Mastering the Craft: Presentation Design Strategies From a Pro

May 3, 2024
mastering the craft presentation design strategies from a pro

We recently had a fun chat with the super-talented Courtney Allen from 16X9. If you’ve ever felt nervous about crafting the perfect presentation, you’re going to love this! 16X9 is a pro presentation design agency, having sprinkled their magic on over 10,000 presentations since 2012.

photo of courney allen ceo of 16 by 9
Courtney Allen, CEO of 16×9

Courtney’s story is far from dull. Her college days were filled with classmates knocking on her door for PowerPoint presentations. Why? Because she was the whiz-kid Graphic Design major.

Courtney’s first big gig? A whopping 108 slide deck for JC Penney. She’s also flexed her design muscles at Cisco, and later took a leap of faith, entering the freelance world on Upwork in 2015.

Her company’s name, 16X9, is a cool nod to the widescreen format widely used to create presentations today. Quite clever, isn’t it?

Courtney’s expertise has brought life to presentations across the board – from ambitious startups raising funds, to SMEs for product presentation, large enterprises for their keynote and internal presentations, and creative agencies. Through it all, she’s bagged invaluable insights about creating presentations that truly resonate.

We’re thrilled to share more about Courtney’s journey and her wisdom on crafting compelling presentations. Ready to dive in?

You can also create a free account and give the tips a try.

Table of Contents

Presentation Design Tips Unlocked with Courtney Allen

We’ve got a treat for you! Courtney reveals her key principles in presentation design, and it’s much simpler than you think. You can easily apply these to your own presentation!

Embrace Strategic Thinking

The first thing Courtney does? She takes a strategic glance at everything the client sends over, whether speaker notes, a draft presentation or an outline. Then she tries to think about the presenter and how she could help them “own” the presentation.

A good rule is that she studies the key points of every slide, amplifying certain phrases with a clever color palette to create contrast, “What’s the main idea the presenter is trying to get across here?” It’s all about guiding the audience members’ or the reader’s attention smoothly through the presentation.

example of using color contrast and images to visualize your idea
Example Introduction Slide from Science Report Template

Master the Art of Structuring Content

She’s not usually starting from scratch. Clients often provide rough slides or a Word outline. Courtney admits she’s a bit of a rule-bender, often skipping the conventional grid system. For her, it’s all about flowing information organically, not being boxed in by rigid layouts.

Courtney distills complex info or abstract ideas into clear, easy-to-grasp visuals. Whether it’s a problem slide broken into columns or a text-heavy slide, she knows the right slide design to make information shine.

For example, a business plan pitch deck would always have a problem statement. Would this be best broken down into 3 columns with corresponding icons and a short heading and body text? Experience of a professional designer would dictate how to make an impactful presentation.

example of problem statement slide deck from business plan pitch deck
Example Problem Statement Slide from Investment Pitch Deck with HighSpark

Get Smart with Visual Elements

A GettyImages subscription is Courtney’s best friend for stock photos, along with client repositories. Her team also uses Midjourney and Stable Diffusion to whip up custom graphics. They can lend a focal point to the presentation itself.

Her favorite trick? Videos and motion graphics for that create emphasis on that cover image. This makes for a memorable presentation!

example or creating color contrast for your cover image
Example Cover Slide of a Project Proposal Presentation

Demystify Data Presentation

Courtney tries to “read the room” when it comes to data visualization. She understands that early-stage startups might lack solid traction numbers in their pitch decks. Courtney aims to break down numbers visually, sometimes even with animation, stepping out of the traditional “chart” box.

value slide design with data visualization great to present your number in style
Example Value slide from Executive Summary Report Template

With more formal presentations, her goal is to keep charts crystal clear.

Walk the Tightrope between Creativity and Professionalism

The team usually has a chat with clients to gauge their creative comfort level. If working with a startup, they provide a few sample slides to offer some options. Animations and transitions are also suggested based on the client’s comfort level.

From simple animations to complex simulations like AI chatboxes using PowerPoint’s Shapes feature, Courtney has done it all.

Offer Expertise in Presentation Design

Courtney isn’t shy about suggesting reducing the deck’s content or relocations to speaker notes to avoid audience overwhelm. Her clients may be experts in their field, but they lean on her to present their information in the most visually appealing way.

example of using images to keep your audience focus
Example Value Slide From Strategic Planning

She is quick to admit that she doesn’t have hard and fast rules around the length of a good presentation deck or how many words within one slide, or “too much text.” It all depends on the target audience as well as the industry/client.

infographic about design tips and ideas you can apply for your next presentation
Presentation Design Strategies Tips Unlocked with Courtney Allen

The Bumpy Road of Presentation Design

Courtney Allen walks us through some common hiccups presentation designers face in their journey.

Navigating the Maze of Branding

Courtney once worked on an IPO Investor Day Presentation for a big client with many brands under its umbrella. Each brand had a distinct identity and style they wanted to keep intact.

Throw in the CEO’s love for black and white and you’ve got a challenge! Courtney had to create a captivating 200-slide presentation with no external images, no icons, no animations, and almost no color. Her struggle was how does she keep the audience engaged through a long, formal presentation with all the above requirements. A tall order, but she pulled it off!

When Everyone Wants A Piece of the Pie

Having too many chefs in the kitchen is a challenge Courtney often faces. Many stakeholders tend to make last-minute content changes, making it tough to keep up.

Consider a 30 slide deck, now on its 52nd version – that’s a testament to how quickly changes can add up!

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Here’s a look at the evolving trends in presentation design, as experienced by Courtney.

A Shift Towards Collaboration

Since the pandemic, Courtney has seen a shift towards more collaborative tools. She’s received more requests for Google Slides, given its user-friendly sharing capabilities compared to a PowerPoint presentation.

She’s also noticed a surge in platforms like Canva,, and, thanks to their WYSIWYG interfaces. However, these may not always export conveniently to PowerPoint.

AI – The New Kid on The Block

As a presentation designer, you don’t want to be left behind when the AI wave hits. Knowing how to use tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney is essential to enhance your design process and workflow. She’s also careful not to use AI for the sake of using AI. These auto-generated images are helpful to capture the audience’s attention when it’s relevant for the business and context of the presentation.

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Taking Your Presentation Design Game Up a Notch

We’ve unlocked the secrets of presentation design with the brilliant Courtney Allen, but the adventure doesn’t end here.

Don’t worry about being a design rookie or a seasoned pro, Piktochart is here to help. With our intuitive platform, you can create your best presentation today. Get started for free.