Presentation Do’s and Don’ts: What You Need to Know

Updated Apr. 19, 2022 Published Nov. 9, 2021 11 Min. Read

Giving a presentation can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re not fond of public speaking. Luckily, there are ways you can improve your talk and give maximum value to your listeners. Your public speaking skills — like speaking clearly and minding your body language — are important. But you also have to complement this with good and effective presentation design.

There are a lot of things that you can do to improve your presentation design and delivery method, from using attention-grabbing images and PowerPoint graphics to enhancing interactivity with the audience. In this article, we list all the important do’s and don’ts when giving a presentation to amplify the value that listeners will get from your pitch.

Presentation Do’s 

1. Plan the Structure

You might have a lot of information you want to share with your audience. The first part of your preparation should be planning your structure.

  • You can’t deliver a huge load of information at once, so create an organized guide for you to follow throughout your talk.
  • Start with providing your listeners with background information about you and the topic.
  • Next, highlight your main message or key point and then supplement it with data-based arguments backed by verified sources.
  • Finally, plan your concluding thoughts or CTA to maximize your presentation’s impact.

With all the points that you need to make, it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose your train of thought. If there’s one thing you can take away from these tips, it’s to never give a presentation unprepared.

2. Use the Rule of Thirds

Have you ever seen a presentation deck so rife with information that it becomes too much? There’s a reason minimalism is good practice when designing your slides. If there are too many things going on on your presentation deck, you run the risk of distracting your listeners and overloading their brains with too much information.

Generally, you should keep it simple by using centered or symmetrical layouts. But sometimes, your content doesn’t allow for a strictly symmetrical layout. Your slide may end up looking unbalanced or unfinished.

Using the rule of thirds is a good principle to counter that. Imagine that your slide is divided into three equal parts vertically and horizontally. Place text, images, or other objects on each section of the grid to make the slide as balanced and aesthetically pleasing as possible. This helps you align the objects in your deck in a way that’s easy on the eyes and gives room for white space.

3. Use Negative Space Generously

Negative space is the “blank” part of a design — no elements whatsoever. But just because they’re blank doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. Negative space, also known as white space, is an important functional element of your design. They help clear up the layout so that the audience’s eyes are drawn only to the most important parts.

Using negative space will greatly improve your audience’s ability to absorb and retain information. It’s a common beginner design mistake to fill up every corner with text and graphics, but don’t give in to the temptation!

4. Think Twice When Choosing Stock Photos

Overcrowded layouts and big blocks of text are off-putting for audiences. If you saw walls of text in a PowerPoint presentation, most likely, you wouldn’t be motivated to read every single line from start to finish. That’s why you need to add attention-grabbing visuals.

When adding visuals to your presentation, stock photos are a good resource. But make sure that you maintain a selective attitude when using them. Instead of settling with the first photo that pops up after a query, conduct a more specific search and find photos that are relevant to your topic.

Images have been shown to increase retention by up to 24%, so adding them to your presentation will keep your listeners engaged. Try to keep the text as minimal as possible and instead incorporate more images or visuals that are captivating, high-resolution, and relevant to your presentation.

5. Choose Your Fonts & Colors Carefully

The fonts and colors you use in your presentation deck can make or break its ability to engage your audience and provide important information. In line with keeping your slides simple, choose fonts that are readable and use only colors that are easy on the eye.

Make sure your color choices are on-brand — or at the very least, relevant to your topic. Pastel colors and monochromatic palettes are a trendy choice these days. So are neon elements on dark backgrounds. But as long as they provide enough clarity and contrast, it’s totally your choice!

When it comes to fonts, go for the simplest choices. But your font doesn’t have to be boring! A great way to tell if a font is appropriate for a presentation is to do a size test. If a font is easy to read at a very small size, then it’s workable. (But that’s just a test — in your actual presentation, remember to keep your font sizes big and friendly!)

6. Let Your Passion Shine Through with Storytelling and a Conversational Tone

Even if you’re speaking about a formal or technical topic, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be casual in your presentation. People appreciate listening to someone who’s human and who they can relate to, making story-telling a valuable skill in public speaking. Stories also help people retain information better!

Engage your audience by telling a story that’s related to your main point. You can start your presentation with a backstory or capture attention halfway through. And while you’re story-telling and providing value to your audience, make sure that you’re showing them how interested and passionate you are about the topic at hand.

7. Use Audience Engagement Strategies

As much as possible, you want to keep your audience engaged from start to finish. Aside from adopting the best practices in speech delivery and presentation design, you may also want to make your talk more interactive. Here are a few ways you can do this:

  • Involve your audience in the conversation. Ask them questions every couple of minutes or tell a short story or two to keep their eyes and ears on you.
  • Make eye contact with your audience and pay attention to your own nonverbal cues like gestures, posture, and facial expression.
  • Rehearse and time your speech. It’s easy to lose track of time during a presentation, so make sure you know how much of your audience’s time you’re taking by conducting a timed rehearsal. As a bonus, this will also help you gain clarity about the flow of your talk or even help you anticipate questions and reactions.

Information is not hard to come by, especially in the digital age. Your audience can easily get access to and learn about the topics you’re going to talk about from other resources. So what makes your presentation special? In the end, there’s still nothing that can compare to hearing it from a professional who can deliver this information in a more intimate and engaging manner.

8. End Your Presentation With a Key Question or Call to Action

You can’t always guarantee that your audience will remember everything you discussed in your presentation. So it’s important that you identify your main point — the one thing that you want to leave your audience with.

So before presenting, make sure you’ve identified “the one idea to rule them all.” Summarize what you discussed in a single statement, which can be in the form of an insight, question, or action. Doing this will get your audience thinking and allow them to appreciate what your presentation was really about.

Presentation Don’ts

1. Don’t Use Too Much Text

You’re not writing a book — your slides are meant to be observed for several seconds with minimal effort from the viewer. You have a limited hold on your audience’s attention. Don’t risk being boring via information overload and keep text at a minimum.

For more complex information, use short sentences divided into three to five bullet points per slide. You can also use data visualizers like charts and graphs, but remember to simplify these as well by only using a few variables at a time.

And if you really want to provide lengthy content, consider providing your audience with presentation aids like printed handouts or links to digital documents that they can study at their leisure after your presentation.

2. Don’t Just Read the Slides Out Loud

If your slides contain absolutely everything you want your audience to know, then what are you there for? Trust us — you don’t want your audience sitting there thinking, “This could have been an email.” Make the most of their time by making your presence valuable.

Giving a presentation is more than just about relaying information. It’s also about engaging with your audience by provoking wonder, emotion, interest, and action. Your presence is needed to lend credibility and authenticity to the information you’ll provide. So refrain from reading your slides out loud! You’re a human talking to humans. Make your front-and-center moment matter.

3. Don’t Talk Too Fast or Too Slow

If you’ve ever attended a talk where the speaker spoke too fast, you were probably tense the whole time only to end up without a single takeaway from the presentation. Or if the speaker spoke too slowly, you might have found yourself dozing off halfway through.

Speak at a moderate, conversational speed to help your audience understand you clearly. Don’t forget to modulate your pitch and volume. It’s okay to get excited — but don’t let emotion get in the way of your delivery. Even when you’re at your most passionate, avoid bellowing, screeching, or whispering.

Basically, clear speech is a matter of avoiding all extremes. You can do it with practice, practice, practice!

4. Don’t Overuse Charts and Graphs

Charts and graphs are valuable visual cues that help you express important numbers or statistics — but there is such a thing as overusing them. Sure, your audience will be able to absorb information from one to two charts, but if you use them more than ten times in your entire presentation, for example, the chances of your audience being able to understand and retain that information are slim.

Again, if you really think your audience should have a truckload of information at hand, then email or print out the relevant documents for them. If you manage to capture their genuine interest during your simplified presentation, they are more likely to seek out additional information later on.

5. Don’t Use Hard-to-Read Fonts

Your audience will rely on your presentation to guide them through understanding the topic you’re discussing. Make sure that your points are readable and clearly state the key points. You don’t have to use the most aesthetic font available. Stick to basic and easy-to-read options.

Broken fonts can really ruin a presentation, so here’s a little secret. For maximum portability, use easily accessible web fonts like Google Fonts. This way, you’ll be able to have access to them no matter what device you use to present — all you need is an internet connection.

6. Don’t Use a Low-Contrast Color Palette

Contrast is one of the main principles of design. It can be expressed in different ways — through size, shape, texture, and most commonly, color. Contrast helps establish hierarchy, effectively informing viewers what they are looking at.

With low contrast, it’s difficult to tell the difference between two colors that are side by side. The highest contrast possible is black and white, which is why many presentations simply use black text on white backgrounds (or vice versa).

But plain black and white presentations can get really old, really fast. Using a more diverse color palette will add interest to your presentations. Just make sure to amp up the contrast by using dark colors on light colors and light colors on dark colors.

7. Don’t Use Too Many Effects

One of the exciting features of presentation software is your ability to add transition effects to your slides. While these were fun in high school, they’re not necessarily at home in formal pitch decks and corporate presentations.

Using too many effects can distract your audience and deter them from absorbing the more important points of your presentation. Keep the dazzling effects to a minimum and make your slides as simple as possible.

8. Don’t Use Irrelevant and Low-Resolution Images

Stock or custom images are a very good way to keep your audience engaged, but you have to make sure to use good-quality images that are actually relevant to the topic at hand.

Using blurry, pixelated, or low-quality photos will set you up for a negative impression. And irrelevant images make it pretty obvious that you didn’t spend enough time on your deck. Weird or off-topic image choices can really impact your credibility. Fortunately, there are loads of creative resources available online today, many of them free or affordable.

Ready to Put Your Presenter Hat On?

These tips will definitely help you position yourself as an expert in your subject matter. You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create truly engaging presentations that are easy on the eye.

But we know that the fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias — this means that for most people, having to design and present slideshows can feel like a little too much work! So if you need a boost, we’re here to help. With Design Pickle’s Presentation Design services, you can win over your audience with engaging, well-designed, and on-brand presentation designs that stand out from the competition. No sweat!

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