At a recent conference presentation, I squinted at the size nine font on the screen while trying to also interpret a tiny graph thrown in among the text. Two minutes in, my brain was already distracted from what the speaker was saying.

My investment in the presentation was gone. I glanced down at my phone and wrote myself a reminder to avoid these same design mistakes in the future. 

Have an upcoming presentation? Design could make or break it. That's why I've compiled this list of five common presentations mistakes--so you can make a great impression and land the deal.

1. Not writing for your audience

You probably know your subject material very well. You may also think you know the best way to explain it. But before you jump into writing your slides, take a second to consider your audience.

What do they already know about your topic? What feelings might they have as they listen? What motivated them to come to the presentation?

"To deliver a great presentation, you have to understanding your audience and how their brain is wired." says Adam Tratt, founder of cloud-based presentation maker Haiku Deck. "Your listeners, whether they're Ivy League economists or fidgety sixth graders can either read your slides or listen to the words coming out of your mouth. 

If you don't address your audience's knowledge, feelings, and motivation within your presentation, you've already lost them.

2. Not talking about the "why"

"Too often public speakers stand in front of a room and just talk about their plans without giving the audience the opportunity to care first," explains Tratt. If you want to design a presentation that people do care about, you must start with the "why" behind it.

Even better, tell them a story that helps them imagine the problem as if it were happening to them personally. This is a great way to keep the audience engaged and help them to understand and internalize the facts around the topic. 

3. Underusing images

Images have a powerful, emotional impact on an audience. If you want your audience to feel the weight of a problem or get excited about a solution, images can help communicate those feelings to them.

If you're quoting facts about a humanitarian crisis, add a powerful image to the slide of a real person who's been affected by it. If you're proposing a solution that will save people time on their taxes, show a person celebrating at their desk or spending time with family to help them visualize what your solution could mean for them. When I'm designing slides, I try to picture myself as a member of the audience when selecting imagery. 

4. Cramming in too much information

When I first started making presentations, I would try to cram all my ideas into one slide and would often leave my audience squinting at the screen. I've learned that less is more.

The best slides are simple and communicate one idea. Instead of full sentences, they stick to a few words or one phrase, and include lots of white space. They might also include a single image or illustration that helps to communicates the idea.

Any more than one idea and one illustration, and your audience won't know where to look. They'll get confused and start searching the slide, and you'll lose their all-important attention.

5. Using inconsistent design

Many of the mistakes we make in presentations have to do with the structure or wording of the presentation. The look of the presentation is important, too.

Applying the same set of colors, fonts, and design elements to each slide gives your audience a positive general impression of the presentation. It communicates that you're a professional and that your presentation can be trusted.

When choosing an overall design scheme, make sure to choose fonts that are easy to read and big enough to be seen from the back of the room. Choose colors that complement each other well and are high-contrast for people with visual impairments. For an added touch, you can choose images along a similar theme or color palette.

Finally, make sure each slide follows the same template. There's no need to make each slide exactly the same, but small inconsistencies like titles being slightly out of place between slides will make your entire presentation look unprofessional.

Great presentation design is paramount to the success of your presentation. And next time you open up the computer to design your next big pitch or report, you'll know exactly what to do.

Published on: Aug 30, 2018
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