December 16, 2010

Use good slide design

Most of us use PowerPoint as a business communication tool, so good slide design is essential. Here are a few ideas to prepare high-impact slides.

Present one idea per slide. Your slide is your unit of reasoning and argumentation; have just one idea per slide. If it’s a complex idea, you can break it down over two or three slides, whatever makes it simpler for your audience to follow you.


Good slide design apply to the tagline and the slide's body

Following a few simple rules can make your slides more effective; this start by using an assertion-evidence structure where the tagline summarizes the slide

Put your main idea on top. Capture your idea, the “so what” of the slide, in the tagline and the supporting evidence in the body of the slide.

Use a consistent template. Use the same overall layout, background and text colors, font size, font type, etc. along your entire presentation.

Use enough contrast in your colors. The difference between the forefront elements (text, graphics, table, etc.) and your background should be sharp.

Use fonts of at least 30 in size. You don’t want your audience members to strain their eyes especially if they are old, and by “old” I mean powerful.

Use proper fonts. Sans serif (Arial, Gill Sans, Tahoma, etc.) are better than serif ones. Draw attention with bold characters, not italicized (difficult to read) or underlined (confusing; is it a hyperlink?). Also, avoid allcaps—we’re not shouting—and capitalizing all words in a sentence because it is not as clear as sentence case. The Chicago Manual of Style might disapprove, but I also like to write numbers with digits, as opposed to spelling them out, because it reduces the number of characters on the slide and it offers a nice visual anchor.

Don’t exceed 40 words per slide. If you’re presenting a written report then you shouldn’t be projecting it. Just have your main ideas on the screen.

Balance your use of text and visual supports. A picture is worth a 1,000 words and all that; support your points with tables, charts (quantitative or qualitative), conceptual designs and images.

Don’t write sideways. Unless you want your audience to stretch their neck muscles so that they can handle the second half of a marathon presentation, don’t have them tilt their heads to follow your point.

Use 2D graphics. Use 3D graphics only when they are necessary, that is, when you are presenting three sets of information at once. The shadow and bit of perspective you find in 3D graphics might look attractive at first but they only reduce the legibility of your information.

Good slide design rules also apply to tables whose legibility can greatly improve

A little care designing tables can greatly improve their impact

Round off numbers. Present numbers only with the decimal that they absolutely need. In fact, use the unit that allows you to have the smallest number of digits to represent the quantity. Also, use comma separators for large numbers.

Use green and red. To anyone with a driver’s license, green means go and red means stop. Use it to support your message.

Get rid of everything superfluous. Remove all information that can be distractive from supporting the main point of the slide including references, the logo of the organization if it’s an internal presentation, animations within the slide and in between slides, etc.

Consider using a “tombstone”. At the bottom of the slide, the tombstone summarizes the information, emphasizes the main point(s), or provides a transition to the next slide.

Consider including a slide number. I usually have the slide number over the total number of slides. I figure that if, against my best efforts, I am being boring, my audience should at least know how much more of this they have to endure before it finishes.

One last thing: These are more guidelines than rules. Break them if it makes sense.