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July 30, 2021

7 simple presentation design ideas that’ll captivate any audience

Visual aids are essential to communicating your ideas and connecting with audiences, but cluttered slides, cheesy stock art, and other distracting design elements can derail an otherwise great presentation and undermine your credibility as a speaker.

a presentation on a tablet.

Whether you’re creating a deck for an upcoming charity event, helping your kids build their first school presentation, hosting an online meeting with your volunteer group, or something else, visuals help keep viewers rapt. To choose the right visuals, however, you must know your audience.

And while tailoring your visuals to the audience at hand is important—some rules are universal.

Here’s how to make your next speech pop by following these seven presentation design ideas and layout tips:

one, show, don’t tell, two keep it simple, three choose your fonts wisely, and four, consider the informational hierarchy.

1. Show, don’t tell.

The fastest way to bore any audience to tears is to plaster a wall of text or bullet points across a screen. When in doubt, it’s always better to use less text and more visuals. This saves you time when putting the presentation together but also keeps your audience focused on what you’re saying. (Otherwise, it’s like trying to read a book while watching TV; one of those things is not getting your full attention.) Fortunately, everything from stats to timelines to company goals can be rendered visually or, at a minimum, accompanied by a strong image or illustration.

2. Keep it simple.

Using rainbow-bright colors, a dozen fonts, complex graphics, and flash animation does not make your presentation stand out; it makes it feel chaotic. A slide is not a magazine spread and your audience does not have time to read more than a few lines of text. So don’t try to cover too much ground in a single slide. One idea per slide is ideal—particularly when showing bar graphs, pie charts, and other numerically driven data. If that would make your presentation too unwieldy, follow the rule of thirds. When using a grid layout, split the slide into equal thirds so it appears well-balanced. The 6×6 rule is also worth bearing in mind for bullet-heavy slides: No more than six lines of text with six words per line. Any more than that and your audience will be reading your magnum opus (or tuning out altogether) instead of listening to you talk.

3. Choose your fonts wisely.

All typography sends a message. Sure, if you’re pitching investment bankers, choose a serious font that says “I mean business.” But you’re probably not. So, if you’re trying to reach a younger group like teens, for example, choose a trendier font that shows you’re down with the kids. Serif fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond are better for printed pages, whereas sans-serif fonts like Helvetica, Verdana, and Tahoma are easier to read on screens. Sticking to two contrasting fonts—ideally one serif and one sans-serif, e.g., Minion and Futura or Garamond and Liberal—can be effective, so long as you keep legibility top of mind. Use a minimum point size of 24 but ideally closer to 30; the people in the back row shouldn’t have to squint to read your slides. And whatever you do, don’t use all caps (NO NEED TO SCREAM!) or wacky fonts like Papyrus, Curlz, and—sin of all sins—Comic Sans.

4. Consider the informational hierarchy.

When it comes to layout, English speakers will instinctively try to read text from top to bottom, left to right. For text-heavier slides, control what your audience reads first by aligning the text flush left, increasing the point size, or coloring key lines. Like a theater usher for the eyes, it directs the audience to the most important information first and makes a slide more scannable.

five, use high quality art and imagery, six, think in color but don’t go overboard, and seven have fun with it just not too much

5. Use high-quality art and imagery.

Bad visuals are worse than no visuals. If you want your presentation to feel trustworthy, don’t rely on trite stock photos, amateur-hour illustrations, or grainy low-res images you plucked off the internet. If you must use stock art, you can make photos look less banal by manipulating them with editing tools—cropping the images, adding gradients or background fills, or overlaying a transparent color to alter the mood and make your presentation more cohesive from slide to slide. And remember: This isn’t a vacation scrapbook. It’s better to use one compelling image per slide than multiple mediocre images.

6. Think in color—but don’t go overboard.

Accenting a presentation slide with loud colors like highlighter pink or yellow can be bold and eye-catching. But neon-bright hues should never be used on body copy, as they can cause eye fatigue. Instead use dark text on a light background and light text on a dark background, avoiding intense gradients that can make copy difficult to read. If you want to compare two perspectives or post a list of pros and cons, illustrate those points in a split screen with contrasting colors (e.g., navy blue text on a light gray background on the left and light gray text on a navy blue background on the right).

7. Have fun with it—just not too much.

An audience can only take so many bar graphs and pie charts before their eyes glaze over. Unless your topic is very traditional, or deadly serious, it’s OK to experiment with visual aids like word clouds, pictographs, cartograms, blueprints, and tree charts. Conservative slides can be classed up with elegant borders, or you might weave a hint of color into those graphs and charts. (Researchers have found that color visuals increase an audience’s willingness to read by an impressive 80 percent.) For more light-hearted presentations, you can illustrate points with pop culture references, memes, comic strips, or TikTok clips. But everything in moderation, right? Visual aids are meant to support your major talking points, not dominate the speech.

When you are equipped with powerful infographics and well-designed slides, you don’t need bells and whistles like clip art, slide transitions, and goofy sound effects to keep an audience engaged. (Those swoosh-y sounds on bullet points? So dated.)

So, practice your speech and trust in the quality of your work—and you won’t fall prey to amateur-hour gimmicks.

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