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If you want to be a great presenter,

work on 3 things: resonance, design and delivery

It also helps to study great presentations, like TED Talks.

Design is more important than it has ever been. We are bombarded with messages in today’s world--thousands of messages a day, hundreds an hour, dozens a minute. So let's first talk about what design does for us.

1. Design brings order to a message. It aids clarity and understanding.

Each written document or slide you produce in the workplace--each spreadsheet, report, flyer, brochure, article or blog post--should be as well designed as you have the power to make it.

2. Design helps with illustration. When it comes to slide designs, your primary goal is to illustrate your message. PowerPoint, Keynote and Prezi are all illustration tools. They are not documents. If you want to leave information in the hands of your audience, a well-designed 1-page handout works well for that purpose. But what you put on the screen to help engage the audience with your content should be for illustrative purposes only.

3. Let design be a guide, not a crutch. Don't use slides like index cards. Resist the temptation to put every word you want to say on them. If you end up reading them the audience doesn't even need you--you just get in the way. Let them serve as a guide, but make every one, even those with words only, interesting and pleasing to the eye. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. Audiences are often visual learners. "Show" them the points you are making.

18 Design tips

1. Use visual aids whenever possible. By visual aids I don’t just mean slides, I mean something--anything--people can see, feel, touch, taste, or smell. Tangible objects. Use visuals in addition to slides whenever possible.

2. Keep use of technology balanced. Slideshows and videos are great, but again, keep them simple. Take everything out that isn’t mandatory for meaning to be clear. Just because visuals can spin and zoom in and out doesn't mean they should.

3. Select a font that evokes the right tone or moodFonts are either serif (they have wings--parts that extend toward and roll into one another) or sans serif (without wings). This font is a sans serif called Raleway. In the past, serifs fonts were used for reading texts and sans serif fonts were used for headlines. But in our current cluttered world, we crave the simple and sans serif fonts have increased in popularity.

4. Use only high-quality graphics. Stay away from clip art. Avoid overdone, overused images like two people shaking hands. Make images as large on the screen as you can and still retain their crispness. If an image is fuzzy on a small computer screen, it will be even fuzzier on a large presentation wall screen.

Having no graphic is better than having a poor one. Poor graphics are not perceived as professional, which undermines your credibility.

5. Use visuals instead of wordsCommunication is about the transfer of meaning. It is more effective to “show” than “tell.”

6. Think headlines. Use as few words as possible when words are mandatory. Think Twitter-sized messages.

7. Use white space well. White space can be used for pleasing effects. It helps emphasize what is important on the slide if you eliminate what isn’t.

8. Be consistent. Use the same background color throughout. Use the same types and size fonts. Use the same kinds of images throughout. Don’t mix cartoon graphics and photographs. Photographs are more professional.

9. Great presentations are well organized. The best organization is the old adage: tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.

10. Use the rule of thirds. Lay an imaginary tic-tac-toe board over the screen and line focal points on those lines rather than placing items in the center each time.

11. Clear path, easily followed. Oral communication is linear. The audience only knows what you tell them in the order you tell them. So make it easy to follow.

12. Keep it simple. We are bombarded with data, messages, and stimuli in today’s world. Keep things clutter-free and simple, and your audience will love you for it. Simple is not synonymous with dumbing-down. Simple means you take away every unnecessary element--every unnecessary distraction.

I challenge you to begin with solid backgrounds rather than pre-designed templates. Templates get old fast. Stick with basic colors that offer great contrast like a super light or dark background color. It’s hard to beat black and white. Also, don’t use more than three different colors or formatting techniques throughout. 

13. Great design can be produced under pressure. T.S. Elliot said, “When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost, and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” 

14. Great design doesn't require all the latest technology. Sometimes a stick in the sand will do and is actually refreshing.

15. Remove every distraction. Remove every item that doesn't need to be there.

16. Great design is highly visual. There are 5 senses. Appeal to them.

17. Great design has style and personality. Once, a student in my class designed all black and white images in her slide presentation with a pop color of bright yellow. The day she presented, she dressed in black and white with bright yellow pumps on her feet. It was stylish.

18. Great design illustrates. It "shows" rather than "tells."

Stand-alone Presentations

Many reports in today’s workplace are designed as stand-alone presentations. A stand-alone presentation is just what it sounds like, it's a presentation that requires no speaker or interpreter. The message is all in the slides or video. 

We live in a “show me” world. Most of us would rather watch a YouTube instructional clip than read a written manual. The same is true in the workplace. If information that was traditionally shared in long, boring, written reports can be illustrated instead in a slide presentation or video, it’s often preferred.

A stand-alone presentation is designed to be self-explanatory. It might be emailed or posted on an Internet site. It might need to include more content than an ordinary presentation, but don’t take this as a license to fill slides with text. Challenge yourself to communicate your message clearly with as few words as possible.

These are all powerful examples of stand-alone slide presentations. Some of these have voice-over or music in the background.


Start-up of You (Slideshare, Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn)

Our college crisis: A PowerPoint presentation by Bill Gates (The Atlantic)

"The surprising truth about what motivates us" (Dan Pink_10.48)

Other Resources

Garr Reynolds has both a website and a blog.

Excellent video of Garr Reynolds explaining 7 basic rules of design. (18:40)

Nancy Duarte's website includes a Portfolio.

10 tips for better slides decks

Top 10 design tips (Garr Reynolds)

Tales of ice-bound wonderlands (Paul Nicklen_17:55)

Michael Wesch, A Vision of Students Today and TED talk

Steve Jobs' unveiling of the iPhone in 2007 - long, but iconic

Additional presentation skills Content


TED Talk Links


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