In this topic, I’m going to give you five practical tips for improving your work presentations. We’ll be looking at real slides from some of the best presentation creators to understand the types of tools they use to build slides that are clear, engaging and persuasive.
The focus today will be on management style presentations like those typically found in a corporate environment. So if that sounds like something you do, then stick around because I’m about to show you some really easy things you can do to make your presentations a whole lot better.
And the reason why it’s so exciting is because there’s a lot of stuff here that’s really easy to do but that most people just aren’t doing. But first, we need to define the problem. When you present your slides, the audience is gonna be trying to listen to what you’re saying, read what you have on the slide and also think about what they’re going to say in response.
Even if your audience is smart and engaged, this is just too much information for their brains to process all at once. So what you need to do as a presentation creator is figure out a way to make your slides easy to understand quickly.
Now, I see a lot of advice out there that says you should create minimalistic slides so that your audience focuses on you instead of on the presentation. And that’s great advice but it’s not something that can be applied in all settings.
Unless you’re giving a keynote presentation, it’s likely that you need to provide a lot of information to the audience, sales numbers, marketing plan or maybe a five-year strategic plan. Plus, a lot of the time you need to be able to send your presentation and it’s not gonna make sense to anyone unless it has the right amount of detail.
So, that leads us to a situation where you have to create a dense, content-heavy presentation but one that the audience can understand quickly without being overloaded mentally.
In other words, you need to help the audience process a large amount of information as efficiently as possible. So that’s exactly what we’re gonna talk about today.
Tip number one, nail the title.
The title is the most important part of your slide. It should provide a summary of the slide content and should help your audience understand right away what the key takeaway is. A big mistake people make here is to just put the topic of your slide.
This is not something that’s gonna help your audience process the rest of the information quickly. Instead, put a full sentence here, one to two lines typically and tell your audience exactly what you want them to know.
Take a look at this slide from Deloitte as an example. The title says, retailers are in a challenging position: They are not highly trusted and consumers hold them accountable to ensure privacy. And really this tells me everything I need to know about the slide, helping me to understand their main point quickly and efficiently.
Imagine how much harder the slide would be to understand if the title just said something like retailer challenges or consumer privacy and retail. It might feel a little unnatural to write something like this at first but when you can make it easier on your audience by summarizing the entire slide quickly, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to hold their attention and persuade them of your key message.
Tip number two, guide the reader.
You wanna design your slides so that the audience understands the highest level idea first before diving into the details. This is gonna give them the context they need to understand what you’re trying to tell them. Take a look at this slide from BCG for example.
If you focus on the chart first without having the right context, it’s hard to see what the takeaway is. It shows VC media investments by city over time but it’s unclear what they’re trying to tell me. Is it that total VC investments are growing, is it that Silicon Valley VC investments are growing more than other cities or maybe it’s something else.
Without the right context or guidance, we don’t know how to interpret the details of the chart. But now read the slide title first and then the subtitle. With this context, I know exactly what to look for, which is gonna make it so much easier for me.
And this is exactly how they want me to process the slide, starting with the highest level idea, which is the title and then working my way down through the different layers, rather than looking at the details first and trying to guess what the main takeaway is.
This way of communicating is based on the Pyramid Principle, which is the idea that communication works best when you start with your main point first, then work your way into the details. Notice how this slide is designed to guide me through the different layers. They want my eyes to naturally go to the highest level idea first, which is the title.
So they make that the biggest and most obvious. It’s also green when the rest of the text on the slide is black. Then the next layer of the slide is the subtitles and those are the next biggest text on the slide as well and they also have these underlines to help attract attention to them but not so much attention to where I look at them before I see the title.
Then the next layer is this chart on the left and the bolded text on the right, which again is slightly less obvious than the subtitle or title but still more obvious than these bullet points down here.
If you can format your slide in this way using text, bolding, colors and shapes to help guide the reader through the different layers of your slide, you’re gonna help them understand your presentation quickly and with as little effort as possible, which is exactly what you want.
We actually did a full top to bottom breakdown of this exact slide, where we analyzed what they did well and what they could have done better. So if that’s something you’re interested in, be sure to check that out, I’ll include a link in the description below.
Tip number three, add visuals to your slide.
This one might seem obvious but it’s easy to forget or misinterpret. Remember your primary goal isn’t to make the slide look prettier. That’s important but it’s not the main goal. The main goal is to help your audience process the information on your slide as efficiently as possible and visuals are a great way to do that.
One obvious visual is a chart which can help you tell a story with your quantitative data but another commonly overlooked visual is icons. Icons are great for helping the audience understand the text and titles of your slide quickly. Take a look at this slide from PWC. Yes the icons make the slide look more aesthetically pleasing but the real value comes from the nice mental boost they provide.
Without thinking, my brain can look at these icons and have some idea for what they represent. That way I can skim through the slide without having to read every single word. Remember the problem we talked about in the beginning. The audience is trying to mentally do multiple things at once, so even little stuff like this is gonna help them out.
Without the icons here, this slide would have way too much text but because they’ve bolded the main points and connected them with easy-to-understand icons, it’s much easier for me to look at the slide and understand what they’re trying to tell me quickly. You can see the same thing here in this slide from Bain.
Notice how they use these visuals down at the bottom to make it easier on me to see the country each column represents. Obviously, I could just read the names of each country but the flags make it that much easier for me to process the details and get to the main point of the slide. It’s a small and easy addition to add these visuals but it’s very effective.
Tip number four, annotate your charts.
Charts are a very common element in management style presentations but they’re often used incorrectly. People sometimes assume that as long as the data’s there, the insights will be clear, which is obviously a huge mistake.
By the time you show your slides to the audience, it’s likely that you’ve already looked them over many times. So you automatically know where to focus your attention and what the insights are. But your audience is probably looking at your slides for the first time. So, you need to do whatever you can to help them see the insights quickly, especially on your charts where people often get lost.
But thankfully, this is really easy to do. You can add colors, arrows, circles or even text right on top of your chart. It’s something most people forget to do but it makes a world of difference. On this slide from Bain, you can see it done very effectively. First, they used red on the columns that matter most to help them pop a little bit more. But then secondly, they added this little callout here to show the top three.
And what’s interesting about this is that they’re not telling us anything we can’t already see ourselves. It’s very clear what the top three brands are just by looking at the chart but Bain is smart and they know that anything they can do to help make the chart easy to understand quickly, is gonna help the audience stay engaged. So clearly this is something that’s easy to do, you just have to remember to do it.
Tip number five, bring a perspective.
There’s nothing more important for adding life to your presentation than bringing a perspective. And what I mean by that is you should find ways to show what the data in your presentation actually means, rather than just using the presentation as a way to show data. Tell the audience what you see when you look at the data or better yet, tell them what it means for your company or their company.
Let’s look at another example from BCG. This one from a presentation on electric cars. The slide shows a table comparing the viability of electric cars in different markets. And actually, it’s a really simple slide, there’s just the title, which by the way, notice that it’s bright green and very obvious, then below that is a simple table with just a few rows and columns. But what I want you to notice here is the callout down at the bottom, which says, “China provides the most favorable combination “of energy prices and mileage for EV penetration.”
If I look at this table long enough, I could’ve probably reach that same conclusion myself but they’re giving me a shortcut. They’re telling me exactly what they see when they look at the table and in turn, what they want me to see.
They’re very clearly and very directly bringing a perspective and it makes the slide way easier to understand. If you remember nothing else from this video. then remember this. The best presentation designers don’t create slides that make them look smart. They create slides that make their audience feel smart.
They do whatever they can to help the audience understand the slides quickly and efficiently. That should be your main goal. All right, that’s gonna do it for this video, lemme know down in the comments what you think, which tips do you think are effective, which are less effective and what are some tips that I missed.