Visual Best Practices For Presentations

Shift CollaborativeBranding, 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.