9 Tips for Creating Better Slide Decks

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

Like it or not — slides, presentations and decks have become one of the most important ways to getting your message across in our business world — be it a conference presentation, project proposal for a corporate client or a startup pitch deck which makes or breaks its future.

I have worked on dozens of each of these and even though each type is conceptually different; I think there are overarching principles that are applicable to virtually any deck-like document you might find yourself working on.

Presenting (source: HBR.org)

Here are my 9 tips for creating better decks:

1. Make it Flow. Structure Logically

It is essential for any slide-formatted document to have a logical structure and it should flow naturally with the narrative — either implicitly within the document itself or accompanied by a verbal one.

There couple of practices that help me to achieve this when structuring a deck:

1/ Flesh out the deck on paper or whichever application you are using to conceptualize the structure before diving into nitty-gritty details. Sketch out slide names and the key message you want to convey.

2/ With longer documents, use section dividing slides when and where it makes sense so that the audience does not get lost in your narrative.

3/ Practice your verbal narrative (if there is any) and observe how you transition between slides. When and where it makes sense, formalize ques for your ‘transitioning narratives’ into your slides to create a better flow.

2. Make It Visual (Appearance Matters)

Nowadays, you do not have to have to be a designer to crate visually appealing slides. Intelligible content is the king but why not have your deck readers looking at something that does not reminisce of mid-90s Word Art.

Contrary to popular belief, you actually can design beautiful slides in Powerpoint.

Default Powerpoint Formatting vs. 20 seconds of incremental work

Now I am not saying the example above is the best design ever created. But if your favourite color combo is yellow on green is or you are a Comic Sans Criminal please ask your design-savvy colleague to review your document before sending it out to the world.

3. Consider Context of Delivery

When working on a deck consider how and in what setting will this document be delivered to its reader or audience.

There are essentially two types of decks — ‘presentation’ which supports your verbal narrative and ‘self-explicable’ deck which should be able to stand on its own for the reader.

Consider what type of deck you are building, who are you building it for and setting in which it will be delivered. Will your recepient receive it as an attachment in an email and read her way through it alone or will she perceive the slides as a background to your pitch?

4. Proofread and Validate All The Time and Then Again

You can’t overdo proofreading and validation. Make sure you have your draft decks read by friends or colleagues or anyone you trust with their opinion.

You should validate with both people who are and who are not familiar with the context of the deck for maximum effect. This will process will always generate insights on how to improve your decks; guaranteed.

Increase the number of iterations and number of validators with importance of the document (looking at you, startup founder working on an investor deck).

5. Devil Is In The Details

There is nothing more frustrating and distracting than going through a deck which did not get the details right.

Font sizes, shape alignments, adhering to a pre-defined color palette, caption positioning or worst of all, typos— you might argue these are details that do not have much to do with value of the content you are delivering.

However, these do convey sloppiness — and you do not want to come accross as sloppy to your investors, project stakeholders or industry peers; do you?

Pro-tip: join a well regarded consultancy practice for couple of years to really nail this :)

6. Don’t Assume Your Audience Will Understand

Try this: find and re-reread more complex deck you have worked on two or three years ago. Is everything in there clear and understandable for you? Chances are most likely not.

I often find this to be an issue, especially with decks that deal with more complicated processes or approaches such as project proposals and are intended as self-explicable (see Point 3).

7. 1 Key Message Per Slide

This one has been reiterated endlessly. While it may not hold 100% of the time the key takeaway always is — keep it as simple as possible. Less is always more.

8. Build Credibility

This is a pretty specific content point but in any setting it is important to build credibility and communicate it in a way that rings true with your audience. Never bullshit — but always try to find ways to build on your track record, past experience, existing partnerships or traction to give your deck more legs and make the content more credible for your audience.

9. Learn from the Best

You are a Google search away from dozens of amazing decks to research and use as an inspiration. For example, if you are in the startup pitch deck business, check out this this awesome Medium post — All the Public Startup Pitch Deck in One Place.

You will find similar resources for anything you are working on so dig in and get inspired!

Please share any tips, hacks and good practices when it comes to slide decks? Please share, I am always for the lookout for more! :)

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