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.

Why be social?


I spoke on a panel for Leadership Butler County today, talking about social media.

This is a great panel every year, with Joe Taylor of Armstrong and Keith Graham of the Butler Eagle each talking about their respective media.

Why be social cover image

You can download my presentation as a Keynote file or a PDF with presenter notes. Feel free to use and share; kindly link back to this post when you do.

Why be social? (PPT format)

Why be social presenter notes (PDF format)

Credit for the cool image of social media words I used for the cover goes to Daniel Iversen, on Flickr.

Are you social? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Follow Me: How to Use Social Networks to Build Visibility & Drive Sales


Today I’ll be speaking on a panel at the 5th Annual Business Technology Conference, organized by the Small Business Development Center at Duquesne University. Our moderator will be Betsy Benson, Publisher and Vice President of Pittsburgh Magazine, and sharing the panel with me will be the delightful Victoria Dilliott, owner of Affogato Coffee Bar.

Our session title: “Follow Me: How to Use Social Networks to Build Visibility & Drive Sales.”

Follow Me: How to Use Social Networks to Build Visibility & Drive Sales

View more presentations from Big Big Design.

My portion of the session will be an evolution of a session I gave at PodCamp Pittsburgh 5, “Blogging for Business.” I wanted to expand on the ideas I’d discussed at PodCamp, going beyond blogging to a more comprehensive social media communications strategy (and actually beyond social media to online communication as a general thing).

The slideshow includes lots of neat visuals from Flickr and elsewhere (all Creative Commons attributed), but there’s one particular visual I’d like to highlight: the “Killer Blog Strategy Mind-Map” diagram by Johnny Haydon. Communications — and social media/online communications in particular — act much like a loop system, and this diagram does a great job of visualizing the loops of causes and effects. A full diagram of the system would be much more complex, but sometimes the complete complexity obscures the core of what’s going on. If you’re trying to set out your plan to build communications (and community) online, this diagram is the place to start.

More notes to come after the presentation.


Thanks to everyone who attended our session. What a fine discussion we had! Very big thanks to Victoria for sharing her story, and to Betsy for moderating the session.

Here is more information for some examples I mentioned during the talk:

Cooks Source controversy: Thorough summary write-up here, the main post by the blogger who first discovered her material had been reprinted without permission.

A sample of how shows interesting content from a Twitter account and the users it follows: my

Eat’n’Park using social media for last-minute promotions during the Stanley Cup playoffs: coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (6/21/2009)

Web Marketing for Writers


Cover image of Web Marketing for Writers

Last weekend I spoke at the monthly roundtable of the Pittsburgh Writing Project. My topic was Web Marketing for Writers — a subject close to my heart, both as a writer and as one who has helped many writers establish and maintain an online presence.

You can download the Powerpoint file here:  Web Marketing for Writers (PPT)

Or if you prefer a PDF: Web Marketing for Writers Presentation (PDF file)

(You’re free to use or adapt this presentation, but please attribute the content to me and Big Big Design, and link back to

We had a fine discussion, with several members of the group offering tips from their own experience.

Tip for presenters: You will benefit greatly by having someone in the audience corroborate what you say and offer examples from a different and complementary perspective. In this talk, my unexpected collaborator was Paul Kelly, publisher at St. Lynn’s Press.

Paul’s perspective (I’m paraphrasing): Every writer who wants to be published must have a website — it’s required for credibility and for creating and building your marketing platform. As a publisher, he loves to see that a writer has developed an audience, and the web makes that possible. Show that you’ve got 5,000 or more web visitors a month, interested in what you have to say, and you’re much more likely to be offered a publishing contract.

Refresh Pittsburgh meeting


The next meeting of Refresh Pittsburgh will at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, April 1 at the Creative Treehouse in Bellevue.

Refresh Pittsburgh is a community of designers and developers working to refresh the creative, technical, and professional culture of Internet developers in the Pittsburgh area.

To start the evening, Pat Collins will present “CakePHP: Rapid application development with PHP”.

Why learn a new programming language when you can use your existing PHP skills to become a better coder and increase your productivity? Let Pat show you how to build a blog application in no time, and how you can help!

Then, Val Head will be presenting “A, B, C, D-esign!”

Val’s presentation will be a discussion of the basic building blocks of design as they apply to designing fo the web. She’ll show examples of concepts like colour, typography and hierarchy and talk about how these fit in to a web page design.

As usual, if you would like to show off a recent project or pose a few questions to our group, please let us know and we’ll fit you in.

We’ll make sure to provide a good supply of coffee and cookies and other sweets to get you through the night.

Please RSVP to let us know if you will be joining us. We need to make sure we have enough seats and most importantly, coffee and cookies! And by all means, please forward this invitation to anyone you like.

Refresh Pittsburgh meeting


The next meeting of Refresh Pittsburgh will at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, February 26 at the Creative Treehouse in Bellevue.

Refresh Pittsburgh is a community of designers and developers working to refresh the creative, technical, and professional culture of Internet developers in the Pittsburgh area.

Cynthia Closkey (that’s me!) from Big Big Design will present “Google-Friendly Blogging in Five Easy Steps.” I’ll talk about basic search engine optimization for WordPress, and by extension, for other blog tools as well. I’ll talk about misconceptions about SEO, and I’ll give some simple steps one can take to improve one’s search ranking.

Next, Jeff Hunter, organizer of Devhouse Pittsburgh will present an introduction to Ruby: what it is, why you may want to consider using it for your next project.

Full details are at the Refresh Pittsburgh website. Visit there and RSVP so we have a headcount.