From the moment you start creating your presentation deck slides to the minute you stand in front of your audience, the process of conceiving an outstanding deck can be both intimidating and challenging. How do you begin to master the skills required to pull it off?
Our team of experts has created this thorough list of creative presentation ideas to ensure you can get professional slide design on any presentation you create.
Here's a small index of what we'll be covering,
Basic creative presentation ideas to keep in mind
PowerPoint alternatives to use
Presentation outline: telling a (great) story
Color palette and slide design
Dealing with images
Stock photos that don't suck
Classic PowerPoint mistakes to avoid
Creative presentation deck ideas to keep in mind
1) SCRIBBLE BEFORE YOU BEGIN TYPING
Before jumping into creating your presentation, think for a moment what's the core message you wish to convey. What are the main ideas that you want to cover with your presentation? A good exercise is to scribble these ideas, and then assigning them a number which can be used later on to structure the narrative of your story. We'll elaborate on this process in the Presentation outline section of this article.
2) THE GOLDEN RULE: "LESS IS MORE"
This golden rule of design is perhaps the single most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to creating a presentation. It means the less you add into a slide, the more impact it causes. It may seem counterintuitive, but statistically, the more a slide is filled with content the less people remember it. So be super picky on what goes in, and what stays out!
3) BE VISUAL!
Engaging visuals win over text almost every time in catching people's attention. So try your best to express your ideas with visual material and limit your text to as minimum as possible. If you usually struggle with finding good photos for your presentations, here are some great sources of images you can use.
4) BEWARE OF TIME CONSTRAINS
Whether it's 20 minutes or 5, plan your presentation so that you can cover everything you intend to say within that time constrain. Nobody likes 120 slides presentations anyway, so try to be concise and your audience will greatly appreciate it!
Closely related to the last point is the fifth and final advice: Practice your presentation. At least once, at least alone in your room, but allow yourself to go over it so you get familiar with the words you want to say, and to see how long it takes you to cover all the slides. Doing it a couple of times goes a long way in improving your performance on the day you present for real.
PowerPoint alternatives to use
PowerPoint is the most used presentation builder in the market today. It is distributed by Microsoft as part of their Office Suite, which is estimated to have over 500 million users worldwide. Microsoft has also revealed that approximately 35 Million presentations are delivered every single day, that’s a staggering 400 presentations per second.
But still, PowerPoint’s popularity has decreased significantly in the past few years. Their boring presentation templates, the large learning curve and complexity as well as the terrible slides many users end up making have started the Death to PowerPoint movement.
Our best recommendation if you're willing to escape from PowerPoint is our very own Slidebean.
Slidebean is an online presentation software that lets you add the content, and automatically converts formats it into beautifully designed slides, allowing you to create a professional presentation in a fraction of the time it used to take on PowerPoint.
When comparing it to PowerPoint, Slidebean’s interface is easy to learn and it lets you create fantastic looking presentations very fast. Their platforms web based and allows both PowerPoint and PDF exports.
Slidebean also has a unique advantage which is a set of dozens of presentation templates. These are pre-filled decks that serve common purposes, like business proposals, classroom decks, thesis presentations and even startup pitch decks: all you need to do is import them and fill in your content.
A good exercise is to sketch your story as a timeline. I’d say 99% of presentations tell a story, either if it’s a sales deck, a startup pitch, a business report or even a thesis; you are always walking your audience through a story.
Once you sit in front of your presentation software and start adding slides you will be terribly distracted from the story; this is why paper, I believe, works best.
This guide is based on the Three Act Structure for storytelling (used for pretty much every movie, script or novel ever written since ancient Greek times).
THE THREE ACT STRUCTURE OUTLINE
Notice how presentations can adapt to this structure easily. All throughout your deck you are building up to a climax, which is the moment when you can sell your product, say how much money you are raising, or do what I call ‘The Ask’, whatever that may be.
First Act: Origin/Problem
It all starts with connecting with your audience. Humans are emotional beings and empathy is a weapon(?) you should use to your advantage. Find that thing that you have in common, a pain point, a shared interest. If you don’t have anything in common (unlikely), then make sure that they can connect with you personally, that your passion for whatever what you are doing is reflected here. If you don’t empathise with your audience at this point, you probably won’t be able to do it later.
Second Act: Story Development
The second act of any story starts with a the Turning Point and ends with the climax. This is when Don Corleone gets shot in the street in The Godfather (if you haven’t seen this movie, please, stop reading and go watch it), or when Jack meets Rose in Titanic. It completely changes the direction of the story.
For you, this is when you introduce your product, your company, your solution or again, whatever it is that you are presenting about.
Now you get to talk about what you are doing, who is/was the team behind it, and why your solution is the best. Start with facts/metrics/breakthroughs (if you have any) and as you build towards the climax move into your vision, what you expect this to become and especially how can that change the status quo for your audience, or for the world.
Third Act and Climax
This is it. The Baptism scene or the Titanic sinking. It’s the absolute moment when your audience is at their top excitement and if you’ve handled the storytelling correctly, the perfect moment for The Ask. This is when Steve Jobs used to announce the price of the new iDevice and everyone’s hand was already on their wallets.
The third act concludes with wrapping up your story, questions and such. You and your audience are back with their feet on the ground, just finalizing the last details.
When doing a presentation, your slides say a great deal more than just the information written in them. Typography, layout, and especially color play a huge roll in the message you convey and therefore should be given as much importance as the content itself.
The reason is that we have an innate sensibility for visual perception inherited from evolution. Human ancestors relied upon shape and color as means to survival by quickly recognising danger and spotting food.
Language and writing were complex and abstract notions that came later on and so they still take a little longer to process in the human brain.
But enough of history. What matters is that color is a powerful tool, and a great presentation results from combining relevant content with engaging visuals.
So how to pull this off?
HOW TO CHOOSE COLORS
Colors have different meanings that vary greatly from place to place, so it’s kinda hard to be universal. Unless you use a software like Slidebean (with curated color palettes), chances are you're gonna have to choose and combine everything on your own.
We’re not gonna do an essay on color theory, but here are a few practical tricks that will help you choose colors wisely for your next deck!
Don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel. There are online tools that have awesome color palettes carefully crafted by designers, so you don’t have to go through all the fuzz of creating one out of thin air.
Adobe Color CC
This site comprises hundreds of awesome palettes that you can use for your presentations. It also gives the opportunity to play around a little bit and explore some alternatives of your own should you feel creative enough to do so.
Adobe Capture App
This app lets you capture color themes from your surroundings and save them as your own color palettes! It’s a great and easy way of finding epic color combinations.
LOOK FOR INSPIRATION
It's not your fault you're not a designer. But what you are capable of is spotting what you like! You may not know exactly WHY you like it; it doesn't matter. When you see a webpage, magazine, billboard that you like, take a photo/screenshot and use it as inspiration for your own work. No, it's not copying. Just see how the pros do it (they actually do this quite often), and eventually some of it will stick!
This webpage by AÃRK Collective is a beautiful example of graphic design. It is rich in color without being overwhelming.
THINGS YOU NEED TO REMEMBER
Once you choose a set of colors you like, there are two important things you need to remember:
Be careful with color contrast: Not all colors go well together. Some might look good right next to each other, but might look awful one on top of the other. This is important to consider when choosing text color vs background colors. The rule of thumb is: if you find it hard/awkward to read, it’s almost certain the contrast is not working properly. If that’s the case, change one of the two. Bright, primary colors are great for calling attention but often don’t mix nicely together. In such cases, going for full white/black typography might be a better idea.
Non of the examples on the left really combine properly. On the other hand, the example on the right works just fine, even when it's using a strong primary color as background.
Screen vs Projector: It happens so often that it looked good on the screen but it sucks when actually projected. The reason for that is A) Most projectors don’t come even close to emulating the brightness and sharpness that a screen has; and B) Enclosed, pitch dark places are very rare when it comes to giving a presentation, so you’re fighting against ambient light that tones down the colors of the projection.
If neither the environment nor the projector are in your control, try increasing the contrast between colors, and the font size as well. Also, try to avoid using too dark colors in the background unless you don’t mind that dark blue showing as a solid black.
So there you have it. Next time you have to create a presentation don't be afraid of color and rather use it as a way to awesomize your slides!
Dealing with images
It’s not only about the image itself, but also on how you use it for your slides. A beautiful image might go to waste if you place it incorrectly.
A first rule to keep in mind is to avoid placing text on top of detailed, high-contrast images. On the example below, the typewriter on the left has a strong contrast between the gold keys and the black machine, which competes strongly with the white, thin font.
On the right, we went ahead and selected a less contrasted image, and changed the font to a thicker Museo Slab.
Another thing to keep in mind is text positioning. On the image below, notice how the right-aligned text is easy to read because it's positioned on top of the grey sky.
The Golden Gate Bridge image adds life to an otherwise boring slide, and the matching red chart makes the color palette feel unified and compatible. If we were to position the text on the left hand side of the slide, it would be hard to read, since it would compete visually with the vertical lines from the bridge.
A couple of additional variables come into play in this positioning: image dim and font size, although these are viewed much better on the example below.
We have a very complex image in this example, but we can still make it work if we use a small amount of text, with an increased contrast and size.
The added difficulty with this image is that it has both white (sky, houses) and black (trees, cars, shadows) elements, so neither text color will contrast well; notice how the quote gets totally lost on the left example, because it's positioned on top of the houses with a small contrast.
What we can do in these cases is slightly dim the background image with a semi-transparent layer of black. This, in combination with resized text, can make the text stand out, without removing importance from the image.
The good news is Slidebean takes care of this for you, automatically; we detect the image intensity and dim it accordingly, based on your font color choice.
You’ve seen them before, fake and generic photos for which the presenter didn’t bother to search for more than 10 seconds. Stock Photos reveal you are an amateur and/or careless presenter, and you shouldn’t use them under any circumstance (other than to make fun of them).
So how to illustrate your presentation the right way?
ICONS ARE THE NEW BLACK
The icons above came from TheNounProject, who offers both free and premium plans to download unlimited symbols. We've recently partnered with them so you can get hundreds of really cool icons.
Icons can be used both as slide elements or backgrounds, providing a subtle but compelling reinforcement to the point you are making. In either case, make sure that you keep your text to a bare minimum.
Another great alternative is FontAwesome, a CSS Toolkit we used in our site before TheNounProject.
DEATH TO THE STOCK PHOTO
This is literally the title of one of our favourite photo stocks (deathtothestockphoto.com). A number of independent projects have launched in recent years to kill generic stock photos once and for all. Aside from the one above, some other great examples are:
Quite a change, huh? Most of these photos are shared under the Creative Commons standard. This allows you to use them and modifying them for ANYTHING, often without requiring credit to the author.
On our presentation tool we use the Creative Commons image base from Flickr, so we let you browse them on our platform without having to download and re-upload. We also curate the results to show relevant and popular photos.
Classic PowerPoint mistakes to avoid
#1: USING THE SAME DECK FOR IN-PERSON AND FOR EMAIL
Garr Reynolds was one of Steve Jobs' presentation trainers. On his book Presentation Zen, he introduces the term presdoc. A presdoc is a hybrid between a presentation and a text document that serves neither purpose well... it has too much text to be a proper presentation, and to few text to be a readable, understandable document.
If you are standing in front of your slides there's no need to type everything you are about to say. It distracts your audience, because they can't hear you and read at the same time. If you intend to present, make sure that your slides simply complement and reinforce your point.
However, you can't always present in person. In these cases an alternative may be an email-presentation. These decks contain much more data than an actual presentation, but shouldn't be a replacement to an actual text doc.
A couple of rules to keep in mind:
Make sure that the font size doesn't go below 12 pts.
Stick to one idea per slide. More slides is not necessarily bad, as long as you don't go over 50 or so.
The most important thing here is, don't use the same presentation to email and to present, make (at least) two separate documents.
“If your slides can stand by themselves, then why the hell are you in front of them?
— Garr Reynolds
#2: RESIZING PHOTOS THE WRONG WAY
The image to the right explains this very clearly; Do not, under any circumstance, resize your images disproportionally. If you're using traditional presentation tools, make sure you hold SHIFT while resizing to ensure the proportions are kept; if you're using Slidebean for your presentations, then don't worry about it, we make sure that all images are resized correctly.
#3: MULTI-CHART SLIDES
Back in the old days when slides were transparent and presented with a retroprojector, we could understand you were saving space and cash. Not anymore. Trees will not be killed if you use four separate slides instead of cramming all the charts on a single one.
We have a very simple rule, if one graph is not important enough to deserve its own slide, then it probably shouldn’t be on your presentation.
#4: FUNKY TRANSITIONS
We know deep in our hearts that those transitions are there for a reason, but we have no idea what that reason is. If you're using PowerPoint, please, STAY AWAY FROM THIS SECTION, limit yourself to Dissolve or the old fashioned ‘None’.
All presentation templates in Slidebean come with a pre-defined transition for slides and elements, they've been designed and animated to match the look and feel of our templates.
Simple is better. Please remember that.
#5: THE 'THANK YOU' SLIDE
Please, stop the madness. Seriously. We understand you presentation is over, you don’t need to waste a slide stating that. If you want closure, simply create a 'Contact Slide' with your email, twitter handle and website and speak the words yourself.
Thank you slides are outdated and unnecessary.
I'm a designer and entrepreneur. I have a deep passion for graphic arts and design, as well as photography and creative engineering. Architecture, product design, the overall ability to conceive new ideas in both physical and virtual media, that is what drives me forth.