Your presentations are shit

How to make them better

At a town hall meeting years ago in my hometown of Stratford CT, I watched someone give a presentation that included slides like this:

Please don’t read this slide

I’m not a designer, but I’ve always had an eye for good design and, well, common sense. This presentation was insulting.

To be fair, this was a town hall meeting in a suburban Connecticut town. Surely more professional individuals—my college professors, students, and executives — knew how to design and give a proper presentation.

As it turns out, most don’t.

Over the years I’ve created and redesigned dozens of presentations for projects, nonprofits, and in my current job. So I’ve learned a thing or two.

1. Presentations are easy to design

Yes, easy.

There are tons of beautiful Keynote and Powerpoint templates at your finger tips. Literally. Find one you like.

  • Drag and drop in some photos.
  • Spice it up with an effect here or there.
  • Don’t — DO NOT — copy and paste a thousand bullets points on every slide.

Remember this —embody it: the fewer words the better.

  • Easy to read charts are fine.
  • Huge complicated Excel grids or graphs won’t translate on screen and will leave your audience scratching their heads, squinting, and not listening to what you’re saying. Leave them out. Simplify complicated information.

To this day, the presentation I’m most proud of is a Keynote I created for my nonprofit back in college.

A few slides from a recruitment Keynote

Notice the simplicity — this was stupid easy to make.

Now, to you, these slides probably don’t make much sense. That’s because this is only half the presentation. The other half takes more work:

2. Prepare and give your presentation

You must:

  1. Know your content inside and out, and
  2. Be comfortable saying things that aren’t on screen.

Study if you need to. Prepare and reference note cards, I don’t care. But don’t stand there like an ass and read off your slides verbatim. We can all read.

If what you’re trying to communicate is worth presenting, you owe it to yourself and your audience to put in a little work beforehand.

I know what you’re thinking. But how will I distribute my presentation to people who weren’t there? Or what if people want a copy?

3. Create a share version

This, essentially, is what most presentations are in their current form. This is the version with a lot of text, those complicated charts, and generally TMI.

This may seem like extra work. But do this:

  1. Design your presentation as you’re probably used to doing now—create the share version first.
  2. Save a copy. Trim down this version as much as possible. Give it the bare essentials. Pretty it up. Add some animations.

That’s your presentation version.


When in doubt, keep it simple. Less is more. Presenting can be an incredible way to communicate ideas. You have the power to do it right.