7 Ways to Build Better Presentation Slides

Chances are you work with Excel more than PowerPoint or Keynote. But if you want to build influence in your company, sooner or later you’ll need to present your ideas to your bosses, colleagues or clients. And you’ll likely want to include some visuals. Knowing how to create engaging presentations can help you get your points across and hold your audience’s attention from start to finish.

We previously wrote about the importance of delivering a strong presentation; here’s a follow-up on how to make the most of your slides when creating a presentation.

1. Begin with a clear outline. We’ve all seen presentations that go nowhere fast. That often happens because the presenter doesn't have a handle on where he or she really wants to go with the presentation. Grab a pen and paper before you open your presentation software. Start creating your presentation by writing an outline, with specific focus on your goals and what you want to accomplish by the time you’re done. This will help you stick to the script when it’s time to put the deck together.

2. Find the right fonts. According to presentation expert Dave Paradi’s “The State of Financial Presentations 2014 Survey,” 51 percent of respondents said one of the most annoying things about financial presentations they’ve seen is the font used is too small. Your audience needs to focus on the message you’re delivering. Don’t make them work more than they have to. Use at least a 24-point font. Go with a 20-point font for captions on pictures, graphs and diagrams. Titles should generally be between 36 and 44.

Use a main font for body text and bullets and a different one for titles, labels and captions. Presentation expert Garr Reynolds says that sans-serif fonts are best for presentations. To make sure your fonts have good chemistry, check out this helpful Presentitude guide.

3. Let your titles guide the way. Each slide’s title should provide context and explain the slide’s content, including the conclusion. For example, “A Third of Managers Regret Not Taking Enough Vacation Time” is better than just “Vacation Time.” A more descriptive title keeps your audience focused on the message. Someone skimming your slides should get the gist of your presentation without reading anything else.

4. Keep your slides succinct. Respondents to Paradi’s survey about financial presentations said that what annoyed them the most was too many numbers on slides. Yes, you work with numbers, but don’t go number-happy. When deciding what to place on a slide, remember your slides should support what you’re saying, not the other way around.

A slide with too much information is challenging to read. You’re essentially asking your audience to read and listen at the same time. Again, don’t make your audience work. If your presentation needs to be shared as a handout or forwarded to others, consider making two versions: a slimmed-down version to talk through and a sharable version with more explanatory text.

5. Consider your colors. No discussion on tips for presentations would be complete without some comments about colors. Make sure your text and background colors contrast well. Use a light color against a dark background or vice versa.

6. Make it visually engaging. No, a page or screenshot from Excel doesn’t really count as an image. TED Talk designer Aaron Weyenberg likes to use simple photos that support what the presenter is saying. A well-chosen image is a nice break from text that can grab your audience’s attention and help reinforce your message. You can take your own high-quality photos or find professional stock images on sites like iStock or Shutterstock.

7. Provide a next step. Don’t just end your presentation by saying thank you; give a call to action. Close your presentation by including a slide that mentions what you’d like the audience to do with the information you shared with them.

What are your best tips for effective presentations? Feel free to share in the comments section.

Related post: 5 Tips for Presentations that Inform and Persuade