As a marketer, you know all too well the pain of building a presentation. Sure, you develop your own presentations, but you're likely also the default creator of presentations for conferences, webinars, employee meetings, board meetings... Even sales decks.

It can be easy to slip into the routine of cutting and pasting relevant content into a PowerPoint, adding some stock images, and calling it good. But doing that will kill your presentations. Instead, with a few simple design tips, you can create more convincing and engaging presentations and to avoid the dreaded "Death by PowerPoint."

1. Hook them in the first slide

Think of your presentation as a story. If readers are not hooked from the first page of the book, chances are they won't keep reading. It's the same with your presentation's first slide. If you manage to get your audience's attention right from the start, you have a much better chance of retaining it for the rest of the presentation.

In the words of former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki, your presentation should start with the "shock and awe." Don't begin with the background story. Go right into the coolest stuff that your product or service can do or make a provocative statement.

Another winning strategy is to pull them in with a question. Asking something such as "How many of you have ever done X?" or "What would you do when Y happens?" immediately engages your audience.

It's even better if the question comes with an element of surprise. For example, ask a question and give three possible answers, then surprise them by saying none is the correct answer. Your audience will be already engaged (they've been thinking about the answer) and intrigued to learn more.

2. Follow the billboard rule

Chances are that you've heard about the 5-5-5 rule for PowerPoint: no more than five words per line of text, five lines of text per slide, or five text-heavy slides in a row. It's about time to put this rule to bed, since that's content overkill for today's distracted audiences.

The key is to avoid overcrowding slides with words: A human brain can't do two things at once, so don't expect your audience to be reading through your slides while also listening to you.

How many words is ideal? Presentation coach Nancy Duarte recommends the billboard rule. Billboards must be worded and designed to allow the drivers to comprehend the message as quickly as they're driving past it. Follow her rule when creating your slide, and practice with a coworker to ensure it takes a reader no more than three seconds to grasp the message on each slide.

There are some exceptions to this rule, such as when you're using a quote. But use quotes sparingly, and pause long enough when you're presenting to let your audience digest them.

3. Ditch bullets

There's a reason you've never seen a billboard with bullet points: They're not effective at grabbing attention or leaving people with a lasting impression.

This habit can be one of the most difficult to kick because it's something most marketers have always done. The No. 1 problem is that bullet points will start to make your presentation feel like a written document (in which bullets can be effective).

A good alternative is to make each point into its own slide and strengthen the message of each one with colors or images. Or, if it pains you too much to omit bullets altogether, at least use them sparingly and with large spaces in between the bullets so they can be easily consumed.

4. Use masking to make images more impactful

Visual storytelling does a more effective job of getting a message across in nearly every situation. To direct an audience's attention even more effectively, and to the specific parts of the slide, employ an imaging technique called masking. When you mask, most of the slide looks as if it's is covered in an opaque tape or is faded, except for the part you want your audience to focus on.

This technique is especially useful if you have to present complex data or graphs on a single slide; it helps prevent your audience from getting overwhelmed and not knowing where to focus.

5. Draw on visuals to boost retention

No matter how important and valuable the information you provide, two days after your presentation people will have forgotten 80% of what you said.

You can greatly increase retention by using relevant, emotion-grabbing visuals. Our brains are much better at processing and retaining visual information than verbal information. That's because 90% of information that is transmitted to the brain every day is visual, and, according to studies, our eyes need only 13 milliseconds to see an image. What's more, some reports find that visuals increase retention by up to 400%.

Balance is key with visuals, so don't pack your deck with images, gifs, and videos that will make it "noisy." Be selective in choosing visuals that support your key message.

Also, choose real over fake whenever possible. People can't typically see themselves in stock photos, whereas they can in lifestyle images.



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Mitch Grasso

Mitch Grasso is a designer, developer, and CEO and founder of Beautiful.ai, software that designs your presentation for you in real-time.

LinkedIn: Mitch Grasso