7 Tips for Making Presentation Slides That Don’t Suck

I give a couple of presentations every year. Chances are, you do, too, whether they are for your co-workers at a department meeting, your library board, for a class you’re taking, or at a conference.

Presentations can suck. We’ve all been there. There is tons of type on the slides, which the presenter just reads. It’s not organized properly or engaging in any way.

Or they can be really great.  They can inspire and communicate important information that you can apply to your job.

I’ve struggled with presentation slides. After sitting through many sessions (especially in grad school) that were just lame, I knew I wanted to do better myself. I checked out some books, read some blog posts, studied good slides, and most importantly, practiced (and broke my habit of throwing together slides the night before an assignment was due or I was speaking at a conference).

I think I’ve gotten much better at presenting and designing slides over the last couple of years, and it wasn’t by accident.

After I presented at the YALSA Symposium, I had a few inquiries about how I made the slides for Meg’s and my presentation. I’m finally getting around to sharing what I’ve learned after a couple of years of presenting at local, regional, and national conferences.

Make your slides after you decide what you want to say.

Look, I’ve been there. You’re working on a group project and it’s down to the wire and you’re trying to organize the slide deck for your presentation. Or, you have to submit the slide deck days before you’re scheduled to talk. Both have happened to me, and these were definitely not my strongest presentations. I’ve always had the best luck when I’ve outlined my talk and then crafted slides to correspond to them.

When your talk is organized, your slides support it, rather than serving as a crutch. You can evenly distribute the content and have transitions from topic to topic, as well as built in pauses for questions or discussions.

The less text, the better.

I can’t tell you how many professors I had who shared text heavy slide decks in grad school. They were boring and unhelpful and distract from what the presenter is actually trying to say. The only exception to this rule I’ve seen is a particularly impactful quote — but those should be used sparingly.

I’m actually of the opinion that most presentations can be summed up easily in a blog post. But not everyone learns best through reading, so use your slides to support your talk rather than as a crutch to read from while speaking.

NA presentation intro slide

market niche final

new adult appeal factors (1)

Have a design theme.

I’m not a graphic designer. But I think I know good design when I see it. I took my slides to the next level when I got away from the generic title + bullet points + image standard design.

So, what do you do when you aren’t a designer but want to create a slide deck that has a coherent feel and cohesive look? You steal. For the slides I designed for the YALSA symposium presentation (the above examples), I stole the fonts, design elements, and color scheme from the official logo for the conference. When I made a slide deck for a presentation about teen programming, I used the colors of my library’s logo as a foundation and just picked two fonts: one script and one sans serif.

partnerships cover (2)

tools for successful partnerships (1)

Canva is your best friend.

You know what makes designing slides 1000% easier? Canva.com. They have tons of templates for slides as well as graphics and fonts that make it so much easier. I will always design my slides in Canva now. Just be sure to cite the source of your creative commons images.

Contact info + hashtag.

I think it’s really important to include information about any presenters such as position, affiliations, website, email address, and twitter handle for the benefit of participants and anyone who stumbles upon your slides at a later date. It’s also helpful to include the official hashtag for your conference and session if applicable.

Incorporate interaction and audience participation.

My colleague Polli and I presented a session on writing blog posts, annotations, and book reviews for librarians and how to promote readers’ advisory content on social media. We had lots of examples of approaches that have been successful for us, and broke down our processes. Then, we built in time for the session for the audience to actually put the skills to work during the session so they left with practice and ideas to get started. It made for a much more engaging session that was valuable for the attendees.

imagine + write

Further resources.

Like I said, I am not an expert on design. I’d recommend this post from TED on building a slide deck, as well as this book: Presentation Zen. Look at examples of great slides in your field (browsing slideshare.net is a great way to get ideas).

What are your tips and tricks for making better slides? I’m always looking for new ideas. 

molly signature use this one



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