How to Build a Better, More Effective Slide Deck

Behind the most remembered Steve Jobs speeches were his slide decks in all their useful yet understated beauty. Judging by how fast Jobs convinced Appleheads that they needed an iPhone or a MacBook Air, you can say the presentations did serve their purpose.

Similarly, as the CEO and/or cofounder of your own company, you will face not only consumers but also investors – people with deep pockets whom you need to convince regarding your product or service. A well-thought-out slide deck will help you communicate and sell your ideas to them.

Through the tips in this article, you will learn only the elements that are essential to building a better slide deck. Proven by some of the masters of the craft, these 10 things are your guide to creating a slide deck that you can be proud of and will make your story stand out.

A well-thought-out slide deck will help you communicate and sell your ideas to investors


The first five points will focus on the big picture:

 

1. Think of Your Story First

Build your slides around your story, not the other way around. Focus on your main message first, then structure the supporting points around it, according to TED Talk resident UX lead Aaron Weyenberg. For instance, the core of the famous Airbnb pitch deck can be summed up in seven words: “Book rooms with locals rather than hotels”.

With a brief line like that, you can start weaving a story. Outline a beginning, a middle, and an end. Read here about the how the greatest communicators used storytelling to generate interest. Weyenberg adds practicing and timing your presentation. Only after this will you move on to crafting your slides, which serve to supplement and not caption the words you’ll speak. The pitch deck should be a visual enhancement of the listener’s experience.

2. Create Consistency

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Decide on the overall design by considering typography, colors, and imagery. If your business has an existing style guide, then it is only a matter of applying the elements onto the slides. But if you are starting from scratch, that is also fine.

Use it as an opportunity to learn a thing or two about font pairing. Say, you are a startup fashion house. Take a look at typefaces that connote elegance and sophistication. Play with classic and contemporary ones. Consider the combination of Bodoni, an old favorite for fashion magazine headings, and Montserrat, a relative newcomer that provides contrast. 

You can also create icons that complement. And if you introduce a black and white image, stick with the theme all throughout. Consistency is key.

3. Develop Templates for Transition

On the extreme end of consistency is monotony. Weyenberg cautions against this and recommends adding spice to your slides. For instance, present the key points using a light text on a dark background. But also give your audience a break by using a dark text on a light background for transition slides.

Make sure to use the transition template before a new topic. In the PowerPoint universe, transitions also refer to animations. These can only distract the audience, though. And remember that you are wooing angel investors and venture capitalists. They should not feel like you are wasting their time. Transitions will be discussed further in the eighth point.

4. Break Up Lines

This connects with the very first point, which focuses on the story. As much as possible, avoid typing out lines that you will already use when talking to your audience. Focus on words that will enhance your storytelling.

Remember: your goal is to enhance the listening experience. You do not want your audience to exert too much effort on reading a block of text while listening to you speak the exact same words. If you must type multiple lines, you can rely on bullet points. Fire the bullets one by one, too. If you can demonstrate your point, like how Steve Jobs tinkered with the iPhone models during keynotes, go for it.

5. Inject Imagery

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Well-placed photos can help the audience connect to your presentation, so use images sparingly yet strategically. In a TED Talk, astronaut Chris Hadfield got away with peppering 34 out of 35 slides with photos and videos. But check this out: his story was compelling enough, and the images only served as visual cues for the audience.

You, on the other hand, may not have the luxury of filling a presentation with 19 photos of smiling customers or your staff hustling inside a mini-Googleplex-esque office. So do not force it. But when you do inject an image, it should be making a statement. Try extending its dimension to the edges of the slide. Then insert a text that inspires action or touches on the meaning and purpose of your product or service.

Moving on from general guidelines, the last five points will focus on specific steps:

6. Follow the Rule of Three

Back again to Apple’s most famous orator. In his speeches, Steve Jobs would introduce three benefits of a particular product. Why three? It is said to be the magic number when it comes to the mind's ability to hold information. In February 2007, he teased the audience by saying they should expect three products that night. These were “a new iPod, a phone, and an internet communication device.” It turned out that it was three products found in one: the iPhone.


Three features, three key stats, three words that sum up the user experience. You can always tap into the power of three in your presentation. Three is short enough to entertain, but it is not too short either to lack the capacity to educate.

 

7. Take the Hero vs Villain Approach

If you have a protagonist, then you must have an antagonist. You can approach it this way: present a problem that an existing competitor cannot solve or has unwittingly created. Then present your solution.


Take again the example of Airbnb. Though the presentation took pieces of information from Couchsurfing.com and Craigslist.com, such as the market size, it also won in one area. It was able to show the investors what set Airbnb apart. After all, the two other businesses were already providing the market with bookings and listings of local places. Yet, Airbnb said they can do better by allowing hosts to earn and guests to book in three simple steps.

 

8. Detach from Distractions

Go easy on the transitions that are available in your slide deck creator. As mentioned earlier, these can only distract the audience. Worse, they can be annoying. Flipping or dissolving the page can feel like a cheap trick when it comes to gaining the attention of listeners.You know that some of the most important people you will meet in your lifetime are watching.  Why risk falling into that trap?


So do not be boring. If transitions are built into your template deck, take the time to edit them out. You are dealing with the ideal 10-20 slides after all. It will not be too much of a chore. But if you really have to use them, just settle for the subtle ones. And use the same type across the deck.

 

9. Dupe-and-mask

According to Weyenberg, this is a better way of emphasizing a point than stamping a big arrow on the slide. The fading effect allows you to reveal the parts one by one. This adds an element of mystery to the presentation. In addition, it is short and sweet enough to highlight a point and not depart from the original intent of the pitch.

The first thing to do is duplicate. You have to slide the image transparency down to under 100. Then duplicate the image with the second one appearing on top of the original. Slide the transparency of the duplicate image back to 100.

10. Moderate Motion

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If you need to insert a video clip, do not set it on auto-play. You would want to be able to control the clip when it is its turn to show up in your presentation. A common scenario would have the presenter clicking to the desired slide and then the player failing to load the video at once. Sometimes this causes a brief moment of panic on the presenter's end. Instead of having the video play with one more click, they cause the deck to advance to the next slide. Weyenberg recommends setting the video to click to play. This way, you have established control over the video clip.  

As the day of the presentation nears, you can also feel the pressure rise. You certainly want to please the investor crowd once you get up on the stage. It can already be challenging, especially for first-timers, to condense the business model and story into a 20-minute pitch. The slide deck only comes secondary to that.

And yet, building a better, more effective slide deck is an important part of the preparation. It is no easy feat in itself.  To show your commitment, you have to allow yourself to be creative while working within the parameters of a great, time-tested design. 


To relieve you of some of the pressure, here are a few more recommendations and examples from other slide deck masters, such as Guy Kawasaki. Online, you can also find slide deck templates that you can use on the go, such as the ones crafted by Slidebean. These templates have been created with startups in mind. Incorporate the 10 tips and tricks you just learned into these templates, and you will be on your way to dishing out a slide deck that will make your story stand out.


 
 
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