Think about your favorite TED Talk of all time. What do you remember about it? Maybe your answer is the life-changing knowledge shared by the speaker, or maybe it's an impression of his or her humor or intelligence, but I am willing to go out on a limb and bet it's not the slides.

That's because the only kind of slides we remember are the bad ones, those that distract you from the speaker, baffle you with unreadable graphs, or give you a headache from trying to make out the tiny font. Good slides simply reinforce the talk's message, blending into the experience as a whole. Those are the kind of slides that you usually see on the TED stage.

There's a reason for that. Many of the best TED speakers are coached by experts like  Paul Jurczynski, co-founder of Improve Presentation, to help them hone their visuals and ensure that every chart and image supports rather than distracts from their message. On the TED Ideas blog recently, Jurczynski shared some of the best tips he offers clients.

1. One idea per slide.

"The most common mistake I see is slides that are overcrowded," says Jurczynski, surprising absolutely nobody who has ever squinted their way through a presentation full of overly detailed slides.  

"The golden rule is to have one claim or idea per slide. If you have more to say, put it on the next slide" is Jurczynski's simple rule to remedy the problem. The original TED Ideas post offers before and after examples of slides to illustrate what this means in practice.

2. Have a consistent and thought-out color scheme.

"Color is a key way to communicate visually and to evoke emotion. It can be a game changer," insists Jurczynski.

You can probably figure out that hot pink isn't appropriate for your talk on cancer survival rates and gray is too much of a downer for a presentation on how to market beach getaways, but beyond that Jurczynski suggests you enlist expert help in the form of free sites, like Coolors and Color Hunt, that help you build coherent color schemes.

3. Don't go with the first visual that comes to mind.  

You're designing a slide to illustrate a point about innovation. What visual do you use? If you instantly answered light bulb, then you can bet nearly everyone in the audience will think of a light bulb too. Therefore, don't go with the light bulb. Instead, go beyond your  first instinct to avoid cliches and keep the audience engaged with unexpected visuals.

Jurczynski also advises speakers to avoid Google images in favor of better options from free sites like Unsplash or, where appropriate, their own pictures.

4. The best graph is a simple graph.

Graphs and maps can get really bewildering really quickly. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Or better yet, ask yourself if you even need them at all. To make sure all your infographics are both necessary and streamlined, Jurczynski suggests presenters ask themselves three questions when designing them.

  • What do I want the audience to take away from my infographic?

  • Why is this important for them to know this?

  • How does it tie into my overall story or message?

The answers to these questions will help you pare down your graph to its most essential elements and highlight those with the right colors and fonts.

5. Don't be afraid of blank slides.

Maybe you think about slides as sort of like music at a club. If suddenly there is none, then things will just be weird and awkward. Nope, says Jurczynski, who admits he's become a bigger and bigger fan of the occasional blank slide over the years.

"Sometimes you want all the attention on yourself and you don't want people distracted by what they see in the slides. Or, you might use them to give an audience a visual break from a series of slides. Or maybe you want to shift the mood or tempo of the presentation," he explains.

Just make sure the blank slide isn't white or people will just assume your thoughtful pause is just a technical glitch.

There are lots more details, as well as helpful visual examples, on the original TED Ideas post. Check it out.

Published on: Jun 19, 2019
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