Creating Effective Presentation Slides

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sat through presentations where the presenter came across as confident and engaging right from the start and demonstrated genuine enthusiasm for their subject. Then the first slide goes up. We immediately focus our attention away from what the presenter is saying and onto the slide instead; of course, we read it from beginning to end. Here’s an example:

A slide like this will take the audience about half a minute to read; meanwhile, they’re no longer listening to the presenter. Once they’ve read the slide, they refocus on the presenter who, at this point, is probably talking about the second or third point on the slide. The audience knows what else is to come so don’t feel the need to listen. The presenter has lost the attention of the audience; not because of their skills as a presenter but simply because they didn’t pay enough attention to the purpose and impact of their visuals.  Slides or any other visuals should enhance the presentation for the audience, not the presenter.

So why do presenters create such busy slides?

In my experience, it’s because the first thing they do to prepare their presentation is to open PowerPoint, Prezzi or other presentation media and start to type. The visuals then end up being a script of the presentation rather than a way of enhancing it and emphasising the key messages. So, visuals should be the last thing created, not the first. They are there to help the audience absorb the key messages, not to provide the script.

There are 3 Golden Rules to ensure that your slides enhance, rather than detract from, your presentation. Following these will keep your audience engaged throughout your presentation.


1. Less is More

Remember the slide at the start of this blog? It’s jam packed with text (and I’ve seen busier slides than this)! On our presentation skills courses, participants tell me that slides such as these help them to remember what they want to say. I’m not convinced though, as there’s too much information to quickly pick out the key points. If you need prompts, use notes or cue cards and keep your slides for your audience, after all that’s who they’re meant for.

So, to keep your slides as simple as possible, make sure you:

  • use as few words as possible and avoid using full sentences unless you’re providing a quote from someone
  • use visual images, instead of words, where you can
  • avoid having a deck of only bullet pointed slides. They’re neither engaging nor interesting
  • where you do use bullet points, keep them brief and to a minimum
  • aim for no more than 7, plus or minus 2, pieces of information on any one slide
  • have as much white space or background on the slide as possible.

I’m sure you’ll have heard the good advice to use as few slides as possible but personally I think it’s better to have a few more slides that are clean, uncluttered and focused on your key messages only. The earlier, text heavy, slide would be more engaging with the information presented like this:


2. Use Animation

My second golden rule is to use animation. By this I don’t mean the whizzy, spirally, sparkly options that distract the audience and look unprofessional; I mean presenting the information a bit at a time so only the information you have already talked about and are talking about right now is on the screen. Anything else you move on to should appear as you talk about it. That way, your audience is focusing on what you’re saying and not reading the screen. If you decide to use animation on your slides, it’s worth investing in a simple Presentation Clicker such as this one:


This will allow you to move seamlessly through your presentation without losing eye contact with your audience whilst you fiddle with the keyboard or mouse.


3. Highlight the most important information

At this stage, you might be asking: “What about if I have lots of data to present?”. Many of you will need to present data or financial information so keeping it simple and uncluttered may not always seem possible.

However, it is still possible by highlighting only the relevant information rather than offering a sea of figures, particularly if you’re presenting to an audience which is unfamiliar with the format.

If this is the information you need to present:

One option is to show only the data that you want to discuss, like this:


You can then build up the picture line by line or simply reveal and talk about the information that is relevant and provide the full financial statement in paper form at the end.

Or, you could show the whole financial statement but ask your audience to pay attention to key data, like this:


Whichever way you decide to present data or financial information, aim to highlight or emphasise only the information that is pertinent to your presentation and build up the picture rather than showing it all at once. You can use the presentation clicker to help with this. If you display everything on the slide at once, you will lose your audience to the screen and may never get back their attention!

Finally, if your audience can get everything they need from your slides and don’t really need to hear what you have to say, do you really need to present to them? If the answer is yes, because, for example you need to provide examples or explanation, then take another look at your visuals – are they fit for purpose? Do they provide information to support and enhance your presentation and are they aimed at the audience?

Use these three golden rules when you next put together a presentation and the visuals will keep your audience focused on you and the key message you want to deliver.

Posted by Julie Turner

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