal thirds, the intersections of those lines are like crosshairs, and you want to place those crosshairs right on top of the focal point of your image

Here are some insights by David Peterson, Digital Photo Secrets of why that is the case.

“If your subject is in the middle of the image, it’s considered static. Your eye is drawn to it then has nowhere to go from there because the object is equal distance from all sides.

Therefore, when your subject is positioned closer to one of the edges, it forces your eye to follow it…to find it.

This allows the viewer to linger on your image longer. It makes for a more captivating photo because it’s almost interactive. Like a conversation going on between the photo and you.”

In addition, the rule of thirds has been proven to be more aesthetically pleasing according to an experiment by Andrew Dulgan of Six Minutes Presentation and Speaking blog.

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He showed his participants three images labelled ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’.

Image ‘A’ did not abide by the rule of thirds while ‘B’ and ‘C’ did. When asked which of the three slides the audience felt were pleasing to the eye, many roughly chose Image ‘B’ or ‘C’ half of the time.

Less than 5% of the audience chose Image ‘A’. When asked why they chose Image ‘A’, some said “It’s boring.” or “I couldn’t decide what was important in the photo.”

One Image Per Slide

Just like the principle of one message per slide, it is also important to not overwhelm your audience with so many images per slide – which only makes them look cluttered and hard to focus on. Space the images out across several slides.

White Space

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It’s simple, powerful and highly effective. Also known as ‘negative space’, white space is a design term referring to space that isn’t occupied by text, images or other visible page elements.

You’re probably thinking, shouldn’t you maximise every inch of your slide deck? Instead of wasting it with this ‘white space’?

Firstly, it creates separation. White space helps declutter your slides by creating separation between objects.

In addition, it emphasises or bring out the important points. White space, in simple terms, is a blank canvas. There is absolutely nothing to look at when it is fully being utilised. But, add in content surrounding this blank canvas and that content will stand out even more.

Last but not least, white space improves readability. Want your slides to be impactful? According to a research by Dmitry Fadeyev, (creator of Usaura), white space increases comprehension by almost 20%.

Turns out, whitespace around a block of text helps people comprehend what they are reading better – and therefore, make your slides easier to remember.

c) Icons

An icon can be defined as an image of a high symbolic value, used for the purpose to communicate ideas and messages without the use of words.

With icons you can also draw attention and list things without it being boring and repetitive. You can also add value to your presentation by making use of icons so things are more understandable for your audience.

Icons make content easier to understand as it contains meaning. Unlike bullet-points, icons contain a drawing or picture which in the audience’s mind will associate it with a task, function or is aligned with the point you are trying to convey. If the meaning of the icon is clear, your audience will be able to link it easily to the content.

For example, an icon of a phone will quickly help your audience associate it to contacts or communication.

In addition, icons help facilitate text skimming.  Although drawing your audience’s attention to your presentation is important, making it easy to skim through it is equally important as well.

People just don’t have time or interest to fully read everything they see. But with icons, you can reinforce skimming while ensuring the message is still being conveyed. This is because icons quickly tell your audience what the presentation or point is about.

d) Select a Font

Serif vs San Serif

Do you know the difference between serifs and san serifs? Urban Fonts describe the two types as the following.


Credits: http://shyfonts.com/when-to-use-serif-vs-sans-serif-fonts/

Serifs have small lines detailing the edge of letters and symbols. Serif fonts are usually associated with something serious – formal even. This is because of their traditional and conservative look and feel.

On the other hand, san serifs do not have the small lines projected out of the letters. This gives a more minimalistic and modern effect as a result.

Knowing this, make sure to understand what type of feel you want your presentation to invoke. Choosing a font according to the age group you will be speaking to is also vital.

For example: sans serifs are much more appropriate to use especially if your audience are young children. This is because the simplified letterforms are easier for them to identify with as they’re still learning how to recognise letters and words.

Given the strengths of each font type, it’s also not a bad idea to combine the two types which can bring out a unique combination. You can make use of serif in headlines for greater emphasis while serif can be used in the body text in order to give a more cohesive feel and easier readability in your slide.

Font Pairing

Imagine going to a speech where the speaker is speaking in a monotonous and rigid tone. There is a lack of intonation, speed change and excitement. Boring right?

The same applies to the usage of fonts. You need different fonts to add spice and texture to your presentation.

Experimenting the pairing of fonts can be fun, but time-consuming. As a rule of thumb, having contrasting font types help. Here are some examples:

  • Wide vs Narrow
  • Serif vs San Serif
  • Bold vs Light
  • Big vs Small

With that being said, although pairing different fonts help spice up your visuals, do take note not to overdo it. Only use two to three fonts at most to keep it consistent. If not, it will end up looking overwhelming, distracting and messy.

Supersize Your Fonts

It’s important to remember that you are creating a presentation deck for a room full of people. That means ensuring your audience from the front all the way to the back of the room are able to see your slides and the content.

To ensure that they do, make use of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule – minimising the number of words on your presentation slides.

This gives you a chance to supersize your fonts as a result and yes, although it is better to have slides that are short and sweet, make sure not to compromise any important information just to hit that criteria.

Here’s a recommendation by our co-founder Eugene in his deck ‘7 Tips To Beautiful Powerpoint’ to help kickstart yours. 

3. Storyboard Your Presentation Slides

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“Now at our studios we don’t write our stories, we DRAW them.” Walt Disney

A storyboard is a rough sketch of how you want your presentation deck to flow. It all boils down to two words – visual outline. Just like your content, even your designs and layouts need an outline.

Despite so, it also happens to be one of the most neglected practices in designing a PowerPoint presentation since many are unaware of this method.

Storyboards are important step to take as it helps you design you design a ‘deck that sells’ with minimal effort, time and money.

This is because it helps you to visualise the structure of your presentation- from the beginning, middle and end. Starting straight to designing your deck on PowerPoint or Keynote will only kill of any chances of how you want to layout your content and design.

Sketching your presentation deck also helps cut down the time taken for you to design your presentation deck. This is because it you are dumping all the ideas you have in mind as opposed to keeping all the information in your head ­– which you may forget about after a while.

If you are in a stump, however, there are many sites that you can visit to gather inspiration for your deck. Some examples include Creative Market and Dribbble.

To Recap…

And there you have it! Designing an aesthetically pleasing yet informative presentation deck requires a lot of patience, dedication and effort. To recap, remember that these are the design principles you should keep in mind the next time you craft your presentation deck:

  • Identify the purpose of your presentation deck
  • Organise the content structure
  • Create a Mood board
  • Sketch the Storyboard
  • Experiment and Find Inspiration

Article Written By: Eugene Cheng

Eugene Cheng is the co-founder and creative lead of HighSpark (formerly Slide Comet, a strategic presentation consultancy serving Fortune 500 companies like: Panasonic, Dentsu, Nike. A self-confessed presentation obsessive, he relishes in building compelling visual content for his agency’s channel and his personal channel on SlideShare and is also a Keynote Author ( top 1% of SlideShare)

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