Slide Makeovers: Presentation Design Lessons from Real Slides

I was browsing the web the other day and stumbled across a handful of slides that I thought could use a makeover. The slides were cluttered, the main message unclear and visuals weren’t leveraged to make any impact.

So I asked my team to redesign them. I thought it would make a fun and insightful exercise, with the objective of demonstrating what not to do when designing presentations. Before we walk through the slide makeovers, there are 2 essential practical presentation design lessons for you to keep in mind:

1. Focus on the Essential

2. Increase Your Slide Count

Remember that, and learn from these mistakes:

Before: Example 1

Current: As a general rule, never use Clipart. It often looks dated. In addition, try to simplify where you can. There is a lot going on in this slide, which makes it difficult to follow.

DIY Suggestions: There is no reason to fall back on Clipart because there are so many great alternatives. For example, use a high-quality image to fill the slide. Luckily, these days there are sites like Death to the Stock Photo that make it easy to build a collection of creative images that are free to use for any type of project. Remember that it is also okay to occasionally create slides that use large text, and are void of visuals altogether. Masayoshi Takahashi is known for his presentation style that utilizes 500-point size font. A style that emphasizes large text ensures that your message is succinct. While a deck that solely uses this style might be slightly less engaging, it is still clean and simple, which is always preferable to something that doesn’t engage the viewer at all.

Slide Makeover: Example 1

The Professional Transformation: Ethos3 designers organized the information with a clear, large headline, and used flat icons to anchor the supporting facts below; viewers will be able to follow the flow of information with this logical layout. Also, the use of two flat colors for the background effectively divides the text on the slide, but is still simple so that the background does not compete with the presented information. If you want to use icons for your next deck, it is easy to do with the array of sites that offer beautiful, affordable options.

Before: Example 2

Current: This slide breaks a cardinal rule of presentation design by featuring two distinct ideas on the same slide. There is also no reason to ever put a long URL on a slide. You can include a company URL for  branding, but avoid including URLs that include multiple backslashes and dashes. Lastly, the paragraph on the left is too long. If an idea is too complicated to explain in a few words, then it is probably actually multiple ideas that need to be presented on several slides.

DIY Suggestions: When tempted to put more than one idea on a slide, just say no. Instead, break your ideas into smaller chunks of information.  By doing so, your presentation will be more memorable. Instead of using a lengthy URL, use the hyperlink option to hide the unsightly URL, while still providing the clickable convenience of a URL within your deck.

Slide Makeover: Example 2

The Professional Transformation:  By removing the long paragraph on the left, one main idea has the opportunity to shine in the spotlight. Also, the alphabet blocks have been replaced with a more modern graphic that highlights the acronym, making the message easier to retain. Lastly, the dark template gradient has been replaced with a bright textured background to give the slide a modern and energized style.

Before: Example 3

Current: The colors yellow and blue complement each other on a color wheel. However, there is too much text on this slide. Don’t forget about font size either — the header should almost always be bigger than the body text. Overall, this is a very common example of Death by PowerPoint due to lack of visuals, and wordiness.

DIY Suggestions: I cannot say it enough: Break long thoughts into smaller pieces of information to keep the audience engaged. Each slide should have one central message. Also, your headline is your opportunity to set the tone for the slide, so it should almost always be the largest text on the slide. Finally, if you are tempted to use a template gradient for your background, try using a texture or photo instead. Check out sites like Spoon Graphics to see if any of the featured free textures are a good match for your design.

Slide Makeover: Example 3

The Professional Transformation: How you choose to minimize the amount of text on a slide greatly depends upon how the presentation will be delivered. If your presentation is designed to live online, your slides will probably need a few more words, and your deck might even need extra slides to connect the dots for your audience. These transformed slides demonstrate a great method for transforming a slide for an on-stage presentation. The presenter will connect the dots for the audience throughout the talk, and the slides serve as a strong visual tool to highlight the most important elements of the talk.

Before: Example 4

Current: By now you should be able to identify the elements of design that cripple the effectiveness of this slide. Specifically, Clipart and too much text are the main offenders in this design. Other offenders are the WordArt, and the poorly cropped solider.

DIY Suggestion: As you now know, avoid Clipart, and definitely never mix WordArt with Clipart. If you want to take your text to the next level, use an actual font.  Also, if you don’t know how to crop images, try taking a tutorial.

Slide Makeover: Example 4

The Professional Transformation:  This slide focuses on one main idea, and eliminates the rest of the text.  If some of the other ideas need to be presented, they should be highlighted in subsequent slides. Slide count has no relation to the length of your talk so don’t be afraid to stretch out your ideas and concepts into multiple slides. Finally, a photograph adds a sense of real meaning to slide, while also functioning as an unobtrusive background.

As we wrap-up this evaluation, I encourage you to look for presentation design inspiration all around you. Research. Examine. Borrow from the greats. Ignore the rest. You’ll find plenty of examples right here on SlideShare. Happy exploring!

READ MORE: How to Choose the Right Photographs for Your Presentation

About the Author

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki.

If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Find Scott on Google+.

22 Responses to “Slide Makeovers: Presentation Design Lessons from Real Slides”

  1. Jeff Weaver

    Scott, great post! The visual examples really bring your tips to life. As a sales manager, I’ve been pushing my reps to “presentation zen” and away from the norm (“death by PowerPoint”). These tips will definitely help. Keep up the great work!

  2. Stephen Masek

    Nice. I was teaching “slide” design back in the early to late 1980s, first as a user of ISSCO’s software (DISSPLA, TELLAGRAF, and so forth), then as an ISSCO employee at their federal and national accounts office in Washington, DC. It is unfortunate to see “slides” today which are still not as good as what we could do back then.

  3. qning

    The font you chose for the “2005” looks too much like “2006.”

    The “$1.5” needs to have “billion” after it.

    The reflection on the “Did you know” slide does not complement the background texture of the top half. And datfont!

  4. ExcellentNews

    In 2024, all slides will be solid black (signifying total unity with the universal consciousness). Business would have won the bottom race…

  5. Deb McClanahan

    Great ideas and examples. Infographics are a smart idea but so often lead to ugly, cluttered slides with too many concepts on the page.

  6. La Billyboy

    Great ideas, I hope the next presenter I have to sit through reads your article!

  7. Leeann

    Really helpful before/after examples, thanks. But the editor in me can’t help but point out your misspellings on the Create S.M.A.R.T. Goals slide, where both achievable and measurable have extra e’s. 😉

  8. Kajoler

    We are really keen to start using SlideShare “A Lot” in our promotion of our brand… these tips are great.. Thank You :)

  9. Michel Floyd

    I hope you realize that the “Rangers Lead the Way” slide was designed as a parody! The “PowerPoint Rangers” is a military joke about the excessive and gratuitous use of PowerPoint in our armed services

  10. rosbiffer

    OK – what happens if you present the entire slide at once? Your audience reads it.

    And what are they NOT doing whilst reading? Listening to you.

    Having finished reading, they are likely to start thinking about the points you have raised, agreeing (yeah – good point, we could do X, Y and Z to accomplish that….), dismissing (please no, not that SMART stuff again….), etc. The point is, whatever they start to think about, you have lost them. They are NOT listening to you. And they also know what you are going to be banging on about for the next X minutes.

    So – tease them.

    One point at a time.

    Graphic first.

    Talk about it.

    Then put up the reinforcing text.

    Next graphic…

    …you get the idea.

  11. Bill Klemm

    On the “free” sites you mention, it is a good idea to read their privacy policy statements. Can they be trusted with your e-mail address and personal information?

  12. Grainate Panprom

    Hey Guy, It’s pretty nice recommendation and helpful.

  13. Herman Kasro

    Hi Scott, thanks for the brief explanation with examples. This is a good article to give ideas on slide makeover.