Presentation Design: A Step-by-Step Guide

May 3, 2024
presentation design blog cover

Nailing your presentation structure can have a big impact on your target audiences, whether they are investors, coworkers, partners, or potential customers. It helps get your ideas across and persuade others. 

For a presentation to work, its contents must be paired with great design. In fact, 91% of presenters feel more confident with a well-designed slide deck.

Now, design may not be something that interests you or something you’re good at. But like it or not, the moment you fire up Powerpoint, or Keynote you are a designer. And there is no escape. 

So instead of designing a poor presentation with lousy templates, why not learn the essentials of designing a beautiful presentation?

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to design a captivating presentation, and break down the whole process into small chunks so you can tackle each step easily. 

If you’re eager to put these principles into practice, create a Piktochart account and start creating beautiful presentations in minutes.

What makes a presentation well designed?

A bad presentation can give the impression that you lack preparation, care, and credibility. A well-designed presentation, on the other hand, makes you look professional and trustworthy. Here’s what it means: 

Less text and more visuals

Humans are visual beings. Our comprehension of visual elements is way more than just plain text. And we retain any information much better when it’s paired with imagery. 

If you want your message to connect with your audience, remove the extra text in your slides and replace it with visual content.

There are many ways to add photos, one of which is visualizing your data into timelines, flowcharts, graphs, and other frameworks. For example, this presentation by Trinh Tu uses data visualization really well to convey key stats and details.

Example of data visualization used in a presentation.

However, adding visuals doesn’t mean just throwing some fancy pictures and icons onto your slides. Your icons and photos need to be relevant.

Before you add a visual element, always check if it contributes to the message you are trying to communicate. 

Well-placed pictures can go a long way in helping the audience connect with your presentation. So use them cautiously and strategically. 

Summarize points instead of writing them all out

According to a survey by David Paradi, the three things that annoy audiences most about presentations are:  

  • Speakers reading their slides 
  • Slides that include full sentences of text 
  • Text that is too small to read 
Graph of top three things that annoys the audience most about presentations.
Image Source: ThinkOutsideTheSlide

Notice what’s common to all these annoyances? The text. People have extremely short attention spans, especially when it comes to reading heaps of text. 

So the text in your presentation slides should be just enough to complement the speaker, no more. It should not compete with what’s being said. 

For example, this simple presentation does a great job of summarizing the message of each slide in just a few words and breaking up the text nicely into multiple slides. 

Example of simple design which perfectly uses fonts, bullet points, and other elements.

Crowding your slides with all the information you have makes you unnecessary. You don’t want people to be distracted by reading when they’re trying to listen to you. 

Instead, the slides should only be considered as a visual aid. So keep them simple. Focus on the message, not the slides themselves. 

One takeaway per slide

As we discussed, people find it hard to absorb too much information from a single slide. So don’t overwhelm your audience, and remember that less is more. Make sure not to have more than one key point in each presentation slide.  

For example, this presentation about startup weekend has minimalistic slides walking viewers through one message at a time. It also shows that you don’t need a ton of fancy elements to make your presentation visually appealing.

Example of one takeaway per presentation slide.

Limit each of your slides to a simple statement, and you’ll easily be able to direct your audience’s focus to the main topic and subtopics. 

Arranging your text this way is one of the best ways to make a powerful impact on your presentation design.  

Clear hierarchy in design

Visual hierarchy is easily one of the most important yet most overlooked design principles. Simply put, it means the color, size, contrast, alignment, and other factors related to each element of your slide should be based on its importance. 

The most important elements should capture the attention of your audience first, followed by the second most important elements, and so on. 

Needless to say, you must know the whole narrative and outline before you start planning the visual hierarchy. It’s all about the message you want each slide and your whole presentation to get across. 

For example, in this presentation about building a good team, see how the header text, the description text, and the button text are different from each other. The header font is the largest and placed at the top, catching immediate attention. 

Then your eyes go to the button text because it captures attention with a red background. And finally, you see the description, the illustration, and other elements. 

Example of visual hierarchy in a presentation design.

So as you design your presentation, consider the narrative and plan the visual hierarchy needed to justify the story. This will ensure that your audience will not miss out on the key points you want to emphasize. 

Design consistency across slides

People are quick to identify inconsistencies in a presentation design, and these inconsistencies prevent them from having a fully engaging experience. So keep your presentation design consistent with a single theme.

Consistency creates a better flow and shows that each slide in your presentation belongs to the same story. To understand this better, see the below slide from this presentation

Example of consistency in presentation slides.

Notice how the slide primarily uses only two colors (white and red) for all the elements. And the image dimensions, fonts, and styling for each team member are exactly the same. 

You’ll notice the same thing in other slides of this presentation too. The same colors, the same font family, and similar backgrounds have been used in the overall design. This is what we mean by consistency. 

If the presentation you’re making is part of a company, the company may already have a style guide that dictates how to keep your presentation consistent with the company’s branding. If not, it’s never too late to create one

Call to action

A presentation is not complete without a call to action (CTA). If there is no CTA, your audience will think, “Is that it?” and you’ll leave them wondering what they’re supposed to do next with the information you provided.

The best CTAs are simple and easy. For example, you can ask the audience to contact you, connect on social media, sign up for a product or webinar. 

Call to action button in the presentation.

Also, make sure to highlight the incentive. Your audience should be clear on the main benefits they will get by following through with your call to action. 

The bottom line is: Make it a no-brainer and make it easy for people to take action right away. 

Designing a great presentation

Now that you know the ingredients of appealing presentation design, let’s see how to design a presentation that wows your audience, and also drives your key points home at the same time. Follow the below presentation, ideas, steps, and best practices to create a stunning presentation.

Prepare slide backgrounds and images

Backgrounds and pictures go a long way in setting the right mood and feel for your presentation. And there is no one right way to do this. Your options are limited only by your creativity.

For example, this presentation from Zuora makes masterful use of background images. Almost every slide has a beautiful background photo, along with a color overlay above the background to make the text easy to read. 

Example of usage of images as background in presentation slides.

Pay attention to the following best practices as you work on your backgrounds and photos:

  • Make sure your images have enough contrast with your words. 
  • Use simple images that are closely relevant to your messages. You can use multiple free and paid stock photo sites to find photos that resonate with what you want to convey. These include Picography, Unsplash, Freepik, and Gratisography.
  • Don’t pick common, generic stock images that people have already seen hundreds of times elsewhere. Also, avoid clipart for the same reasons. 
  • Don’t crowd too many pictures into a single slide.
  • Ensure that your images are of high quality, with a resolution that allows a comfortable viewing experience. They should come off as clear and crisp on both small and large screens. 

Zero in on your slide layouts

Contrary to what you may believe, great presentation design is not about being very artistic or creating complex layouts. Instead, your focus should be on communicating information in a nice, user-friendly way.

For example, this presentation has many slides that emphasize a great alternative to the conventional approach of putting text over an image. It leverages a split-screen layout for each slide, resulting in clean and elegant quotes paired with stunning visuals. 

Alt-Text: A presentation slide with split-screen for image and text.

Pay attention to the following best practices as you work on slide layouts:

  • Make sure you have a reason for aligning elements in a certain way for each slide. If possible, use frames or grids to align your images and text appropriately. 
  • When used too often, center alignment makes your design look amateurish. Use it only as a last resort.  
  • Don’t keep using the same layout for consecutive slides. It makes your presentation dull and repetitive. Mix up the layouts to keep your audience engaged. 
  • Have enough white space around each element. Don’t feel like you have to fill vacant spaces with more objects. Giving each visual room to breathe makes your whole design easier on the eyes, while a cluttered composition is hard to make sense of. 

Pick your colors wisely

Colors influence emotions and contribute to the identity of your brand. They also lift the audience’s overall sense of enthusiasm and move people to action. So you must use colors strategically to pull the audience into your presentation. 

For example, this colorful presentation for Adidas was designed to show how its deck could give a combination of fun and luxurious vibes. 

Usage of colors to make Adidas presentation engaging

Notice the colors used in the above slide. There is a lot of white, purple, and blue, with some variations used sparingly around the illustrations. Only three main colors are doing most of the heavy lifting. That’s why the overall design still works even with some extra colors thrown in. 

Pay attention to the following best practices as you work on your presentation colors:

  • If your company already has a color palette in place, stick to it. If not, pick a strong color scheme with no more than five colors to serve as a base for your presentation design. Too many colors can make your audience frantic. 
  • Make sure your color scheme has colors that can contrast and complement each other. Colors that don’t clash will make your presentation look clean and polished. 

Select the right fonts

Typography is another factor that can make or break your presentation. Fonts have a subtle but powerful impact on how the audience views both your presentation and your brand. 

But choosing fonts is a major challenge for those without any form of design education or experience. They mistakenly think that simple and basic fonts are too dull and boring. So they try to look for some fancy fonts to make their presentation exciting, eventually ending up with some hideous or outdated font such as Comic Sans.

Instead, you should consider the readability of the message you want to convey. For example, this presentation by With Company makes great use of modern typography

Crisp and clean use of text in a presentation.

Since many of the slides have lengthy quotes, they are split in ways to make the message easy to digest. In addition, see how all the text is super clean and concise. 

Pay attention to the following best practices as you work on your presentation fonts: 

  • Just like with your color scheme, use the same set of fonts and the same font sizes in all the slides of your presentation. For example, if your slide heading is Verdana 40pt, then each slide heading should be Verdana 40pt. In fact, you don’t need more than three fonts that work well together. 
  • If you feel like using some animated text that bounces, soars, or glitters, just don’t. Curb the temptation. Hyperactive words and phrases are annoying and distracting. 
  • If you already have standard font pairs based on your company’s brand identity, use those. If not, choose fonts that convey the voice and tone you’re aiming for. 
  • The best fonts for presentations are simple, professional, modern, and readable. Pick a font such that there is a significant difference between its regular and bold font faces.
  • Don’t shy away from using standard fonts. Avoid using some rare font that’s unlikely to be available on all computers and mobile devices.
  • Pair fonts that work well with each other. Granted, this can be tricky and hard for an untrained eye to pull off. But there are many collections known to be effective. So you can pick from those. Resources like FontPair and FontJoy make it easy to find great font combinations.
  • As discussed before, size the fonts based on visual hierarchy. For example, headlines should be larger than body text. But even the least significant texts should be large enough to read, with appropriate line and letter spacing. 

Wrapping up

We know this may be a lot to take in. It’s not easy to design a mesmerizing presentation. But the final result is worth all the trouble. A great presentation can open doors that you may have never thought to be possible. 

A clean design is much easier to take in. It makes you and your brand look more credible and professional. So use the above steps to push your design skills as far as you can. 

Start improving one thing at a time, and your efforts will add up to a point where you’ll design stunning presentations without thinking. You can also accelerate the process with a tool like Piktochart that comes with hundreds of ready-made templates and intuitive features. So get started today.

About The Author

Hitesh Sahni is a content strategy consultant, editor, and founder of Smemark, an upscale studio helping brands with superior content writing and marketing. Get his 5 essential templates & worksheets to kickstart content creation for free.
Hitesh Sahni