In our line of work, we hear different words being thrown around all the time. Whether it’s slides, slide-pack, presentation decks, PowerPoint slides… It looks easy to do, but to really take it to the next level? Not so much.
Yet more often than not, executives are tasked with developing quality presentation slides quickly and then find themselves stuck, wanting the presentation to leave the audience visually enthralled, yet racing against a looming deadline.
If you’ve got your presentation’s story and structure locked down, great. The next hurdle is to buff up (or in this case, simplify) your slides.
Here’s the thing. The biggest problem that executives face when it comes to putting a presentation slide deck together is: Trying too hard to do too much. Worse, because most us aren’t visually inclined, the challenge is compounded.
That’s why I’ve put together a list of 5 simple techniques you can use to have your audience’s eyes glued to the screen each time you press the button on your clicker. Leave your colleagues jealous…even if you’re a beginner with no design experience.
Tip #1: Select a Few Contrasting Colors for Your Presentation
Too many colours on a slide deck can be confusing, and may even end up being a distraction.
Avoid trying to turn your slide into something that resembles a rainbow – that’s when you’ll know you’re on the wrong track.
By picking fewer colors, your slides will be less cluttered, and you’ll be able to bring across clearer messages enhanced with visuals that aren’t buried under Skittles!
It’s fair to say that most people aren’t really that good at picking colors anyway. The best way I’ve found to teach beginners to do this is to start from one of these areas:
a) Use your company’s corporate colors
Certain organizations have strict brand guidelines and colors to choose from, but this may not always be a limitation. Using these colors ensure that you’re on-brand, and the color palette is usually kept to only a few colors.
If you don’t have a guideline in your company, an easy way to create a palette is to pick colors directly from your company’s logo. If the logos are designed well, most of the time the colors should contrast really well on both light and dark backgrounds.
b) Trawl the internet for color palettes
When in doubt, the Internet is your friend. Visiting sites like Behance or Dribbble lets you find plenty of good work from some of the world’s best designers. My tip is to not endeavour to do anything close to that, as it will take up a lot of your time (which you probably will not have). Instead, pay attention to the colors they use, and let it serve as your inspiration.
Notice the background and foreground colors that they’re using, and try those out for yourself. Or if you run out of ideas, our friends at Venngage put together a post on 101 different presentation ideas to help you get started.
c) Decide on an accent and a neutral color
Notwithstanding all the advice so far, the rule of thumb here is to just decide on a single ‘accent’ color (which is anything other than white, black, grey or brown) as well as a neutral color (white or dark grey). This is also known as a monochromatic scheme – not like the name really matters, right?
With that alone, you’ll suddenly have ease of access to an array of simple combinations to use on your presentation.
In summary, if you have guidelines internally, use those. If not, pick your own colors, but always try to stick to a single accent and a neutral color to make life easier for yourself.
Tip #2. Less Text On Your Slide
Another thing that’s pretty common in corporate presentations is text vomit (this isn’t actually an official word), and by that, I mean: Too many words that can be verbalized.
If your presentation is going to be delivered live by you or someone else, you don’t always need all the words up there. As long as the messaging is clear enough, you’re good to go.
This might fall more into the realm of effective storytelling, but it’ll make all the difference when you start designing your slides. This is simply because you can only do so much to enhance what’s already broken, or in this case, overwhelmingly cluttered.
Here are some quick ways to reduce your word count:
a) Reduce text in bullets and headlines
Here’s a quick example, if you had a sentence like: “Singapore’s housing prices are at all-time highs, making it difficult to afford for graduates who intend to get married at a younger age. This results in delayed marriages.”
Try to do your pointers in ‘mini-headline’ forms like: “Singaporean graduates delay marriage due to high housing prices” This example isn’t a whole lot shorter, but it helps to make the message you want to get across as succinct as possible – if you want to elaborate further, do it verbally.
b) Convert text to visuals
Visuals are processed 50,000 times faster than text. Just look at the symbols below:
You don’t need text to tell you what those are because visuals have implicit meanings attached to them. Use this to your advantage by shortening your paragraphs and headlines by replacing them with visuals. Here’s an example:
If you convert some of the wordings into visuals and verbalize the text instead, you’ll get:
They key is not to replace everything with visuals, but to reduce as much as you can while ensuring that the message does not lose its essence. Some questions to ask yourself after you simplify are:
- Does my main point still come across adequately?
- Can the nuances here be understood with visuals instead?
- Will people get confused?
Based on the answers, you can decide whether to replace a paragraph of text with a visual.
By reducing the text on your slide – you instantly get a better-looking presentation overall even if you haven’t yet touched on the design and aesthetic aspects.
Tip #3. Proven Layouts and The Rule Of Thirds
If this isn’t your first article on presentation design, you might have heard about the rule of thirds before. I’ve written about this extensively in other articles but I think it’s important to mention it again below to give you the full picture.
The goal should always be to get your presentation done efficiently and effectively. With proven layouts and guides like the rule of thirds, you’ll get it right every time without too much guesswork.
Take a look at these 3 slides below – they all look pretty different, but actually follow the same grid layout:
This is not by chance; if you build good layouts from the get-go, you’ll be able to copy-paste them into new decks whenever you make them.
A simple way to get used to grid layouts is to split your slide into equal parts like thirds, halves or quarters. That way, you’ll always know how much space or slide real-estate you have to play around with. If you’re unsure of where to place your photo, you’ll know once you find empty spaces that require balancing.
As you go along following these layouts, building them for presentations will start to become second-nature, and you’ll know instinctively where to layer elements when appropriate.
Another quick way to look like a ‘pro’ without too much effort is to use full-bleed imagery wherever possible – you might have seen this used by more notable presenters such as Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, where they use high-resolution evocative photography to enhance their presentations.
Using the rule of thirds, you’ll almost always know where to place text when using full-bleed backgrounds. Basically, insert your text or any other element into the empty space where the lines intersect. Instantly, you’ll get a decent looking slide that looks way better than anything the rest of your colleagues can put together in a minute.
The only instance that might be challenging is when you have a busy image that does not have sufficient contrast to ensure your text can be seen. The fix for that, however, is pretty straightforward: Add either a gradient or solid fill shape – this can be done with a couple of clicks on Keynote or PowerPoint.
There you have it, quick and simple ways to get your layout right every time, quickly. If you need to find high-resolution images for full-bleed slides, here are some resources you can use:
Tip #4. This Simple Font Trick
Many resources online, including some of our SlideShare content on presentations tout using custom fonts for your presentations – basically ones that aren’t installed by default on your machines.
If you have the prerogative to do that, awesome. There are plenty of great sites that offer really high-quality fonts that you can use in your presentations: Font Squirrel, LostType, f just to name a few. Using large san-serif fonts will help you get your message across boldly and sometimes, the beauty of the typefaces alone are enough to constitute the whole slide.
Problem is, if you can’t use your own personal computer when presenting, or you have strict corporate guidelines on the use of non-default fonts, you’ll be back to square one. How does one get past this?
Designers that work heavily with fonts use these terms to describe the space between them: tracking, leading and kerning. Respectively, these represent the horizontal spaces between letters in a sentence, vertical space between paragraph lines and space between single characters.
The only thing that you need to worry about is the tracking – which known to few is controllable in PowerPoint and Keynote but makes a huge difference to how your drabby old default fonts look:
For sentence-cased fonts, reducing the space between the letters makes them more aesthetically pleasing at larger sizes and the best thing is it only takes 2 clicks to do this!
If you have words in all-caps for fonts like Century Gothic, you can even try to space them out wider to have a really clean, premium style for your headings.
It’s a really quick trick that we use a lot in our business, and I’m sure that this one simple tweak will help you make a big impact.
Tip #5. Using Gradients
Here’s where it’ll start to get a little technical. It’s one of my personal best-kept secrets when we design presentation decks, but it is slightly more difficult to execute.
Gradients have long been a feature in presentation software such as PowerPoint and Keynote, but in my opinion, it’s been grossly under-utilized. Here are a number of ways you can easily start using gradients to boost your presentation slides easily:
a) Using a gradient background
Don’t you just hate seeing that plain, white slide with the placeholder ‘Click to add text’ on it? A quick way to give your slides an extra punch of sophistication is to add a radial gradient as a background – lighter center, darker edges.
That way, if you have any headlines or images in the center, the focus is literally ‘drawn in’ to whatever is placed there. At the same time, it leaves your background looking less monotonous than just a solid color.
Once done, just place it in your ‘Master Slides’ and all your newly created slides will sport the same background! Neat, right?
b) Use gradient boxes to frame text
As mentioned earlier in Tip #3, when your text can’t be seen on a busy background, adding a shape behind it can work great.
If you’re looking to have a more subtle shape, using a gradient is a great way to have contrast but not have it steal the attention from the background image.
Simply select one of the color anchors and turn it to 0% opacity, this creates an effect where the gradient gradually becomes transparent from your first color. This way you get legibility without sacrificing the background image.
c) Light to dark gradient shapes
Flat solid shapes in your presentations can look dull after awhile. Using different shades of gradients in your shapes can add that extra bit of interest and also be used to draw the eye to different parts of your slide.
As mentioned earlier, if you keep gradients within the same color but different shapes (monochromatic style), it’ll naturally look good without too much guess-work.
I’ve just given you 5 quick ways to look like a pro in presentation design drawn from our experiences working with our clients.
Did I miss anything out? Leave us a comment below to let us know!