Let’s be honest, gross misuse of PowerPoint has made the application’s name synonymous with dull presentations.
It’s unfortunate that so many presentations are sorely lacking. Far too many people resign to brain dumping text onto crammed slides – or to bullet-pointing their messages onto an outdated template and calling it a day. Only a mad person would find these ways of delivering information engaging or interesting.
Elements Missing from your PowerPoint Design
So what does it take to transform middling slide decks into the kinds of amazing presentations that persuade, excite and make Twitter explode at events?
There are 5 oft-overlooked elements are key to taking your slides from passable to masterful. Learn about the essential components missing from your presentation below and make sure you incorporate them into your next PowerPoint design.
A Compelling Story
The content of your presentation shouldn’t be a tired, predictable onslaught of facts and figures. You should focus on using your slides to tell a powerful story.
Storytelling is key because is speaks to who we are as humans far more than analysis and numbers ever could. It enables your audience to make an emotional connection with what you’re saying, which is an essential part of effective communication, persuasion and retention.
The first step to crafting a powerful narrative is to get to the heart of your message. Think about a few key ideas you’re trying to communicate and focus on them, stripping back peripheral detail.
Establish a clear structure with a beginning, middle and end. Cast any ‘problems’ encountered during your story as the villains of your presentation. That way, they can be overcome by your ‘hero’, i.e. your idea, product or approach. The resulting conflict between to two creates tension and drama, which drive interest and give you clear resolutions to build towards.
Slick, Professional Typefaces
A presentation is no place for the mundane, standard fonts your audience see and use every day in MS Office – we’re looking at you, Times New Roman and Calibri.
Go beyond the system fonts pre-installed on your computer. There’s a whole world of beautiful typefaces out there for you to explore, and Google Fonts is the best place to start.
As with any font directory there are bound to be some stinkers to avoid, so use this curated list of the best Google Fonts by Typewolf to discern those most suitable choices for your use case.
Remember to use just a few fonts in each presentation – or even different weights of the same font – to make sure things look uniform (too many fonts make a design look chaotic).
As Nolan Haims concisely points out on The Presentation Podcast, ‘If you ask any graphic designer how many fonts they have on their computers, they’ll say thousands – and they do. But if you ask them how many they use on a regular basis, it’s not going to be more than 4 or 5, so less is more.’ To hear more of Nolan and his colleagues talking fonts, check out The Presentation Podcast here.
Powerful, Quality Visuals
Only too often is quality content marred by terrible slide visuals. You don’t have to be a professional presentation designer to improve the quality of your deck either – there are a wealth of resources you can exploit to achieve this.
Before touching any software, sketch your slide visuals and text out onto post-its. The space limitations imposed by these notes will help you to keep each slide layout succinct and avoid clutter. Simplicity is your greatest weapon: match minimalist text with strong images so that the message on each slide can be instinctively understood at a glance.
Then find the best images for your PowerPoint presentation. Finding quality visuals using royalty-free image libraries can be tough, as they’re minefields of stock photo faux pas. Steer clear of images that have a sterile and staged ‘stock’ feel to them as they’re inauthentic and can hurt your credibility.
Instead, take advantage of the beautiful free stock image sites like Pexels, Unsplash and StockSnap – all of which offer do-what-you-want photos for commercial and personal use. You might not get the same specificity offered by traditional image libraries, but with some creative thinking you can find quality visuals that match and enhance your message. Similarly, for free icons check out Freepik, IconMonstr and Freebiesbug.
Proper Hierarchy of Information
The proliferation of bullet points probably stems from the idea that related information should be placed close together. While this is certainly true, the idea is only halfway there; bullet points are still itemised lists with no structure to tell audiences how the elements relate to each other and which are most important.
This is where visual hierarchy comes in. It’s all about organising your information in a way that guides the eye and matches the message you’re trying to communicate. Think about which content on your slides your want to prioritise and employ scale, use of colour, typeface and, of course, negative space to achieve this.
Writing for Canva’s Design School blog, Janie Kliever offers a brilliant tip for checking whether a visual hierarchy is working. Janie writes, ‘Sit back from your computer screen a bit and squint at your design so all the details blur and you just see general shapes. What still stands out? Is it what you would want viewers to look at first? If so, then you’re in good shape — if not, then it may be time to go back and try something else.’ You can read more of Janie’s practical tips here for creating visual hierarchies here.
Adherence to Design Principles
We’ve touched on a couple of the core principles of design above, but you should be keeping the following 4 high-level rules firmly in front of mind when putting together your PowerPoint design.
Reprise design elements to create a visual uniformity that ties your slides together. You can achieve consistency with the use of PowerPoint templates and slide masters.
If elements on your slides are different, they should should look distinct from one another. Use shape, size and colour to accomplish this (here’s a handy colour contrast checker).
Aligning elements helps to bring balance to your design – it helps things to simply ‘look right’. Go to the ‘View’ tab in the main PowerPoint ribbon and select the option to show Gridlines for a simple overlay you can use for accurate alignments.
Place elements that are related close together and arrange them with proper hierarchy. This will make it easier for audiences to follow your slides and correlate information.
Keen to learn more about presentation best practices? Check out our New Rules of PowerPoint Design.