Tips for Presentations

Ian Hellström | 19 February 2023 | 3 min read

Here are five tips to create great presentations. Or at least ones that do not suck the life out of your audience.

Say it, do not write it down

For presentations, there is really only one rule: don’t write every word of what you are going to say.

If you intend to bore people, you do not need slides. Most people’s personalities will do just fine…

The slides are there to support what it is you are talking about. Make your main point on the slides, so everyone can remind themselves of that while you do the talking. Either a one liner, a quotation, a picture, a meme, 3 bullet points with only the ‘headlines’, not sentences. As soon as you write a verb on a slide, stop, and rethink it!

But what about code? In my experience, most presenters say, “Here you can see the code for that. I’m not going into detail now…”

If you’re not going to talk about it, don’t bloody show it to me. If only two lines of code are relevant, show these two lines and leave the rest. If you are going to talk through the snippet line by line, then you can keep it.

At least a minute per slide

Expect to spend at least one minute on each content slide. If you rush through slides in under 60 seconds, the chances are no one is really able to retain any information. And if they do not, why are you flapping your jaws?

No special effects

Go easy on the sounds, animations, transitions, gifs, videos, font families, font colours and sizes, and so on. Be consistent in your slides and make sure you do not distract people with pictures that fly in from all sides. It is a good idea to reveal content incrementally, but not if the reason is that there is too much content on a single slide.

If you are on a Mac, I can recommend Deckset. It forces you to focus on content and not on the visuals. That it is based on Markdown is a bonus.

Rethink bullet points

Bullet points are the default in many PowerPoint-esque tools. That does not mean they make sense for every slide.

If you are listing options, are they really equivalent? If not, are they ordered? If so, a numbered list is more appropriate.

Never use more than 5–7 bullet points on a single page. It is the maximum most people can hold in their short-term memories. Two bullet points look odd and a single one is just a sign of sloppiness or a complete lack of knowledge on how to operate a backspace key. Hence, 3–5 bullet points are ideal, if you have to use an unnumbered list.

Empty space makes the rest look more prominent and authoritative, so do not waste it with superfluous text. There is also no need to fill each slide with more bullet points, just because you can.

Use colour wisely

A presentation is visual, so use colour to your advantage. If you want to highlight pros and cons, make sure you use sensible colours (e.g. green vs red). Note that colour blindness is fairly common and red/green blindness affects 10% of the population. When you pick colours, make sure they are friendly to those who may not see the difference as easily. It may therefore also make sense to add other visual cues (e.g. styling).