Slide Makeovers: Presentation Design Lessons from Real Slides

May 14, 2014

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+ .