Could your visual presentations be better?

Are there more efficient ways of getting your message across? Could you increase clarity and have more impact? Devote three minutes to watching Nancy Duarte, CEO of Silicon Valley’s largest design company Duarte, give you some suggestions:

Do you normally just put together some slides for a powerpoint presentation and are certain you will get your message across effectively? According to Nancy that usually doesn’t do the trick.

All audiences are different

What works for one group may not work for another. It’s essential to obsess about what kind of people will be listening to you and come up with stories and ways to make a heart to heart connection with them. Ask yourself what the main message you want to get across to them is. Once you know that, the content has to be built around getting that point across.

Simplify and use contrasts

What’s the order you would like your audience to process your information? How will their eyes move across it? Use contrasts, colours and shapes to come across clearly. If not, your ideas will be camouflaged and your audience will be confused.  One idea only should pop out from each slide. So make sure that idea not lost in the mire of too many messages.

The worst mistake you can make is having a lot of text on your slides. The audience will then read instead of listening.

The worst mistake you can make is having a lot of text on your slides. The audience will then read instead of listening.

Most common mistake

Using your slides as documents instead of a visual aid. If you do and turn your back to the audience they will read faster than you speak. They then start thinking they already know what you are saying.

So make sure you use the slides either as a visual aid or a document they can read from. If you use it as a document with a lot of information don’t stand up and present it. Let the audience read for themselves. Using your slides as visual aids and perform like an actor in front of your audience will however, have much more impact.

Everyone is nervous before a presentation

Even the masters of rhetoric, Cicero and Aristotle, were nervous. Cicero even wrote that if you are not, you most likely don’t master the art of rhetoric. When you speak before an audience it is, according to Cicero, important that you truly master the subject at hand and know how to perform to make the audience react. If not, how can you influence and motivate your audience?

It’s important to memorize as much as you can. Today with powerpoint giving us a helping hand that’s easier than it was for Cicero when he spoke to the senate. Despite that he was a master of getting the senators to see things his way.

Did you find Nancy Duarte’s suggestions useful? Are you nervous before giving a presentation? Do you master the art of performing like an actor and merely use slides as a visual aid? Or do you normally use slides as documents? Do you tailor-make your presentations for different audiences? Do you simplify as much as you can to make sure you get your message across? 

Video:StanfordBusinss – Picture: ImagineCup

78 comments to Could your visual presentations be better?

  • Leora  says:

    As I need to redo a slide presentation I gave last year (topic is blogging!), this quite timely. She gives me some ideas about how to approach each slide. I will work on making each slide a visual aid; I'll keep the notes on what I'm going to say in front of me.

    The day of a presentation I get quite nervous. When I am up front and exchanging ideas with the audience, I start to relax.
    My recent post Interview with Business Owner of Printing Company

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Also found her suggestions great, Leora. Using slides as visual aids is the best way, no question about it. Why wouldn't you and I be nervous Leora when even Cicero and Aristotle were:-)

  • Doreen Pendgracs  says:

    Visual presentations can ALWAYS be better! We learn that thru Toastmasters. You can never get too good at wowing, entertaining, and informing your audience.
    My recent post independent publishing enables the author to shine

  • Jeannette Paladino  says:

    Another point she might have made is that PP presentations are also meant to entertain. By that I mean that your slides should engage your audience in a positive experience. They are meant as "aides" to your presentation — to enliven it, to excite the audience and, as a byproduct, entertain them. Just standing at a lectern reading through a presentation with visual aids can be deadly.
    My recent post Use Mobile Technology to Engage Your Customers, or Bye-Bye

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      True Jeannette. But not only your slides but you yourself should entertain your audience. If not, they may fall asleep.

      Should have been more clear about that in the last section of my article. Cicero wasn't only a philosopher, master of rhetorik, intellectual and knowledgeable. He also entertained his listeners in the senate and at the forum. He is hence remembered as one of the best speakers ever.

  • keepupweb  says:

    Nancy shared some great tips here. I especially liked when she talked about prioritizing how your audience will process information. I use presentations when I conduct workshops or I'm a speaker and I always use them as visual aids. If I'm printing handouts, I leave lots of white space and then I encourage the audience to take notes. I think of my PowerPoint presentation as a road map. They help to keep me on track and on time.

    Strangely enough, I'm fairly comfortable giving a presentation in front of a group. For me, the key is to connect with your audience. There is always going to be someone there who is rooting for you. I just look for the friendly faces and talk to them.
    My recent post How to Use Facebook Fan Gate to Get New Likes

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Spot on Sherryl. Am sure you make great presentations.:-)

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    Great information. I particularly liked when Nancy D talked about Frankensteining presentations and avoiding visual noise (camouflaging information). I frequently come across presentations that were created for one group being delivered to another. Generally, the second audience ends up missing key information or not knowing why it’s being shared. No matter how often YOU deliver a presentation, you have to adjust for your current audience.

    I also thought her comments about visual clarity or avoiding visual noise in presentations was spot on. There’s nothing quite as distracting for an audience as slides so full of text or complex diagrams that they get lost in the slide and stop listening to what is being said.

    My recent post A Simple Lesson About Brand Taught By Disney

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    Great information. I particularly liked when Nancy D talked about Frankensteining presentations and avoiding visual noise (camouflaging information). I frequently come across presentations that were created for one group being delivered to another. Generally, the second audience ends up missing key information or not knowing why it’s being shared. No matter how often YOU deliver a presentation, you have to adjust for your current audience.

    I also thought her comments about visual clarity or avoiding visual noise in presentations was spot on. There’s nothing quite as distracting for an audience as slides so full of text or complex diagrams that they get lost in the slide and stop listening to what is being said.

    My recent post A Simple Lesson About Brand Taught By Disney

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    Great information. I particularly liked when Nancy D talked about Frankensteining presentations and avoiding visual noise (camouflaging information). I frequently come across presentations that were created for one group being delivered to another. Generally, the second audience ends up missing key information or not knowing why it’s being shared. No matter how often YOU deliver a presentation, you have to adjust for your current audience.

    I also thought her comments about visual clarity or avoiding visual noise in presentations was spot on. There’s nothing quite as distracting for an audience as slides so full of text or complex diagrams that they get lost in the slide and stop listening to what is being said.

    My recent post A Simple Lesson About Brand Taught By Disney

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    Great information. I particularly liked when Nancy D talked about Frankensteining presentations and avoiding visual noise (camouflaging information). I frequently come across presentations that were created for one group being delivered to another. Generally, the second audience ends up missing key information or not knowing why it’s being shared. No matter how often YOU deliver a presentation, you have to adjust for your current audience.

    I also thought her comments about visual clarity or avoiding visual noise in presentations was spot on. There’s nothing quite as distracting for an audience as slides so full of text or complex diagrams that they get lost in the slide and stop listening to what is being said.

    My recent post A Simple Lesson About Brand Taught By Disney

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    Great information. I particularly liked when Nancy D talked about Frankensteining presentations and avoiding visual noise (camouflaging information). I frequently come across presentations that were created for one group being delivered to another. Generally, the second audience ends up missing key information or not knowing why it’s being shared. No matter how often YOU deliver a presentation, you have to adjust for your current audience.

    I also thought her comments about visual clarity or avoiding visual noise in presentations was spot on. There’s nothing quite as distracting for an audience as slides so full of text or complex diagrams that they get lost in the slide and stop listening to what is being said.

    My recent post A Simple Lesson About Brand Taught By Disney

  • yearwoodcom  says:

    Great information. I particularly liked when Nancy D talked about Frankensteining presentations and avoiding visual noise (camouflaging information). I frequently come across presentations that were created for one group being delivered to another. Generally, the second audience ends up missing key information or not knowing why it’s being shared. No matter how often YOU deliver a presentation, you have to adjust for your current audience.

    I also thought her comments about visual clarity or avoiding visual noise in presentations was spot on. There’s nothing quite as distracting for an audience as slides so full of text or complex diagrams that they get lost in the slide and stop listening to what is being said.

    My recent post A Simple Lesson About Brand Taught By Disney

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Spot on Debra and Nancy D, for that matter:-)

  • findingourwaynow  says:

    Having slides as a que for the presenter and still a tease and interesting for the audience is a challenge but can be done if time is spent on what that may be. That where understanding the audience is key. Being entertaining with good visuals will hold an audiences attention allowing the presenter to get their point across. It all sounds so easy. It isn't, unless one takes the time to figure it all out. Just my thoughts. :)
    My recent post Guest Post By Jon Jefferson/Guinness Irish Stout: Beer

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Yes Susan, one has to figure out what will get to the heart of each audience. Once that's done the rest is easier.

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Great points you are making. Love the word Freankensteining:-)

  • GuyW  says:

    Slides should definitely only be a support mechanism for your presentation. You should never read your slides! I like Guy Kawasaki's 10 / 20 / 30 rule – 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point text (minimum). The 30 can equally describe the maximum number of words on a slide.

    And story-telling is what we're all about – this is how we've communicated for tens of thousands of years. Keep the slides visual to enhance your story…

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Absolutely Guy. Good points about Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/39 rule.

  • Geek Girl  says:

    Presenting can be very intimidating. They key is to be prepared. She made the most important point which is the audience. Who are you presenting to and how should you present to that audience? Once that is determined then putting together the presentation just became easier. One last point I would make is that the KISS principle applies – Keep It Simple Stupid.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Good points, Cheryl. Far too many people forget to adapt to each audience. Agree with you about KISS. Personally always do that with everything:-)

  • akandrewwriter  says:

    Bizarrely Catarina, my post today also talks about the use of images. Slightly different context but coincidental none the less! Nancy Duarte made some great points, starting with knowing your audience. Finding a way to make the information both accessible and as she say's 'pop out' at you is key, but not always easy. Keeping in mind the phrase 'visual aid' and have each slide carry it's weight is also really important. Good post.
    My recent post Does Every Picture Tell a Story?

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Seems we wrote about the same subject, more or less, again, AK! What Nancy says is a good reminder isn't it. If you haven't read Cicero's books on rhetoric, do. You will love them.

  • Mirsad Kasum  says:

    That was a good summary in 3 minutes of what needs to be considered when you stand in front of your crowd. Many good points! I worked for many years in the automotive industry and I think I have seen all the scary examples:
    – fully loaded slides with detailed technical info using font size 10
    – complexed slides with loads of company info and names & titels in the various organisations
    – "managers stating that the slides need to include ALL the info that you mention during the presentation
    etc.
    Examples of "funny" and tiring slides could be long.
    Do not forget to:
    – Make a pause sometimes – breaks are an excellent way to pick up issues and opinions
    – Take Q&A after a section
    – INVOLVE the audience

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Yes Nancy's summary is a good reminder of what should and should not be done, isn't it Mirsad.

  • JeriWB  says:

    Too many people put too much text on slides and then proceed to read all of said information directly from the slides. It's so painful. As a teacher, I started having my creative writing students do Pecha Kucha style presentations. It's a great alternative to traditional presentations, and it involves showing 20 slides at 20 seconds each, for a total presenting time of 6:40.
    My recent post Short Story Spotlight: Learn by Example

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      True Jeri. Pecha Kucha style presentations are a good idea, definitely. Have never seen one that changes slides so swiftly though. Cool:-)

    • Shaun Rosenberg  says:

      I agree with this. We had a presentation in class and too many people had text slide with just a big paragraph in it. I like to break it down, make it simple, and show charts when I can.
      My recent post What To Do When Someone Doesn’t Want To Be Your Friend Anymore

    • Shaun Rosenberg  says:

      I agree with this. We had a presentation in class and too many people had text slide with just a big paragraph in it. I like to break it down, make it simple, and show charts when I can.
      My recent post What To Do When Someone Doesn’t Want To Be Your Friend Anymore

  • Bravo  says:

    I have always tried to build my presentation slides to accent my words, not replace them. My ultimate goal is to never have bullet points in a presentation but that is hard to do every time so minimizing them is the top priority.

    In a sales presentation the last thing you should ever do is turn your back on your audience.
    My recent post Sales Training Is Not Always About Sales Techniques

  • becc03  says:

    Great information. I have sat through way too many presentations that have bored me to tears. I would have been better off taking the presentation away and reading it in my own time.
    I am not one for presentation – nerves are ridiculous, but I have been the creator of these slides and agree that simplified slides with a single point makes for a great presentation (particularly if you have a presenter that presents rather than reads).

    My recent post Looking for signs

  • becc03  says:

    Great information. I have sat through way too many presentations that have bored me to tears. I would have been better off taking the presentation away and reading it in my own time.
    I am not one for presentation – nerves are ridiculous, but I have been the creator of these slides and agree that simplified slides with a single point makes for a great presentation (particularly if you have a presenter that presents rather than reads).

    My recent post Looking for signs

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Thank you Becc. Simplifying is the name of the game, as you say. Making one point only per slide is best.

  • Susan Oakes  says:

    I like her points especially the first one about thinking about your audience as it starts from their. One mistake that makes me laugh is when presenters read each work of a slide. They forget their audience can read. A boss once said to me if you are nervous before you present that is a great start.
    My recent post There Are Always Two Sides To Consider

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Your previous boss was right to say it's a good start to be nervous before you present Susan. Cicero was nervous, why should not we be:-)

  • catarinaalexon  says:

    Glad you agree with Nancy's suggestions Shaun.

  • Kelly Wade  says:

    Good advice. We learned all of this kind of stuff in college classes but for people who have been in the working world for a while it might be difficult to understand. Keeping slides really simple without a lot of text on them is essential so your audience is listening and paying attention to what you're saying, rather than reading the slides.
    My recent post How to Bounce Back from a Break-Up

  • Mary Slagel  says:

    I love the idea of sharing stories with your audience to get them to connect. I often find myself more into presentations when there is a speaker because I love listening to stories and I can better see them as a human rather than a drone just speaking in front of me. I also agree about not using your slides as a document. I can't tell you how nuts that drives me when somebody puts their entire presentation on the slides and then reads of them. It is not only boring but it shows lack of knowledge if they have to read and cannot further explain from a bullet point. As a student in college it is sometimes hard to give presentations with out having it all written up there but there is nothing worse than placid faces in the audience while you sit there and read, and read, and read.
    My recent post 5 Vital Moves for a Successful Retirement

  • Slim  says:

    PowerPoint illuminates the adage, one picture is worth 10,000 words. My Grandfather? "Get me a pencil." My Dad used a fable or two to explain what he wanted me to know. I speak in metaphors. I like analogies. They create a visual. One of my classroom lessons explaining a( 3+2) = a(3) + a(2). This is difficult for a middle school students. What I did was use the analogy of dying Easter Eggs green. One cup being too small for 5 eggs, means dying 2+3. The class understood. My middle school students voted math their favourite subject. Slim
    My recent post EU Growth Summit; Slim Defeats Merkel

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Interesting points Slim. Great slides works much better than analogies though:-) Glad your students voted math their favourite subject because of you.

      • Slim  says:

        You are right. Slides are much better than analogies. Remember the days before PowerPoint? I was giving a presentation to the Northampton County Council on the multiplier effect. No presentations like the one on the multiplier effect on my slideshare. The best I could do was to print out a few pages with a series of boxes labeled coat store, suit store, jacket store, &c. and Fill in the amounts $800. $400. $200. The point was well taken. Still, that same visual on powerpoint would have been more effective and available to everyone at the county meeting. Keep pressing your point about visuals. They are important. (So is a three piece, navy blue, pinstripe suit. 😉 Slim
        My recent post Bad Leaders or Bad Consultants?

        • catarinaalexon  says:

          Yes, it was different then. But Cicero managed two thousand years ago. Not only did he manage he was a master of rhetoric.:-)

  • Dan Hitt  says:

    After working at PSAV, a presentation services corp, and running tech for hundreds if not thousands of presentations and shows, I can say that one piece of advice from your article resonated with me. Not reading material the audience has access to. I'm sure this took place in at least 60% of the presentations I watched and time and time again it resulted in a disengaged and uninterested audience.

    Most of them are not aware but we were always back there poking holes in presentations, fixing them in theory and every time the slide show or document asked a question of the audience and the speaker answered it (which is essentially what you've stated in not reading information that you've already given them access to) it was so much easier to get through.

    More of them should be reading more of this.

    I also found the best speakers tended to have great timing on their long pauses. The better we thought someone was as a speaker the more they tended to take these great pauses that accentuated their point or brought the audience back with the sudden absence of back ground noise (their talking lol).

    Great Article.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad you liked it Dan. The best a person can do in order to make fantastic presentations is read Cicero. That will teach you much more than my article and what you write in your comment. It's not for nothing Cicero and Aristotle are the two masters of rhetoric. Would not recommend you to read Aristotle's book on rhetoric since it is too complicated.

  • jacquiegum  says:

    Very useful information. There is nothing more annoying than having a presenter read a power point presentation! These are great ideas in terms of simplifying eveything.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Don't you think it's worse when they have slides with a lot of text on and expect us to listen to them, Jacqueline? We all start reading, don't we.

  • lenie5860  says:

    Powerpoint presentations were just starting to appear when I retired so I never really got the hang of it but I did appreciate the ones that had bullet points and the presenter would then clarify each of those points. That seemed to keep you on track. And of course, being prepared is always necessary when dealing with others, whether it is sharing information or gathering it.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Lenie, have you thought about the fact that text on the slides makes the audience read and stop listening to what we say? The best is to just have a picture on your slide that illustrates what you say because then they listen. And. maybe above all, story telling is the name of the game. If not the audience fall asleep. Agree with you about the importance of being prepared. You have to know the story you are telling by heart. Boring to practice but there is no avoiding it.

  • Donna Janke  says:

    I’m not in a position any more where I do presentations, but I have done a few in the past and I have seen plenty. I agree that those that came across as documents simply restating what the speaker said were least interesting. Those that were used a visual aids, especially with the occasional humourous touch, were the most effective. With technology it is much easier to create visual aids, but as you’ve pointed out they still need some thought. Even in the old days when presentations were mostly text, cramming too many ideas or points onto one slide didn’t work.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad you agree with me, Donna. Another thing I usually do is make fun of myself and ask the audience questions on a continuous basis. That works, above all when they don't know the answer.

  • cheryltherrien  says:

    I used to be a software trainer so I am very familiar with presentations and connecting with an audience. You can always tell by the look in their eyes. If you are looking at your presentation, you will miss that look and then you've lost them.
    My recent post #Depend: Silhouette Active Fit a Healthy Choice

  • Pamela Chollet  says:

    Your post gives great advice for anyone doing presentations. I’ve attended a lot of seminars and workshops where presenters had their entire lecture on their PowerPoint presentation. I found it distracting because I didn’t know if I should read or listen to the lecture. In contrast, the presenters who utilized the slides as a visual aid that added to their lecture were more dynamic, interesting, and I found I retained much more information. Also, knowing the material is paramount for a speaker. Especially when an audience is made up professionals in the field the presenter is discussing. Someone can lose all authority as a speaker with one question from their audience.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      That's the worst isn't it, Pamela, when we don't know if we should listen or read. Using slides as visual aids is the name of the game.

  • bethnieb  says:

    Isn’t that the truth! So many presentations are just reading slides which is about as boring as you can get! I am always nervous before a presentation. I embrace that because I discovered in college that if I weren’t nervous before giving a piano recital, my hands would shake during the concert. Not a good thing. With speaking too, I’m a bit nervous before but not once I get going and start paying attention to my audience rather than myself.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad you like it, Beth. Personally always tell a story and involve my audience in it by asking questions and making fun of myself. Having a bit of stage fright is good because we perform better then.

  • graceyb  says:

    Excellent advise. I have been to many presentations where there is too much copy on the slides and just as you say, I find myself reading and not listening to the speaker!

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Seems, like me, you read when there's text on the slides, Grace. Personally only have pictures on the slides and that works very well because the audience listen to me.

      • graceyb  says:

        And that makes for a much more interesting presentation!

        • catarinaalexon  says:

          Yep, but it's easy for me because I talk about myself and what it's like to hold a senior management position in Saudi Arabia. People are interested in what that was like.

  • JeriWB  says:

    There is no doubt not enough speakers actually think about how an audience will perceive and interact with the visuals in their presentations. As always, the kiss of death remains text-filled slides that are merely read to the audience. Ugh.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad, but not surprised, we agree on that, Jeri.

  • Kire  says:

    Thankfully it has been years since I've had to sit through a slide presentation, but there is no greater pain than having the speakers statements be posted verbatim on the wall. I have caught myself more than once sleeping with my eyes open.
    My recent post Mass Appeal

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Yes, it's horrendous isn't it, Kire. Not surprised you fell asleep.

  • Susan P Cooper  says:

    Hi Catarina, having been in the corporate world for most of my life and having listened to and given hundreds of presentations, wow can I relate to this. There is nothing worse than a presenter who takes what is many to be a document and uses it as a PowerPoint presentation. Page after page of text, and the audience has already readc way ahead of the presenter and then has to listen to the presenter read it to them again. Quite painful to sit through. It's a lot like being in first grade again and getting read to. That being said, preparing a presentation that is visually appealing and will hold the audiences attention is a challenge but can be done with some thought, time and attention to who your audience will be.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad, but not surprised, you agree with me, Susan. Personally find that using just pictures on the slides and telling a story works very well. Above all when I ask questions to the audience and make fun of myself.

  • William Rusho  says:

    What a great post. I am a business analyst, and have to do many presentations. I have trouble trying to convince my IT staff that a presentation is not facts and figures on a screen. They have to make it so people’s interest peaks watching it and that they have to adopt their message to the audience.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Exactly, William, facts and figures on slides is not a presentation that captures the audience.

  • Abrahim R.  says:

    There is no doubt not enough speakers actually think about how an audience will perceive and interact with the visuals in their presentations. As always, the kiss of death remains text-filled slides that are merely read to the audience. Ugh.

  • patweber  says:

    She is spot on about presentations Catarina! Presentations can always be better. My major pet peeve is people who use their PowerPoint as their personal notes which they present to me. We've gotten lazy with technology! Two years ago I stripped out my major presentations (3 I give) and replaced more and more words with the SmartArt forms and such. Much better received.
    My recent post What Introvert Assets Are Like Your Femur Bones?

    • catarinaalexon  says:

      Glad, but not surprised, we agree, Patricia. Personally only use pictures and then have personal notes in case I get lost.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>