Why do my presentations look outstanding?
Do you feel like every time you make a presentation you need to invent something new? You feel like your design sucks and you always need to spend a lot of time trying new designs or templates to make it beautiful. You finally surrender, because you have so much work that you can’t dedicate all this time to countless trials, only to still have a poor design that kills your audience’s experience. In Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds introduced four design principles that are more than a checklist to be used as soon as you get at the end of your slide, but rather a style guide you can always keep in mind when you feel that something is wrong in your design. Let’s go through them together:
Contrast is a powerful way to get the attention of the audience focused toward an element you want to highlight. We all know that human eyes tends to immediately spot differences.
You can achieve contrast in many ways—for example, through the manipulation of space (near and far, empty and filled), through color choices (dark and light, cool and warm), by typeface selection (serif and sans serif, bold and narrow), by the positioning of elements (top and bottom, isolated and grouped), and so on. Making use of contrast can help you create a design in which one item is clearly dominant. This helps the viewer “get” the point of your design quickly. Every good design has a strong and clear focal point, so it helps to have clear contrast among elements, with one element being clearly dominant. –G.Reynolds
In the following example, I created 3 alternatives to the first low contrast slide. In the first slide, the picture is beautiful, but it is hard to fit your message and the choice of the black text color is really bad. In the other pictures, I leveraged the background colors or used the blur effect to place my message with a white color, which stands out more. The pictures are related to the sentence: text and pictures play the same game, with the common objective of communicating effectively.
Repetition is what I like to call unicity or coherence among the slides. I remember a time I worked for a big multination company and I prepared all their presentations for a big, annual internal conference. When I delivered the presentation, they told me that the presentation looked boring, as I had used a very few range of colors. Now, the color palette was coherent to the official color palette from their brand book and they did not have a wide range. Moreover, when I work with colors, I like to use a few related colors and not make a circus on my slides.
They did not want to hear me, so I had to remake all the presentations with “more colors” and when I finally delivered them they said that it was too colorful and too far from the professionalism that their brand represented, so they asked me to respect the official color palette!
Repetition is not only about colors, it is about all of the elements and the layout that you use in your presentation. This principle is about having a leitmotif that make the audience feel consistency from your deck. If you use a stock PowerPoint template, repetition will be produced automatically.
But! You need to be able to leverage your design to make the slides look like parts of the same presentation.
Here I worked with blue and white to create repetition across the slides. I used these colors because they remind the audience the brand color.
In my first job after I graduated from the university, I was a Management Consultant in a large firm. As a consultant, you produce a countless number of slides for your clients, mainly because you need to document everything you do for them.
So, presentations become your presentation card to your client’s eyes. If you have brilliant and effective presentations, you will stand out and clients will think that it is worth spending their money to have you there. Often, consultants become obsessed with the details, as every single detail could compromise their client relationships.
Here I learned the importance of alignments. A management consultant can spot an alignment 1 px off miles away on your slide.
Now, my recommendation is not to become obsessed with your presentations, but to remember that the “devil is in the details.” Being able to handle details correctly you will really make the difference.
In the slide below it might look like I’m exaggerating, but I can tell you that this slide comes from a client for whom I had to fix the alignments, as he was not able to get them right.
Proximity is about placing the elements in a way the audience member does not have to struggle to understand the relationships between the objects on your slide. This concept is closely related to the eyes path control, because the placing of your items will have a clear impact on how the audience member will read your slide.
In the left slide, the audience member is lost. The first glance will not give him or her any information and he or she will be forced to read the text and focus on the chart afterward. Moreover, he or she will have to focus on the images to understand why they are there and how they support the main message. In the right slide, I used only one image that represented the product mentioned in the title/subtitle. I reduced the bar chart to the first and last year, as it was not required, in this case, that the audience see the details of the other years (you can always have a note with the detailed volumes at your fingertips, in case any questions are asked). I also gave an order to the messages in the title and subtitle, so as to tell the reader what he needs to read first.
What’s your favorite principle? Comment are highly appreciated!
Digital Entrepreneur, Marketer, Blogger, Public speaker, Presentation design guru and Founder at MLC-Design. Top 5% PowerPoint presentation expert on Elance.com, top rated freelancer on Upwork.com and lecturer at Cattolica University of Milan. “Time is free but it’s priceless”