How on earth do I make a slick slide deck?
August 14, 2018 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I got a freelance gig with a very prestigious consultancy, and will need to give a presentation with an approx. 20-slide deck. This is embarrassing, but somehow I've gotten through life with having used PowerPoint exactly once in the most elemental way. I don't know how to make the most out of PowerPoint or Keynote- I would say I barely even have basic proficiency- and I have no sense of how to really put together a dynamo presentation (this is a design consultancy, so they'll be used to really slick visuals).

Can you recommend any resources on how to do basic tricks in PowerPoint or Keynote and sound advice on putting together really great presentations? I'm really starting from the very basics here. I've seen this helpful thread but wondered if there was anything else out there that you guys would recommend. Design templates would also be very helpful. This is the biggest job I've ever gotten, and I'd love to knock it out of the park. Thank you!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Computers & Internet (43 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
"this is a design consultancy, so they'll be used to really slick visuals"

If they know their socks, they'll be used to beautiful, elegant visuals. Forget transitions and animations. You can make your deck sing with tasteful fonts and powerful images. The best presenters at some of the most prestigious design and ad firms know this. (The only "designed" decks with "slick visuals" I've had to endure have been in the tech and corporate worlds by non-designers.)

My template suggestion: white background, set your typeface to helvetica neue, and make the text size nice and big. Use few words. Make all images high resolution and cover the whole slide. You never need to do anything fancier than this – it'll almost certainly be detrimental to your deck.

I feel very strongly about this :)
posted by nthdegx at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2018 [77 favorites]

No tricks. None. Zero transitions.

The absolute best thing you can do if you are not experienced at PowerPoint and are not a designer is to go with something intentionally minimal with good typography, layout and spacing like this.

Do not cram info onto slides and do not read from slides. The slides are to hold attention and state the topic of the moment; they are not there to convey information unless a chart is required. You are there to convey information. Never ever give a presentation you could have just mailed everyone and saved everyone from having to sit through a meeting; it eliminates your value as a consultant.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:00 AM on August 14, 2018 [24 favorites]

I literally just gave a presentation on how to use Powerpoint well today! If you would like me to send it to you (it has slide notes!) then memail me.

Seconding the points above. Also, make sure you use guides (ideally slide masters but they take a bit longer to figure out) to ensure stuff appears consistently on each slide.

More slides with less stuff on them, is much better than the other way round.

And if you can get even the smallest laugh out of them, you will get them on side immediately :)
posted by greenish at 10:05 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Good powerpoint presentations are when the person does not reply on the slides to make the presentation interesting.

All you need are well laid out, readable slides that convey one piece of information each (I wish this was like a felony law) and that flow into each other and support the talk you happen to be giving along side,. I like to think of myself as the narrator and the slides as my little documentary montage.
posted by fshgrl at 10:06 AM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

It appears you are asking for advice on the visual presentation, not the verbal content of the slides. If I were in your situation, I would focus on the latter, and either hire somebody to design the slides, or use a very simple and elegant template. Slides with lots of colors, shapes, moving things and pyrotechnics will not impress; simplicity will. So focusing on the words, keep some basic principles in mind:
-- fewer words per slide, rather than more
-- fewer lines per slide (maybe 3-4 max)
-- no complete sentences; people can't read sentences plus hear your sentences simultaneously
-- do not read the words on your slides out loud; they are just there to provide a running outline reinforcing/providing a road map to your spoken presentation, which is the part that counts.
posted by beagle at 10:07 AM on August 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

First off: do you use Windows or Mac? If Mac, just use Keynote. Most designers I know are Mac people. Invest in a good template that you like. If you're doing design work make sure most of your slides are just images that you talk over. Practice beforehand. Is 20 slides supposed to be a five minute presentation or a 20 minute presentation? This should help guide you as to how to put it together.

Some things are basic but worth repeating

- First slide - make sure it has your name (or company name) and a brief title. If the slides are also online have a short URL on it
- Last slide - your contact information (or company contact information)
- Avoid bulleted lists unless your job is literally to convey some sort of specific wordy information (like in a training scenario) otherwise stick to big images, few words and your own narration over them
- make sure your images LOOK AMAZING, pay attention to cropping and pixellation
- agree: no tricks or transitions. Do not put your name or a slide number on every slide
- accessibility: good idea to briefly describe what is on the screen if you think you will have anyone in the audience who might have vision issues (this is different than reading slides to people). I'd avoid video or audio entirely unless you're doing advertising.

TED talks are very same-y in a way I don't always like but the decks usually look good. Their blog has advice which is good.
posted by jessamyn at 10:09 AM on August 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

Think about how your slides will complement what you're saying.

Lawrence Lessig has an interesting presentation style. His slides mostly feature one word, big, white on black. He uses them basically as punctuation marks for his spoken presentation.

Maciej Cegłowski goes in a different direction. He only uses photos (or screen caps ). It's another simple but powerful technique, and an easy way to incorporate a little humor.

Whatever you do, don't put too much information on a slide. Don't give a presentation where you're reading your slides aloud. Keep the design as simple and consistent as possible.
posted by adamrice at 10:09 AM on August 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

This site has a lot of good templates. You do have to pay for it, though.
posted by something something at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice! I should have emphasized that I'm also looking for online instructional resources that will give very basic instructions on how to do all the things you're recommending in PowerPoint or Keynote.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:14 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like this powerpoint deck for advice.

I give a fair number of presentations and have gone to a slide deck style with one full-screen image per slide, a white banner with black text, and text not to exceed 5-6 words per slide. It's worked well for me so far.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:22 AM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

You might want to see if your library has subscription to something like (which has some free tutorials) which might have professional level tutorials for this sort of thing. Apple's website can get your started with the basics for Keynote. Best tip is to start with a made-up project and google the stuff you need help with as you go.
posted by jessamyn at 10:25 AM on August 14, 2018

I think this is a good overview of the basics, and this is a good list of resources. Alignment is super important.

Also, I would go simple but not austere-- I have an auditory processing disorder, so it's hard for me when the important bits are not on the PowerPoint. I agree with beagle that four lines max per slide is good. What makes a deck stand out to me are clear graphs/schematics/illustrations.
posted by typify at 10:28 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

PowerPoint isn't necessarily intuitive or obvious. Find someone who knows how to use it well, get them to help you.

The Gettysburg Address as PowerPoint is a classic on how to weaken your message with PowerPoint, and remove elegance.

Here's a PowerPoint cheatsheet. There are tons of tutorials on the web, your choice will depend on if you prefer video or not.

Instead of tackling the software head on, decide what information you want to put on slides, and maybe even sketch it out. PowerPoint is bossy and will push you to use their way of displaying information. Instead, know what the information should be, should look like, and make PowerPoint do that. When I have appreciated a presentation, it's because it highlighted the very things I would have put in notes if I were taking them. I just looked at some sites with successful 'decks' and the graphics were dense, they were ugly, and over time, the cliches really set my teeth on edge.

Will you be giving out a copy of the .ppt on paper/ digitally? A link to an online version might be a good thing.

I have used Ppt a lot, though not so much recently. if you get stuck, memail me. When I worked at a University, I cleaned up and did troubleshooting for more than a few powerpoints.
posted by theora55 at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Well, I have no idea what's cool with design consultants, but the assertion-evidence approach is useful for me in my academic world. Basically, your slides will have some text with a topic statement and then visuals or data presentation to support that topic, and then you fill in details and explanation verbally.

As everyone else has said, avoid bullet lists and don't put your speaking script on your slides.
posted by adiabatic at 11:06 AM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you have the ability to do either and don't intend to actually pay for a template, Keynote's default templates are more attractive than PowerPoint's. Not great, but better.
posted by Sequence at 11:07 AM on August 14, 2018

hire somebody to design the slides
Find someone who knows how to use it well, get them to help you.

Seriously, do this. There are lots of freelancer sites out there where you can find someone to do it for you. They will not only be better, but also way more time efficient, rather than you trying to learn how to use the software and design basics.

I mean, learn how to make slick presentations, by all means, but not right now where you want to "knock it out of the park" on zero experience.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:08 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you use a Mac, look at the DeckSet app, which turns markdown text into slides that look good. Keep it simple.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:18 AM on August 14, 2018

Congrats on the gig!

Lots of extremely good advice above. Unsplash is a good site to get high-quality (free) stock photos if that’s relevant to your topic.

MeMail me if you’d like a second set of eyes and/or suggestions/help once you’ve gotten started.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 11:22 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ideally, pay someone else to do the layout.

Failing that, use Keynote or Powerpoint or whatever as a slide projector: each slide should be a high quality, full screen image. There should be no text at all, except maybe on the first and last slide. Assuming you have something interesting to say, this is usually a very good approach (if not the best). But more significantly in your circumstances: it's requires almost no knowledge of the technical aspects of these programs.

Failing that, or if you feel like you need to use text, use Keynote. The defaults and handling of alignment is better than Powerpoint or Google docs.

I understand the desire to educate yourself on these tools, but if you're doing something that involves studying online resources, you're doing something too complicated for this presentation. These are deep programs technically, and design is an even deeper subject, and it's possible to learn a lot, but there's a long period where your presentations get worse the more you know. You don't have the time to get to the other side.
posted by caek at 11:34 AM on August 14, 2018

A bit of advice that I learned the hard way: embed any fonts that you use. It's so painful to create a beautiful presentation, only to find that it looks garbled through someone else's laptop.
posted by hessie at 11:34 AM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

The best PowerPoint advice I've ever read actually came from the founder of this very website. Im on my phone and can't find it right now, but if you google "Matt Haughey slide deck", it should come up.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:41 AM on August 14, 2018

All the above advice is great for the what to do, but not the how.

If you're really babe-in-the-woods level of unfamiliar with the program, I would start with the Microsoft website basics for PowerPoint just to get somewhat familiar with the most common parts of the menu/ribbon. (Personally I wouldn't use a stock theme so ignore that part, but it's got the basic actions you'll need to know how to do like adding a slide, inserting text, inserting pictures, creating presentation notes, and playing the presentation covered.)

Then when you get stuck wanting to do something specific and you can't figure it out, just Google it. I consider myself pretty proficient in Office products but I'm still constantly Googling things. My recent search history from my work computer includes "add draft watermark to Word document" and "excel formula lock cell reference." Even though I know how to do those things sometimes I forget where it hides in the menu bar or the exact syntax and there's no shame in looking it up.
posted by misskaz at 11:42 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Many nice advices here.

I made only few Power Point presentations, and every time was surprised by how different my images looked on a big screen.

I could make my slides much, much better if I would have a chance to see my slides in the real setting first.
posted by Oli D. at 11:50 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

white background, set your typeface to helvetica neue, and make the text size nice and big. Use few words. Make all images high resolution and cover the whole slide.

Absolutely none of these very fine suggestions need instructions. PowerPoint isn't the most intutive UI ever, but it's extraordinarily similar to Word so you can do all of the above just fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:08 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Guy Kawasaki offers the 10/20/30 rule: a presentation "should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points." It works well in combination with the advice to use very little text and a few high quality images.
posted by jedicus at 12:12 PM on August 14, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was coming in to recommend Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule as well. You don't need to follow it religiously, but it's an excellent starting point, and it will prevent you from making some of the worst mistakes.
posted by ourobouros at 12:47 PM on August 14, 2018

Google for the name of the company and the word "presentation" and maybe "ppt" - if you can find a deck with their preferred formatting, and it's not too complicated, use that as a template, or pick a stock format that looks similar. They'll be used to seeing presentations in those colors and those layout settings.

You want the formatting to be a background setting that gets ignored so they can focus on what you're saying.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've just spent my day reworking an invited talk I'm giving in a couple weeks, and a few ideas come to mind here:

1. Simple is good. Simple is not simplistic: what goes on your slides needs to have a reason to be there. To my mind, this means don't be cute with transitions, effects, fonts, colors, or anything else. If it's there, it needs to have a reason.

2. Direct your viewer's attention where you want it when you want it. Most people are very, very bad at using laser pointers in a reasonable way, and the angle you'll likely be at relative to your screen makes it much harder. Better to have distinct elements come on the slide when you need them and walk through each slide.

3. If your audience is reading your slides, they're not listening to you. Most people have a very hard time with simultaneity here. A little text is fine, but don't expect them to read it to get what you're talking about.

4. The best thing you can do with a slide deck is to convey the intuition. Your audience is deeply unlikely to remember lots and lots of detail, but you want the intuitions to stick. Focus on that. Make your slides serve that goal.

5. Don't have anything in your slide deck that's brittle. That means don't have links you have to click, interface elements you need to mouse over to play videos (I'm looking at you, Powerpoint). Make it as robust as possible.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 1:28 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

You might want to check out, which is an online presentation generator. It's currently free and unless your needs are super-specific, will pretty much do most of the work of layout, finding icons and images, sizing and positioning things for you. I think it can work well for a lot of use cases, and is probably one of the easiest paths to something that looks elegant and pro.
posted by shelbaroo at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not sure if .ppt is a requirement, but I've been loving Canva (free) for creating slick presentations. They've got some gorgeous templates. (You'll save as PDF.)
posted by gold bridges at 1:44 PM on August 14, 2018

and I have no sense of how to really put together a dynamo presentation

If you aren't used to doing this, practicing the talk over and over again as much as you possibly can is at least as important as the visual content of the slide per se.
posted by advil at 1:47 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Buy templates! I like graphic river.
posted by k8t at 2:03 PM on August 14, 2018

May I piggyback?

My template suggestion: white background, set your typeface to helvetica neue, and make the text size nice and big.

If I am using LibreOffice Impress, which does not have helvetica neue in its font list, what is a good alternative font choice?
posted by jointhedance at 2:55 PM on August 14, 2018

Univers, Futura, Gotham, Frutiger, Trade Gothic, DIN will all work.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:19 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks. LibreOffice doesn't list any of those and Liberation Sans is the default.

Meanwhile, I'm taking out lots of text per all the advice above, adding lots of photo image slides and trying to make the jpgs expand to fill the entire slide per the advice above and stop the shot in portrait orientation photos from lying down on their sides in landscape orientation.
posted by jointhedance at 7:26 PM on August 14, 2018

Liberation Sans is fine. Anyone attending who can name four different serif fonts, is going to be so grateful that you didn't use four fonts on the same page that they really do not care at all which standard-business font you picked. (Do not use four different fonts on the same page.) (I really, really wish that were a hypothetical example.)

Most tricks for "advanced PPT use" are learned in settings where some department has decided they want to use Powerpoint instead of Word, and sometimes when they've decided they can skip InDesign, Photoshop, and Excel because Powerpoint has all the features they need from those. (It does not.) So there are a lot of tricks that boil down to, "how to make Powerpoint act like software it's not."

Excellent use of PPT as PPT means making the formatting barely noticeable; nobody can remember the fonts or the colors or the layout of the charts--they remember the contents.

General guidelines:
1) Limited text: let your speech carry the content; the text is the equivalent of callout text in a magazine.
2) Keep charts and tables simple: again, they're a reinforcement rather than a data-carrier.
3) Familiar is better. Use company colors/layouts if you've got them; use generic business if you don't.
4) Scalzi's law applies: The failure state of "clever" is "asshole." Don't try to add humor unless you're certain it's perfect.
5) If you do need to pack real data into the presentation, because you're handing out copies for later or something like that, make appendices and put solid info in there.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:50 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Protoype your deck first in Google Sheets. Just use the default template, this is about content, not design. Make sure the content and deck flow is absolutely perfect. Then either buy a Keynote template or hire someone to design the deck for you.
posted by nerdfish at 2:46 AM on August 15, 2018

If you're doing a high level presentation but suspect folks may have questions that drill down into data more, have a couple extra slides after your "last" slide with the charts / info you need to cover that. You will be better-prepared for having made them, and in the instance you need them it will look really good.

Depending on what you know about the room layout, avoid putting anything crucial in the bottom third of the slide - this area is often difficult to see in situations where you and the screen are at the same level as the audience.

I also convert all my powerpoint presentations to PDF before presenting to avoid unpleasant formatting / software surprises. You don't have to use the PDF, but have it.
posted by momus_window at 11:17 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here is my approach:

1) Create an outline of your pitch / speech using 20 empty slides in powerpoint. I use the "Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___." format. There are plenty of these frameworks / outlines depending on the goal / topic of the presentation.

2) Use the notes section of each slide and literally write out your speech as quickly as humanly possible. Don't think. Just start writing.

3) Read your notes out loud, slide by slide. It is going to suck.

4) Edit your notes so it sounds better out loud. Repeat steps 1-4 as many times as possible until you have a really good 'talk' that does not require any visuals.

5) Picture a image / color / headline for each of the slides based on to content of each slide. Go find a image / color / headline through any number of sites ( Google Images / Instagram / Flickr / Getty / BrainyQuote / Colr / etc. ). Don't stop until you find the right image or color + text blurb that distills or supports your talking points. There are a ton of examples of really good looking presentations. Always use BIG fonts. Always use high quality images. Don't be afraid to mix media across slides, e.g. Image, then Image + Text, then Text, etc. etc. but please go for a consistent aesthetic in your use of color / imagery / fonts. If your slide needs data, use it sparingly, and dumb it down as far as you can for your audience without patronizing them. Per Einstein "Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler"

6) Get a remote clicker. Standup. Put Powerpoint into presentation mode. Start rehearsing. Rehearse until you nail it. Rehearse again. And again......

7) Nail your presentation.
posted by jasondigitized at 12:11 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh and if you want time for Q&A, do it, but instead of asking "Who has questions?", ask a few anticipated questions out loud and answer them to get the discussion started.
posted by jasondigitized at 12:13 PM on August 15, 2018

Re: the fonts and garbling on somebody else's laptop and or any number of other potential display problems, I always, always, always export my final slides to PDF (no transitions, animations, or gewgaws, in your slides, right?) because this will without fail display properly on any system. Just go to full screen and page through. Knowing you have a solid back up plan that will just work is the best way to reduce stress. And, this forces you to keep it simple. Good luck!
posted by Gotanda at 5:04 PM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for PowerPoint tutorials, I can't recommend the videos on SlideCow highly enough. I found them through consultant forums and contacts, and have used them with clients, so should be at the quality that you need.

They also have (paid for) templates, should you be particularly pressed for time!
posted by MonsieurPsychosis at 4:11 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Don't do anything fancy. Animated anything, weird transitions; they take focus away from the presentation, and often muck up every last videoconferencing system if you have people remoting into the meeting.

If people are reading slides ahead of time, go heavier on information, as the presentation will be more of a Q&A. But in almost all cases? Go light on the slides, use it for supplemental data, and for the love of everything you hold dear, don't read from the slides; it's supplemental, meant to help anchor points, not to replace you.

And if the industry you're in permits, add humor to help anchor the presentation and keep people awake.

Honestly, in tech - where I work - if all you did was say "I've never honestly used powerpoint before, so here's a slide deck of pictures of kittens and puppies", and then gave your talk, it'd be likely well received and well remembered, assuming the talk itself was sane and useful.
posted by talldean at 6:29 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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