We don’t like boring presentations either. Here’s how to dial your next presentation design to eleven.
Presentation design is that “I told you so” friend. You can have the best stage presence around, the most pertinent information for your audience, a simply stellar narrative . . . and noneof it matters if your design doesn’t work.
That’s when presentation design swoops in and gives ya the big ole, “I told you so.”
Look—presenting information to other human beings without slowly (or quickly) starting to look like you dove headfirst into the deep end of your community pool is hard enough. We’ve all been there. We get it.
That’s why this guide exists. Treat it as a cheat code to better presentations. We’ll cover all things slide design—tips, examples, and tools you can use to make your next presentation look good (no complicated game controller combos required).
Table of Contents
The Pillars of Any Great Presentation10 Presentation Design Tips That WorkPresentation Design IdeasHow to Design a Presentation
The Pillars of Any Great Presentation
The five pillars of presentation design. Image by rawf8.
There are a million different things you can do when designing a presentation. That’s the challenge. You’re in the center of a maze, and if you spin around you’ll see twenty pathways. Each one of these takes you to twenty more, and on and on and on.
Let’s start with some basic pillars of great presentation design: purpose, narrative, content, cohesion, and delivery. Everything that comes after rests on top of these building blocks.
What type of presentation are you making? Image via SpicyTruffel.
Even though we’re talking about five pillars, purpose might be the most important one. Or, at least the deepest dug, supporting everything else.
Without a purpose for your presentation, there is no hope. That sounds grim—because it is.
Go to the grocery store with no list, and what happens? A $100 overdraft charge and seven pounds of crab cakes with a “Sell by” date of tomorrow. Dive into a presentation with no purpose, and you have a similar theme: sadness.
Start simple—what type of presentation are you making? Is it a quarterly review? Sales report? Pitch? Perhaps you’re the keynote speaker at a once-every-three-years global conference? (Okay, hotshot.)
Figure out what kind of presentation you need. That informs its purpose. Then, factor in your audience. Who are you speaking to, and what do you want them to gain from this soon-to-be beautifully visualized information sharing session?
That brings us to . . .
Say you’re crafting a pitch presentation. Your purpose is to inform and persuade investors to finance your product. This gives you what you need to develop your theme: “XYZ product isn’t just showy, it makes users’ lives easier.”
Great. Now, like any good writer or painter or filmmaker, your job is to develop this theme over the course of your narrative, A.K.A. the overarching journey of your presentation.
You’ll pepper this narrative journey with elements of storytelling. For example: Where you were when you had your big idea is a story that supports your larger narrative—how it all started, why it matters, and where it’s going.
Pepper your narrative journey with elements of storytelling. Image via Tatyana Frolova.
Make sure there’s conflict. Take it from famed screenwriter Syd Field: “All drama is conflict. Without conflict, you have no action; without action, you have no character; without character, you have no story; and without story, you have no screenplay.”
A presentation that’s all sunshine and rainbows is a presentation that lacks realism. And, just like moviegoers don’t want to spend $20 to see a movie where everything is wonderful and nothing could be better, your audience wants engaging information that’s rooted in conflict.
Because, that means it’s real.
Your product will change the world because it’s solving a real-world problem, and guess what? You’ve faced problems of your own in getting said product off the ground. They were A, B, and C, and you solved them by . . .
Here’s where we get designer-y (author’s choice—that’s a word today). You know your purpose, you understand how that purpose creates a theme, and you see how to develop this theme through narrative.
Now, you need awe-inspiring content. This is where design choices start to have an effect. Your job is to make the complexity of presentation design look simple. No sweat, right?
Good content in a good presentation is all about finding balance. Image via inamar.
Opt for high-quality stock photos, readable fonts, and a balanced color scheme. In a way, it’s like tightrope walking across the Grand Canyon.
Also—don’t ever actually tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon.
Your visual content should complement your message and help an audience understand exactly what you want them to take away from your presentation.
Ever seen a Baz Luhrmann film? He’s a man with a distinctive style. If you need proof, go watch Moulin Rouge!, or his adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
See? Distinctive style. You look at a Baz film, in all of its creative chaos, and just know—that was made by him. Good or bad doesn’t matter. Baz Luhrmann stays on-brand. Even if on-brand is nine million things happening at once in a single frame.
Cohesion is of the utmost importance when crafting a presentation. The easiest way to achieve visual cohesion is to keep your design on-brand. Be it personal or business, use images, colors, and fonts that represent you.
And if you don’t have those? Decide upon them. Then use them.
If purpose is the deepest pillar, this is the . . . not so deepest . . . if only because it’s the last pillar to consider. We’re not talking about you talking—that is important, but in terms of presentation design, delivery is about slide layout.
How you’re using content, how you’re creating cohesion, and how you’re layering slides and building narrative—that’s your delivery.
It’s a tall task, for sure. Each pillar seemingly heavier than the last.
Ready for some tips? Let’s talk through ten quick and actionable tips that you can use when creating your next presentation.
10 Presentation Design Tips That Work
You’ll find nifty previews of PicMonkey’s multi-page presentation templates included with these tips.
Note: There’s no shame in starting with a template, nor do you need to spend hours finagling with PowerPoint or Google Slides. Just grab one that’s right for your presentation type, then customize it to match your brand and flaunt your info.
1. Use Presentation Slides as a Complement to an Outline
A 2018 study found that only 20% of people finish reading an article online. What’s worse, the average visitor in the study would only read 25% of an article.
If you’re still with us—thanks. We’re well past the 25% point.
We bring this up because presentation slides aren’t meant to be inundated with information, at least not via words (more on this soon).
That’s what your outline is for. It’s the notes you put together in tandem with your presentation. No one will see it but you, so, unlike your presentation layout, it can look like a house of horrors as long as the only one experiencing the terror is you (and you can still decipher it).
Think of an outline as your pseudo-script. Maybe not word for word what you’ll say, but the map for your entire presentation (like speaker notes), with each gorgeous presentation slide backing up your words.
2. Create Narrative Progression from Beginning to End
Customize the full 12-slide presentation template.
Narrative progression means using storytelling to develop your theme and strengthen the overall journey of your presentation.
This is who we were, who we are, and who we will beThis is where we were, where we are, and where we will be.This is what you want, how to get it, and where “getting it” will take you.
In the example above, the first slide introduces “perfecting a pitch,” the second slide expands the topic with general tips, and the third slide dives into more specific advice. There’s a steady and progressive unpacking of information.
3. Corral Your Colors and Fonts
Reel in those colorful and scripty design elements.
Two complementary colors are more than enough, and if you opt for extra, make sure there’s a reason behind it (intentional flashiness, a third color used for emphasis, etc.)
Same goes for fonts—keep ‘em under control. Using too many fonts creates reader confusion. Sans serif and simple serif fonts are easy to read.
Also, “easy to read” doesn’t translate to “boring.” If you crave extra fonty flavor, learn how to pair your fonts. Not only does it look good, but it’s a simple way to create visual interest.
If you do this, use one font in your slide headings, and the other in the body copy. Keep it consistent throughout your presentation slide design.
4. Cut Text Like It’s the Last Piece of Pie
Snippets of text, all supporting a single idea.
It’s the day after Christmas. There’s one piece of pie left and, in a moment of charity (or foolishness), you decide to share it with the entire family. Good for you.
That single piece of pie is sliced into tiny slivers, each one put on its own plate.
Cut to now. You’re making a presentation. You notice a heavy paragraph full of ideas, and it’s hanging out on a single slide . . .
. . . share it with the rest of your presentation. Give each slide its own [singular] idea. This makes your information digestible. Maybe a few slides merit more than one sentence. Fine. So long as they support one idea, concept, point, etc.
5. You’re Not Presenting a Resume
Lose the bullet points. They’re an eyesore and a recipe for subconsciously adding way too much information to a single slide.
“But, but . . . I use bullet points to break everything up!” Nice. So, why are there seventeen of them?
If you want to “bullet” out sentences, use graphics or icons as separators. They’re more interesting.
6. If There Is an Opportunity for Dynamic Visuals, Take It
To a degree. Viewers retain 95% of a message from video compared to 10% from reading. Strike a conversation with any content marketer and they’ll pile on the merits of creating video content.
There’s a reason YouTube has over two billion monthly active users.
If you have a thematically relevant and omnipotent piece of video content, then consider using it. Same goes for animation. A bit of dynamism isn’t a bad thing.
Unless you overuse it. Don’t stuff your presentation full of videos, don’t overload it with animation, and certainly don’t mix and match. This isn’t 8th grade U.S. History, where fading in Thomas Jefferson’s greatest accomplishments might take you from a B+ to an A-.
7. Make Your Presentation Design Reflect Your Brand
We’ve harped on this already, and it’s worth repeating—the easiest way to keep your presentation consistent is to maintain its brand focus. Dig into that wondrous brand kit of yours (or make one), where all your glorious design elements exist.
There are plenty of times to experiment with new looks and tonal pivots. But, the quarterly sales meeting with the executive leadership team is probably not one of them.
8. Help Your Audience by Creating Visual Hierarchy
Color and text size help create visual hierarchy. Customize the full 10-slide presentation template.
Visual hierarchy is about arranging your design elements in a way that shows their order of importance. Sure, you should be using as little text as possible on your slides, but that short chunk of text is there to be read, yeah?
Text size, colors, spacing, texture, style, and contrast all play a role in crafting airtight visual hierarchy. First off—limit yourself to a single image, illustration, or chart. Use multiple and you’re leaving your audience to guess what’s most important.
Heading text should be bigger than body text. This creates contrast. Same deal with colors—does a vibrant red against a soft white direct your viewers’ eyes?
Tell your viewers where to look . . . without telling them anything at all.
9. Use Design Elements as Points of Emphasis
Color as a point of emphasis. Customize the full 7-slide presentation template.
Let’s stay on that vibrant red / soft white thought—you can use colors, graphics, and icons as points of emphasis in your presentation. A huge contrast in color or text size draws the eye where you want it to look.
It creates emphasis, and this is really how you design a good presentation. Use design elements to help build your narrative and speak to your audience.
This way, as you deliver your two cents, they’re already looking at and interpreting exactly what you want them to.
10. Develop Trust Through Consistency
Beyond visual bliss, a consistent design builds trust with your audience. These slide design tips by themselves can pump up your next big Prezi, but together they’ll help you create a consistent and powerful visual message that supports your equally potent dialogue.
Captivate your audience and gain their trust. When everything’s said and done, and you’ve won over your crowd, that’s your queue to ask something of them. Call ‘em to action.
Whether that’s something as simple as “Questions, anyone?” for a company presentation or something more business-driven (download this, sign up for our newsletter, connect with us on social media, etc.), the key to people actually doing it is them trusting you first.
Presentation Design Ideas
We’ve talked about the pillars of great presentation design, built upon those pillars with ten actionable tips, and now—before we get down to the business of actually making a presentation—it’s time for some inspiration.
If you know how but not what, here are a few slide design ideas.
Use Powerful Background Imagery
Images via metamorworks, ginzlinger, and PopTika.
Images can elevate or completely derail your presentation. The latter happens when you stuff your slides full of low-quality photos, or content that’s cliché or too on-the-nose.
Luckily, you’ll never run out of top-notch stock photography with Shutterstock’s library. Start stockpiling your stock now. Remember, you don’t have to use a picture of a lightbulb to resemble that one idea you had that started everything.
Look for powerful images that tell a story of their own. They can be related to your topic without overshadowing it in “Look at me, I’m exactly what the words say!”-ness.
Boost Your Presentation Design with a Quote
See this entire 8-slide Social Media Ads presentation template.
We like quotes. The millions of quotes + images = my next Instagram post have taught us that. And hey, if you find an interesting quote—particularly by someone well-known—that relates to your message, then go for it.
Quotes can be engaging transitions into new presentation material.
Distinguish Offerings via Color
Customize the full 8-slide presentation template.
Here’s a cool idea—if your presentation is about certain offerings or services, consider pairing these offerings with their own unique colors.
Then, you can color code them throughout the presentation. Subtle enough to create better understanding without your audience even realizing it.
Embrace Trendy Looks
Customize the full 8-slide presentation template.
There are new design trends every year, and then some that seem to never go away. Take gradient colors for example. For a “That person really knows how to stay relevant!” look, pick a design trend that speaks to you and work it into your slides.
Channel Your Modern Elegance
Customize the full 6-slide presentation template.
We’ve talked ad nauseum about black and white designs before because they’re amazing and timeless and 900 other adjectives. Here’s the formula for the example above:
Stunning photography + black and white color scheme + a dab of another color (thanks logo) = modern elegance.
Take the photos yourself, call in a few favors from us, or turn those amazing color photos of yours into elegant black and white art.
How to Design a Presentation
Now that you’re loaded with presentation advice, let’s make one using PicMonkey.
1. Open a Presentation Template
Open your design in PicMonkey and add all pages to your canvas, or edit one individually.
On the PicMonkey homepage, click Create new > Templates. Search by category, or type “Presentation” into the text box.
Once you have your template selected, click Add all ___ pages to add the entire template to your design canvas. Click a single slide to edit it individually.
2. Customize the Design
Use the left tabs to customize your design however you want.
Swap images and text with your own (you’ll find a ton of Shutterstock photos & videos in PicMonkey’s stock library), change colors, emphasize points with graphics, and give your slides unique looks with textures and effects.
3. Use the Layers Panel to Navigate Between Slides and/or Add Pages
Use the Pages tab to navigate between slides.
The Layers panel is your best friend when working on a multi-page design. Switch between the Layers tab and Pages tab to navigate your design.
The Layers tab lets you select individual design elements to customize on a single slide. Click the Pages tab to navigate between slides, or use the blue page icon and arrows on the bottom toolbar.
Click the paper/plus sign icon to add a page to your design. The double paper icon lets you duplicate the page you’re working on, and the garbage can icon will delete the selected page.
4. Download Your Finished Presentation
If you download as a JPG or PNG, your design will export as a .ZIP folder.
Download your finished presentation as a PNG/JPG (images only) or MP4 (video) file. PicMonkey Pro subscribers can also download as a PDF file.
If you download as a PNG or JPG, your file will export as a .ZIP file. Simply unzip and save the images to your desktop. You can download your entire project, individual pages, or select a page range.
If downloading as an MP4, you have the choice to export as a single video file or individual files.
Alright, newly-minted presentation savant—get to it.
Cover image via Gorodenkoff.
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