What does the term “modern-looking presentation” mean to you? If you asked a group of people that question, I’m sure you’d get a wide range of answers. But I’m also sure there’d be some common themes that most people would mention.
To me, there are 3 essential tips that make your slides look like they belong in 2017 – rather than back in the 20th century! In fact those 3 tips make your talk not just look modern but also feel that way to your audience.
In outline, those 3 top tips are:
Top tip #1: Go social
I’d say the #1 path to a modern talk is to embrace your audience’s need for social and mobile access. (Let’s face it, if you do that well but your slides don’t look the best, people’ll forgive you!)
You can go social in 3 steps, listed here from easiest to hardest:
- Easy: Don’t ask your audience to put down their mobile phones! Actually, quite the opposite – tell them you’d love it if they continue the conversation with you on Twitter. And let them know they’re welcome to ask you questions that way (for you to answer later), or to share links (or their viewpoint) with you online.
- Medium: On every slide, add your Twitter ID (not your company logo, which is impersonal and old-school), so people can tweet about your talk while you speak.
- Your Twitter ID’s visible whenever you’re showing a slide, so people can tweet about your message (or share a photo of your content) anytime.
- The black background will just look like part of the screen that your slides appear on, rather than part of the slides. So your Twitter ID won’t detract much from your content.
- By highlighting your Twitter ID on just some slides, you subtly suggest to people that those ones are most worth tweeting.
- By using this and many other techniques to vary both your slides and the way you present, you meet people’s need for variety, which helps keep them engaged.
- Hardest: Go all out by using 1 or 2 mobile apps, to thrill your audience. For instance, you can let people answer a poll from their phone through an app such as Poll Everywhere. Or, with a free app like Crowd Mics, audience members can turn their phone into a wireless microphone (via wi-fi) so everyone can hear them ask a question during your Q&A. (Thanks to @KathyReiff for the Crowd Mics tip.)
Rather than being a “sage on the stage”, be a
“guide on the side”
By doing that, you’ll make your talk feel far more modern, and you’ll distance it from people’s memories of school or college, where they were likely lectured at. (These days, rather than being a “sage on the stage”, it’s much better to be a “guide on the side”. That is, rather than being an aloof expert, be part of a conversation among peers.)
On most slides, I suggest you show your Twitter ID (username) with fairly low contrast (say in grey text on a black background). Yet on just a few slides (each of which conveys a key point), show it in high contrast (like in white text on a black background).
That way, you get 4 benefits:
The black back-ground will just look like part of the screen
And here’s a modified version of the slide, using high contrast for the Twitter ID (with white text on a black background) because the slide shows the PACE model, which is part of the intellectual property I’ve developed:
Olivia Mitchell wrote a free 60-page e-book
Back in 2009, renowned presentation blogger Olivia Mitchell wrote a fab and free 60-page e-book called How to present with Twitter (and other backchannels). Even though a lot’s changed in all the years since then, that book’s still an absolute goldmine of links and references, and I highly recommend it!
Top tip #2: Cut content
After you go social, I’d say the 2nd best way you can make your talk seem modern is to show less slide content. After all, if you don’t do that, it might seem to your audience that you’ve never watched a TED talk, or a Steve Jobs video, or even seen how the TV news uses charts and tables.
Spread your content over more slides than most speakers
Note that I didn’t say to limit the number of slides you use. Instead, I’m talking about the total amount of content you present. In fact you’ll likely want to spread your content over more slides than most speakers, so none of your slides overwhelm people.
For instance, suppose a typical presenter uses 30 slides with an average of 50 words each, making a total of 1500 words. To present for the same length of time, you might use 50 slides with an average of 10 words each, giving a total of 500 words. (To see some examples, see the 2 slides above, which each have just 6 words on them.)
Here are my 3 favourite ways you can cut content:
- Have just one idea per slide. For instance, I highly recommend you write no more than about 15 words on a slide. (Given that you’ll probably speak for at least a minute about each slide, and you likely speak at more than 150 words per minute, you’re still giving your audience plenty of words to deal with!)
- Use full-screen photos on many of your slides. That gives you 3 benefits:
- You’ll tend to put less content over photos than you would on a bare slide.
- Making your slide eye-catching means it’s more likely to be shared on social media (which ties in with top tip #1, above).
- Most presenters don’t use full-screen photos, whereas professional designers often do, so you’ll come across as an innovator.
- Turn off your slide sometimes, by making the screen black. That’s such an uncommon technique that you’ll seem radically unlike a traditional presenter!
Write no more than about 15 words on a slide
Top tip #3: Use colour well
The last of my top tips is perhaps the most subjective, so you might find it’s the hardest to judge whether you’ve mastered it. I find it a challenge too, if that’s any consolation! And as author Scott Schwertly puts it, on the Slideshare bog:
“It’s easy to know when color combinations don’t look good,
but it’s tougher to figure out what actually works”
Colour’s vital to make your slides look modern, because it’s strongly linked to trends in design, and to emotions. That’s why poor colour choices can easily make your deck look dated, or plain unprofessional. It’s also fairly likely that people’ll notice if you’ve just used default colours, which makes it seem like you’ve not put much time or thought into your slides.
So to use colours well on your slides, try these 3 suggestions:
- Use a high-contrast text colour to make your content very clear, with either:
- very light text (preferably white) on a dark background
- very dark text (preferably black) on a light background
- Pick one main colour, which you’ll use for most shapes, charts and diagrams on your slides. If your audience is all from one organisation that has brand colours (like in their logo or website) – or if they don’t but you do – use a colour from one of those sources. For instance, this deck by Presentation Studio uses green as the main colour (based on their client’s corporate colours), as in this slide:
- Also pick one contrasting colour, so you can make key parts of your content stand out. For instance, you might colour most bars in a chart the same shade of pale blue, but colour one bar orange (so people focus on it). To see an example, check out this chart by Garr Reynolds (critiqued by Seth Godin) – it’s the 1st chart in that post – where Garr uses grey for most bars and red for just one of them.
As a reminder, my 3 top tips for modern presenting are:
Other posts on modern slide design
This post is part of a series on modern design, written by presentation bloggers. To find the other posts in the series, please see Ellen Finkelstein’s post about it.
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