PowerPoint remains a highly popular tool from the Microsoft Office suite. Sources estimate that more than a billion computers have it installed, and that up to 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created daily. When you open a new PowerPoint presentation, you will be faced with a bare-bones, blank canvas that you will build into a presentation for whatever purpose it may be. You can also use one of the many presentation templates for your effective presentation, which should do the trick (though there are also a few very questionable templates available). A bad template will be bad for your presentation, no matter how good the content itself is (there are also a few awful ways of presenting your data, which will be detrimental to your presentation even if the presentation you create or template you select are good).
In this article, we share how you can create a visually effective PowerPoint presentation for work, an interview, for school, or any other occasion where you need to capture your audience with visual storytelling. Read all the way to the bottom for a list of free resources to create excellent presentations.
Steve Jobs was famous for his effective presentations. Photo via Blake Patterson on Flickr.
Liam Curley is the founder of Motivado and an expert in creating business presentations that effectively help his clients secure clients and business deals via pitches and presentations. In his Twitter account, he has shared a very useful thread listing five design principles to create an attractive and effective PowerPoint presentation inspired by Apple’s legendary design. For your convenience, we also lay out these points here for you, with some of our on thoughts and advice on the topic. All information and images are copyright of Liam Curley.
1) Effective Presentation Tip: Background Color
→ What you do for the presentation deck:
Use a dark background. We want them focused on you, the speaker. Plus, bright visuals pop more against dark (We fully agree, remember that if the presentation will be projected into or casted on a screen, a dark background will create a lot more contrast, make text and images stand out more, and also be easier on the eyes of the viewers.)
→ What you do for the takeaway deck:
Use a light background. It’s easier to read black on white (Once more, great tip! The takeaway deck will be the last slide and likely also present in the printed version of the presentation. It will visually separate it from the rest of the presentation as the last slide offering the main takeaways).
A Presentation Deck (left) is your visual support during an oral presentation, while a Takeaway Deck (right) is a slide shown towards the end of a presentation, normally so your audience can consult at a later time. Image © Liam Curley
(A bit of extra information: A Presentation Deck is what you use as visual support during an oral presentation. A Takeaway Deck is a slide offered towards the end of a presentation, normally so your audience can consult at a later time).
2) Effective Presentation Tip: Layout
Ever wondered how Apple create a beautiful aesthetic with seemingly very little content? They use a consistent layout. Everything is working towards a grid. The spacing isn’t random, it’s all aligned.
→ What you do
Turn on gridlines. (This is a key point. Consistency and uniformity are key in keeping your viewers engaged. Colors, styles, and borders should also remain consistent. If you work for a company, chances are they already provide a corporate template designed by professional and with uniform design elements. If you are a freelancer, we highly recommend you create a template of your own following the principles show in this article. It will not only make you look professional, it will become an integral part of your branding.)
Use a consistent, minimalist layout in your presentations. Image © Liam Curley
3) Effective Presentation Tip: Typography
You can create interesting slides with nothing other than great font. They have a voice, so choose your font with intention.
→ What you do:
Identify 4 qualities you’d like to be associated with and look for a font conveying them. (We could not agree more. A font can make or break and presentation or piece of graphic design. You can go for safe options such as Garamond, Futura, or Helvetica. You can also try something bolder, but use it sparingly such as just for Headers. We personally recommend using one or two fonts maximum, and being consistent with text elements such as the already-mentioned Headers, as well as Sub-headers and Paragraphs. You can learn more about the principle of fonts and typography here).
Select a great font and be consistent with its use. Image © Liam Curley
4) Effective Presentation Tip: Negative space
Apple use negative (white) space in their stores and design. Firstly, because we all associate big space with luxury. Secondly, they use it to draw attention to key messaging.
→ What you do:
Give your content room to breathe. (Negative space is an incredibly effective and powerful design principle. It is overall useful in graphic design, but also crucial in UX, and UI, to which digital presentations belong. (Learn more this design principle’s application in design here).
Use negative space – It is based on the principle of “less is more”. Image © Liam Curley
5) Effective Presentation Tip: Photography
Apple use great photography. You can see the subtle difference in the visual of a real photo taken in context versus a stock image (fake happy).
→ What you do
Don’t be lazy. If you don’t have access to great photos, take real ones yourself. (Here we’ll have to disagree. While it is true that “stocky” stock photography should be avoided, there is a plethora of websites with vibrant, authentic stock images. Check our list of resources below).
Use authentic, professional photography that doesn’t look stocky. Image © Liam Curley
And those are the five tips to make your next PowerPoint presentation more visually appealing. These design principles don’t apply just to presentations, that is why we’ve added a few recommended readings throughout the article. Take a look at them and apply them to your creative projects and branding.
An important takeaway here is that while Apple’s main products are electronics, their presentations follow the exact same design principles and choices as their products, creating a unified brand identity. You can do the exact same with your projects and personal branding to become recognizable and transmit the quality of your work through every visual support you use. As promised, below are a few FREE resources to help you with your next presentation:
A few alternatives to PowerPoint:
PowerPoint may be the most well-known tool for digital presentations, but there are a few alternatives out there:
- Google Slides: Google’s free alternative to PowerPoint. It is easy to use, all is saved to Google Drive, it allows for collaboration with other users, and you can download your presentations in PowerPoint format.
- Keynote: Apple’s digital presentation software. It comes pre-loaded on Apple devices. Very intuitive if you are already familiar with PowerPoint and creates sleek, appealing presentations. Sadly it’s not accesible for non-Mac users.
- Prezi: It is an online presentation platform, which means that it has the same collaboration and online-storage features as Google Slides. It focuses on animation and can create effects nearing motion-graphics if you are a more experienced user.
- Canva: This platform has become the go-to place for anyone in need of premade templates for all sorts of creative uses, digital presentations being no exception. Many templates are free, chose one that follows the principles shared above!
Resources for free stock images:
As we mentioned during the article, long-gone are the days where stock photos all looked cheesy and staged (though that still can still hold true with a few agencies). Here are some pages offering you amazing free stock photos:
We have also compiled a list of websites for free historical photos for you!
Resources for free fonts:
In the “Typography” section of this article we said that you can play it safe with some classic fonts, most likely readily in your computer and on online software. However, if you want to try something out-of-the-box, find your new signature font here:
We have also compiled a list of over 100 free fonts for you!
Cover Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash