Visual Best Practices For Presentations

Visual Best Practices For Presentations

Branding Design Market Research

by Therese Joseph, Shift PR Fellow

So you’ve been working on this project. It’s practically consuming your life. At least, it seems that way sometimes. Luckily, you are near the end, and you are so relieved until you realize this means you need to create a presentation. Suddenly, panic ensues. There’s so many questions to consider. What colors do you use? What typeface fits your project? You want pictures, but is there such a thing as too many pictures? How can you make it not boring?

Remain calm and take a deep breath. The answers you seek are here. You’ve been working hard on this project. You know everything you need to say. This presentation is meant to compliment you, your knowledge, and your expertise. To create a presentation that will visually wow, it should be 3 things: simple, beautiful, and fun.

Simple Presentations

When communicating, you want your message to be easy to understand and grasp. To do this in a presentation, this means limiting yourself to 1 idea per slide. By focusing on 1 idea at a time, you give your audience a chance to connect to that specific idea before moving onto the next idea. This practice also challenges you to decide which ideas are more important and need to be discussed over other ideas that are less important.

In addition, don’t put all your words on the slide. When giving a presentation, you are a storyteller. You hold all the excitement, the twist and turns, the failures and successes of this project. Posting that information on the slide before you talk about it spoils the plot for the audience. Don’t ruin the story!

Instead, write a script about what you will say and rely on visuals in the presentation to complement that script. If you need to use text, don’t use paragraphs. Your audience cannot read and listen to you at the same time. Instead, use bullet points or highlighted text call outs as snippets to emphasize the main points of your story.

Beautiful Presentations

The most beautiful designs are often the ones that call the least attention to themselves and allow the audience to focus on the information being communicated. To create these beautiful designs, you want to avoid choices that would be distracting. Three prime examples of distracting choices include the use of animations, hard to read text, and inconsistent alignment.

You may remember when PowerPoint was created and animations were the biggest craze. Finally, you could add some flash to your presentation. Well, it is no longer the 90s. These animation options have become cheesy and outdated. You may think that you are adding flash to your presentation, but in reality you are giving your audience another reason to not hear what you are saying.

The text can be distracting and hard to read if you use a serif font for body text, use dark text on a dark background, or light text on a light background. If the audience cannot make out the text, they will spend all their time trying to figure it out. To hold their focus, stick to sans serif fonts like Calibri, Helvetica, or Arial, and match dark text with light backgrounds and light text and dark backgrounds. When using a light text, consider making the font size slightly larger for better readability.

Likewise, your audience will also have difficulty if the text on your slides keeps switching between left and right aligned. You are building an expectation when you use one alignment or the other. Be consistent and meet that expectation by sticking to one alignment.   To save time, you can make all these changes on a master slide and have it repeat with every newly created slide.

Fun Presentations

No matter what the setting is, people crave entertainment. It’s a fact of life. If you want to hold your audience’s attention, you need to be fun. But how can you make your presentation visually fun without missing the mark? Let’s talk about decorative fonts and images.

Decorative fonts can add a little excitement to your presentation, but only when implemented correctly. This means using them only for headings or titles. If you use them in the body text, it will most likely overwhelm your content. Headings and titles are short and should be slightly distinctive. Just remember, even if its decorative, it still needs to be readability. Otherwise, you will be distracting your audience.

Similarly, images can visually reinforce your message. They give your audience a picture to connect your words with. This is engaging. Just don’t force them to try to connect to clip art. Clip art feels tired and old. You should rely on real images or enlist the help of a designer for key visual element.

Tools for the Job

There are many tools that can help you create the presentation you need for your projects. Keynote and PowerPoint are the traditional slide creation software programs used throughout the business world. Prezi is a newer software program that creates your presentation on one large canvas and then zooms in and out during your presentation to cover all your talking points. Live Plan works to create and track your business plan for you. provides additional fonts you can download to make your presentation unique. Tableau is a software visualization tool that can transform large amounts of data into visually appealing graphics.

Food Psychology: Details can Alter Taste Perception

Food Psychology: Details can Alter Taste Perception

Market Research Marketing Strategy

by Shift Fellow, Justina Eng

When we enjoy a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, it isn’t just the food that makes it “fancy”— the candlelit ambience, crisp white linen, shiny silverware, thick ceramic plates, and elegant glassware not only enhance and heighten your restaurant experience, but also the taste of your dish. These seemingly insignificant details play an important role in the mental associations we build between food and their accompanying dinnerware. Our sense of taste is not derived from just the tongue, but it interacts with our sight, smell, and hearing to produce our overall perception of the meal. This information is utilized for food marketing studies, and chefs use this information to expand your fine dining experience. Which means that $28 hunk of lamb you ordered is more than just a hunk of meat—every element of that dish is coordinated to maximize your overall dining experience.


Salt of the Earth’s vanilla ice cream with yuzu meringue and fresh flowers

Salt of the Earth, a once popular restaurant in Pittsburgh, is known for their modern cuisine and unique plating techniques. When I last visited, I ordered a homemade “curry” ice cream that was served in a large round ceramic plate that had a small round well in the center for the ice cream. It may not seem like the plate affects the perceived taste of the meal, but recent studies reveal otherwise. Researchers reveal that the color and shape of dinnerware can affect the flavor of the food or drink.

For example, angular plates tend to bring out the bitterness in foods like chocolate, while round packaging or plating emphasizes the dish’s sweetness. Additionally, researchers learned that combining a heavier bowl with a heavier spoon will tend to make the food taste better. Such information proves invaluable to restaurants, as they can alter their plating, décor, or ambience to emphasize particular flavors of their dishes. In my case, the large round plate helped to “sweeten” the taste of the spiced ice cream, and the heavy spoons added to the ice cream’s luxuriousness. Heston’s “Sounds of the Sea” – note the Conch shell with earbuds to the right Professional chefs like Heston Blumenthal explore and test boundaries of the fine dining experience by providing meals that not only tactfully display the food, but emit particular aromas and visuals to enhance its overall flavor. An example of this sensory integration would be Blumenthal’s “Sounds of the Sea,” where customers are provided with a conch shell with protruding Apple earbuds, which customers can listen to while they eat a dish that resembles an ocean crashing upon the beach. Blumenthal creates edible “sand,” comprised of various ingredients like powdered konbu (edible kelp), miso oil, crushed fried baby eels, and langoustine oil.

Heston’s “Sounds of the Sea” – note the Conch shell with earbuds
Heston’s “Sounds of the Sea” – note the Conch shell with earbuds


Alongside the edible sand is an edible “sea foam” made from the juices of shellfish like razor clams, abalone, shrimps, and oysters. Blumenthal incorporates the auditory element into his dish because he discovered that listening to the crash of ocean waves enhances the perceived saltiness and flavor of seafood. This was discovered by Blumenthal and Charles Spence of Oxford University, where they studied the relationship of sound and flavor. The next time you eat at a fancy restaurant, pay attention to the small details – the shape and texture of your dinnerware, the lighting and décor, and the smells and colors of your food. There is more to that rack of lamb than you realize.