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.

Design helps bring order to a message. It aids in 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.

When it comes to slide design specifically, your primary goal is to illustrate your message. PowerPoint, Keynote and Prezi are all illustration tools. They are not documents.

If you are giving a presentation and want to make information available to your audience, it’s typically best to create a separate handout with that information, rather than make copies of your slides.

Well-designed slides are going to have a minimum of text on them and wouldn’t necessarily make sense to someone viewing them as a handout (unless they are a stand-alone presentation, in which case you’d just share the slides, electronically).

But if you’re teaching something and want to leave information in the hands of your audience, a single-page, well-designed handout works well.

Design tips

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.

For example, begin with solid backgrounds rather than pre-designed templates. Templates get old fast. Stick with basic colors that offer great contrast – a super light or dark background color. It’s hard to beat black or white.

Also, don’t use more than three different colors or formatting techniques throughout. More than three is too much stimulation.

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.

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.

Select a font that evokes the right tone or mood for your message.

Fonts are either serif (they have wings – parts that extend toward and roll into one another) or sans serif (without wings – this font is Century Gothic, a sans serif font). In the past serifs fonts were used for reading texts and sans serif fonts were used for headlines. But in our cluttered world, we crave the simple and sans serif fonts have gradually won out in popularity.

Use only high-quality graphics.


Stay away from clip art. And avoid overdone, overused images like two people shaking hands.

Make them as large on the screen as you can (and still retain their crispness – if it’s fuzzy on a small computer screen, it will be even fuzzier on a large presentation wall screen) and again, keep them simple.

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

Use visuals instead of words if they will convey the meaning by themselves.

Communication is about the transfer of meaning – sometimes it’s more effective to “show” than “tell.”

Think headlines.

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

Use white space well.

White space can be used for a very pleasing effect. It helps emphasize what is important on the slide if you eliminate what isn’t.

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).

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 in the slides or video.

Many reports in today’s workplace are designed as stand-alone presentations. This means all the information is in the slides. There is no presenter.

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 stands on it’s own. It 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 where the speaker is there to interpret, 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)

6 simple rituals to reach your potential every day (Fast Company)

Work as Worship by RightNow Ministries (2:45)

"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)

8 secrets of success (Richard St. John_3:34 min)

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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