PowerPoint has been around since 1987. Its dominance in the business world and beyond became a runaway train from the late 90s. Working as a way to convey and visualise information alongside the spoken word, the staple PowerPoint presentation has become an integral part of modern working life.
You’ve seen plenty, and you’ve probably made a few – but how much thought have you ever given to a deck’s design? You may not think it is that important, but your slides act as the backdrop to your points and will subconsciously tell your audience a lot about you. Every colour and font choice, every image selection can work to help or hinder the integrity of the point you are conveying. Especially if you’re trying to be persuasive, the last thing you want is for your deck to let you down.
Below are some of my top tips for making a pitch deck you can use with pride:
Let’s get down to business
PowerPoint was invented for the corporate world, but now its usage spans way beyond that. This means the design capabilities are not just suited to businesses, but for students, and school children as well. As such, I’d suggest using the in-built designs with caution, because not everything in there is suitable for your investment pitch – so leave the word art in 2005 where it belongs!
When it comes to your background, you want it to be as simple as possible, especially if you are including text. If you’re using a company photograph, it can help to place a square over the whole slide, make it a key colour featured in the image, and then change the transparency. This will fade out the photograph, allowing it to take its true place as a background, and not overcrowd what the slide is really trying to say.
Consistency and simplicity are key when it comes to a slide deck, as you don’t want to distract your audience by constantly changing colours and fonts. You’re not showcasing the capabilities of PowerPoint (although that sounds fun), you’re pitching something, so keeping the slides as consistent as possible will help people to focus on your points.
Putting an agenda into your deck will help your audience know the structure of your talk, as well as helping you divide up your points in the first place. If you plan it out and have a solid structure, you’re much less likely to overload slides with points and ideas. It’s an idea to always know what you’re going to say in full before planning out your slide deck, because that way you know all of the information, and you can be truly selective about what goes where. There are numerous templates available for free online which can help you enormously with structure, especially if you’re short of time. One of the best is over on NorthInvest.
Colour and design
As mentioned briefly above, colour and design should be slick and simple. You may see bits of advice about how many slides you can have per point, but the truth is, you can never have too many slides. If a slide starts to look cluttered, split the information up and put some of it on another slide – this will be much more digestible for your audience, and the next part of the information is only a tap away for you.
When it comes to colours, this depends on what you’re pitching and to whom. If you have brand colours, I recommend using these and sticking only to these – there should be, as a general rule, no more than three colours in use within a deck, black and white included. The eyedrop tool is a great way to make sure fonts and text boxes match up to the brand colours – simply click it and then click again to the colour you want anywhere on the slide and the colours will become completely matched.
If you don’t have brand colours or you’re doing something which requires a different tone to your brand colours (for example, if your colours were bright pink and you were doing an obituary presentation), I would highly recommend consulting a colour wheel. The colours across from each other are complimentary, and the colours three steps away from each other are contrasting. Complimentary colours are good for large blocks of colour in the background, and contrasting is good for effect. You want your text to stand out, so make sure the colour is as contrasting to the background as possible.
Alignment and the uses of space on a slide may seem minor, but they contribute hugely to the way your eye takes in and regards the visual information it sees. PowerPoint has gotten a lot more advanced in the last couple of years and will try and help you with alignment, with suggested gridlines coming up when you move an image or text box. However, it is still possible to get it wrong.
The best way to understand alignment is to imagine that your slide is a grid. You’ll probably never butcher alignment on Excel, for example, because everything Is in neat, evenly space boxes (it is possible to butcher Excel design actually, but we’ll leave that for another day). Make sure each item on your slide, whether it be text or image, is spaced evenly away from both the edge of the slide and the other items. The slide should never be split into more than three “grid boxes” – i.e. there should not be more than three items on each, as a general rule.
When it comes to titles and logos, make sure these are consistently aligned on each slide. If you know you’re going to be making a lot of decks, save yourself some time and make master slides, so you always have a template to input into. You can then relax because you know the alignment of logos, titles and branding images are done correctly.
Words, words, words
Ultimately, you as the presenter, are what your audience has come to see, not your PowerPoint deck. They want to invest in you, not your slides. With this in mind, you do not need to put absolutely everything you’re saying onto each slide. This will not only look horrendous, it will also confuse your audience, as they won’t know whether to look at the screen or listen to what you’re saying. If they’d wanted a novel, they’d have gone to Waterstones, so opt for bullet points or brief statements if necessary, and diagrams and images where possible. Your deck is your aid and should provide the audience with basic and important information, but nothing more than this.
You will most likely be under time constraints when presenting, and it may be tempting to put things you can’t fit into your spoken rhetoric onto the slides. This works to an extent, for example putting a table of costs in and explaining the basic numbers but sending the deck to the investor or client so they can see the breakdown at a later date. However, if you do this too often your audience will again become confused with whether to study the slides or listen to you. A good way to get around this is by providing an index. This will include slides of information you haven’t covered, but when it is sent over, the recipients can flip through at their leisure. This way doesn’t jeopardise their concentration throughout the presentation, but also doesn’t curtail the information you wish to provide.
The closing curtain
You’ve probably come to present for a reason. Whether that reason is to educate, to pitch or just to summarise data, your last slide is going to accompany your last word with your audience – what do you want them to take away? Your ending should tie all of the ends of your presentation together and provide the means to take next steps. For example, if you are pitching, your last slide may include contact details; whereas if you’re doing a workshop, it may be links to further sources of information. The most important moments – the moments when you’ll have your audience most intently – are the first minute and the last minute of your presentation. In order to utilise this, make sure your purpose for presenting is crystal clear on that last slide. That way when your audience leaves the room moments later, they’ll be carrying the full energy of your presentation with clarity, ready to action your requests.