Improve
your slides

Nancy Duarte is the CEO of Duarte Design, one of the biggest design agencies in Silicon Valley, specialising in designing and developing presentation materials. The author of ‘slide:ology’ gives us advice on how to improve PowerPoint slides.

Agent Majeur: We recently interviewed James C. Humes, a former speechwriter to five US Presidents. He told us that PowerPoint slides are boring. What do you think about that?

Nancy Duarte: Well, I agree with him that politicians should not use PowerPoint. Just imagine how boring speeches would be if politicians read their slides to us! In January, President Obama did an interesting experiment on the White House website. (Watch his State of the Union address on the White House). The screen is divided into two parts: on the left you can follow the President’s speech, and on the right the equivalent of presentation supports with texts and visuals scroll down.

The problem is that the graphs don’t always match what he’s saying and there are a few typos. Not cool. In a company, in the event of an organisational change or sales evolution, having a visual representation isn’t really optional. If people can ‘see’ what you’re saying, they understand better.

Politicians are more reticent to put their thoughts in writing, so their politics can remain ambiguous. In reality, slides done well can amplify your concepts and make your presentation more memorable.

What are the top 3 qualities a slide should have?

First, a slide should only present one idea, not more. If you have several ideas to present, spread them across a few slides—slides are free. Second, make sure you use images that highlight your message and that can help better convey your ideas. Develop a visual consistency throughout your presentation. In terms of design, make some choices and stick to them. For example, choose a color palette, a graphic style, and character fonts.

How much text can be put on a slide?

Your audience should be able to understand your slides in three seconds. We call this the ‘glance test’. Slides are your stage, your backdrop: your audience should be focused on you, the ‘actor’. That is why they need to process your surroundings (slides/context) as quickly as possible. If you have multiple bullet points, consider presenting them one at a time.

When do you recommend using an image (photograph, illustration)?

Images help the audience make connections with your content. They help clarify your message. The more you use them the better. However, cliché images can hurt your credibility. Using a picture of a handshake in front of a globe to mean ‘global partnership’ will tune people out. Everyone uses that image. Instead, think about how your partnership is unique. What if you used an image of salt and pepper to represent your partnership? Two contrasting flavors come together to make an even more savory one. How amazing is that? If you use images, describe them.

When is it best to use animations?

Having things bounce, turn and change size for no reason doesn’t add meaning to your presentation even though some may think it looks cool. Conversely, if your firm has bounced back after an incident, you can have a bouncing animation. Animations should only be used if they emphasise your pitch.

Creating great slides requires creativity. What would you recommend to find inspiration?

Study the work of really great designers. If you love an ad, why do you love it? If a video takes your breath away, why? Design is more scientific than people think. Study what you find beautiful and you’ll create something beautiful (well, at least more beautiful).

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> PowerPoint

> Graphic design

> Public speaking

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