Ingredients for a good presentation deck

I was pitching to work with a great organisation recently, and felt pleased enough with this demo slide deck, I thought I would share. The value of the content is one thing; making the case for design thinking and embedding user-centred co-design practices in all realms of project development, whether it be service design, product design, or authentic brand development and marcom strategy. The other thing was an opportunity to reflect again on the value of presenting information well, with clarity, simplicity and impact.

I have been framing, creating, and delivering presentations and pitches for a long time, so it is something I always notice quickly when sitting through someone else’s. It really shouldn’t be hard to stick to the principles of great presentation building. Putting delivery to one side, the mechanics of your slide deck really can be broken down to some basic fundamental rules to ensure your audience remains engaged, and that their toes don’t curl because information is being displayed so impenetrably.

  • Rule one, quite conveniently here, since it is the subject of the case study presentation, is to put your audience at the centre. Put yourself in their shoes when choosing how to assemble your content. What do they really need to know/see? Where will they be viewing this? How large will the screen be? Will you be in the room or not? How big is the space, and what kind of viewing distance or range will people have? How long do you have to talk and expand on information? All of these questions need to be answered before you even open your slide-building tool of choice.
  • Rule two, which addresses a lot of the above considerations, don’t place content below a minimum size, especially text (which varies depending on viewing distance from a screen of course), this is usually in the range of 24-32pt text. If you have too many words that you ‘simply must’ have in, break it over more slides, or simply cut, because there is no point cramming in that ‘simply must have’ content in ever smaller and smaller rows of text if nobody can read it.
  • Rule three, following directly on, don’t put too much into any one slide. Edit, edit, edit. Let your key information, or thoughts breath and land without distraction. If you have paragraphs and paragraphs of text-based info to report, perhaps an actual report in document form is the appropriate medium, not a slide show. Literally no-one is going to have patience for you if you stand there and read off a screen. This should be obvious because, what is the point in even being there? The content of a slide deck is not a script for the presenter – your audience could just read it for themselves in their own time. The slide deck is a visual aid to support you expanding on a topic, not a replacement for, or duplication of your efforts. It also is kind of a bad look, that you maybe don’t have the authority or expertise on what you are saying… because if ALL of the information is up there, I could literally be a monkey in a bow-tie and deliver the same show.
  • Rule four, it is a visual platform. Take time to select appropriate, and engaging imagery to support the concepts you are discussing. Also, it helps to break up the monotony of words on screen, and words you are saying. Studies show that within half an hour of leaving a presentation, most people with have let go of 50% of what went down. A day later this drops to 25%, and by the end of the week about 10% remains. Similarly, only around 10% of text-based content will be retained in the  first place, whereas a combined visual element to the text bumps the likely-hood of remembering key points to 65% or more, and for a much longer timeframe. I always like to use break slides too, to help compartmentalise areas of information, and get a breather between sections (if a more complex presentation), but also to create some rhythm, a bitesized sense of progression, and some visual punctuation.
  • Rule five, (kind of a back-to-fronter as it could be rule one) you are telling a story. Even when that story is a quarterly sales update, and thus should follow the arc of any traditional narrative; to have a beginning, middle and end, with the requisite peaks and troughs of emotional or sensory punctuation…. In other words, set the scene, establish your characters (key findings), set them amidst their struggle/or purpose, take us along on their journey encountering their pitfalls (big numbers, big moments, evocative images/graphics), and bring us home with their resolution, tying-up what they set out to accomplish (recommendations/ projections/ etc.)…. In even simpler terms, summarise what you are going to tell us, tell us, then summarise what you told us.

Limiting your slides to short key messages, facts, top-line figures, with accompanying graphic elements, and being prepared to speak confidently to your audience beyond the onscreen content rather than reading off your slides, is going to go such a long way in getting people to engage, or ideally enjoy their time with you, which will lead to maximum impact.

How you prepare your delivery and  ‘what to say’ is a whole other thing and we all have preferred methods for that, but personally I don’t believe in a super rigid script. I know, it is often insisted ‘stick to the script’, but this really applies more to situations of extreme emotive, legal or political sensitivity. Of course having specific, and well-rehearsed details, info points and structure is essential, but for sure if you actually know intimately what you are delivering, and care about it, it should be possible to take the queues from your on screen key messages and comfortably riff on the background detail or context. Especially in those moments of vertigo (happens to everyone) where you might have a momentary psynapse misfire and lose a piece of your planned speech. So developing comfort with this approach is practical, but on top of that there are huge amounts of trust to be earned from listening to someone speaking naturally, genuinely, and not obviously running line-by-line through a pre-fab script.

I may return to edit this somewhat, but in the mean time, here endeth the sermon.