Let your information speak — instantly better slides in three steps

As a consultant I see dozens of slides a day. Slides from my own company, slides from competitors and slides from our customers. What always strikes me is the sheer divergence in quality. Besides some little pieces of art there is a massive amount of sluggish slides, designed to be forgotten the minute they disappear from the screen. Of course, you can say, slides only have a short life span anyways and people have to care about more important things than arranging circles and boxes until they are pixel-perfect. But the problem with poorly designed slides is not that their boring layouts and bad illustrations get forgotten in realtime, but their information is lost as well. All that stuff you spent so much time for bringing it all together, elaborating it to the last word to finally convince your boss — it is lost in a second without having any impact or supporting your intentions. In case you can find some memories similar to this situation, the next chapter is for you.

You don’t need to be an artist to design solid slides

First of all: your slides don’t need to win any beauty contest, they should just work and help you supporting your cause. Even if you lack a bit of creativity and a lot of time there are some hints to design better slides right away.

Step 1: User-centered design

You might be the best designer out there, if your audience does not like what you produce, your information is forgotten. Therefore it is essential to think about your audience beforehand and about their intentions for your presentation. In case you already know your audience, you probably know, if a more visual or data-driven style is appropriate. If you don’t know your audience try to imagine what you want them to do with the information you present and design accordingly. Which facts do you want them to remember? Which actions should they take? As soon as you can answer these questions, you are set to actually design your slides.

Within this process, again, keep your audience in mind. A visual agenda on each slide, clearly labeled graphs and charts in a size people can actually read them, slides with mood images seperating chapters — there are hundreds of ways you can make your slidedeck more appealing. Staying aware what you like in other presentations can help you to bring your own slides to the next level. In case you still lack inspiration, have a look at step two.

Step 2: Change your perspective on websites

The internet does not only tell us about trends first, in terms of design it sets trends first. Each year there are dozens of “This year’s hottest trends in web design” articles and you can actually learn from them (for example, check out the Awwwards blog post on that topic) These articles give you a good indication about what trends there are currently in visual design and will help you to raise your awareness to identify these trends when actually seeing them.

Additionally to web design trends just take a closer look at your favorite websites and think about what you can learn from them. As an example, have a look at the Lemonade FAQ page (pay attention on how the menu changes when you scroll), which is designed beautifully. Keeping the user in mind, it offers quick links to the most important topics no matter where you are on the site. This is a great example for a design element that could also work for an agenda (big agenda on one slide and afterwards the smaller boxes on each slide). Try to train your selective awareness on stuff like this and new design ideas will come to you almost naturally (by the way, have you noticed how nicely Medium works with whitespace?).

Step 3: Entertain your audience

Have you ever asked yourself, why agency folks wear sneakers with their suits for presentations? Why contents on iPhones during Apple keynotes are always funny? Why there are always sidekicks during business conferences? All of these examples follow one basic rule: The audience has a right to get entertained.

Nothing is worse than a boring presentation. No matter how exciting you think your content is, make sure your audience thinks the same. While visually appealing slides can do the trick for a lot of occassions, sometimes it is important to go one step further.

As we are all used to cartoons and kind of funny graphics, try something new and use motion to reclaim your audiences’ attention. An easy way to incorporate funny motion designs into your presentation is giphy.com, where you can find suitable images for almost every occasion.

In case you are looking for something a bit more serious, try the new stock footage search from pexels.com. There you can find great videos in high resolution that work very well for chapter separation slides to prepare your audience for the next set of contents.

Now would be the time for a classical “the dose makes the poison” warning but I won’t stress that point too much as I want to encourage you to think about your slide designs in the first place. Consciously thinking about the structure and design of your contents, keeping your audience in mind will make it hard to overshoot the goal. Therefore be brave and take a step forward bringing better slides to the world out there.

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