#029: 7 Rules for More Effective Slide Presentations [Podcast]

Whether you are a professional speaker or someone who only makes the occasional presentation, you could be more effective with better slides. In this podcast, I share my seven rules for better presentations.

Presentation With LCD Projector - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Arand, Image #7610474

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Arand

I have sat through hundreds of slide presentations, maybe thousands. Some of them were stunning; most of them mind-numbing. I will also share with you from my experience as a professional speaker, who doesn’t have it all figured out but who is committed to never-ending improvement.

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I originally created slideshows the old-fashioned way—with cardboard-framed, 35mm slides inserted into a slide carousel. In May 1990, Microsoft revolutionized the business world by releasing PowerPoint. It totally changed the way presentations were made.

In 2004, my friend, Joel Smith of Comprehensive Media, first introduced me to Apple’s Keynote program, a competitor to PowerPoint. I was blown away.

But unfortunately, slide presentation software has not improved the quality of speeches. In fact, often it gets in the way.

In this episode I share my seven rules for making your slide presentations more effective.

  1. Make sure you start with a solid presentation.
  2. Don’t give your presentation center stage.
  3. Use big, compelling images.
  4. Stick to one point per slide.
  5. Make your slides readable.
  6. Eliminate clutter.

    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said. “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

  7. Have a backup plan.

Listener Questions

  1. DJ Wade-O asked, “Do you believe there should be a correlation between the length of your presentation and the length of your slide deck?” He also asked, “Do you think you should use the same background and design for every slide deck?”
  2. Dwayne Morris, “Do you agree with Guy Kawasaki that decks should be five slides or less?”
  3. Matt McMoore, “How do you handle main points and sub points?”
  4. Mike Hansen, “What does a bad slide look like?”
  5. Ryan Parker, “What do you use for Skype interviews?”
  6. Scott Kantner, “What kind of pre-flight checklist do you use to address the technical details?”

Special Announcements

  1. I am excited to announce the publication of my new audio course entitled, “Everything You Need to Know to Get Published.” If you have ever thought about writing a book (or even if you have written a book) this course is for you.

    In 21 audio sessions, I cover everything I have learned about publishing in my thirty-plus years in the industry as a publisher, former literary agent, and two-time New York Times bestselling author.

    I am offering a special $100 discount to my blog readers and podcast listeners. If you order now, I’ll also throw in four FREE bonus products worth more than $150.00.

    Click here to find out more.

  2. My next podcast will be on the topic of “How Get the Most Out of the Meetings You Attend.” If you have a question about this topic—and want a chance to get on the show—leave me a voicemail message. This is a terrific way to cross-promote YOUR blog or website, because I will link to it, just like I did with the callers in this episode.

Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: What presentation tips do you have to offer that I haven’t covered? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/RemotePoss Craig Hadden

    Thanks Michael. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your point #2: Don’t give the presentation centre stage. These are very helpful recommendations.

    My own approach is called the FiRST framework, and consists of 5 main points not unlike your list of 7. For an overview (with links to more in-depth articles), please see:

  • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

    Excellent, as always. I think I chuckled with you about this a while ago, worth repeating: it is ironic how all the powerpoint apps have templates that BREAK the rules. 

  • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

    Question: How do you respond to folks who ask for a copy of your slides?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I usually make them available on a custom page for each specific conference. I embed them within SlideShare.net. Here’s an example.

  • http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com/ elisa freschi

    Thanks for the podcast! I really share your point of view as for avoiding clutter, i.e., avoiding whathever does not help conveying the message. And thanks for mentioning the problem with cliché-images.
     I am much less convinced about the importance of images in general. Personally, I am not a visual learner and I am really disturbed by the insistence on images which just have a loose connection with what is being said. Thus, if you want to say why it is important to build a platform, I am not convinced that four slides filled with images will not distract your audience (just like a logo would), which might start asking “What the hell is the link between this word and this image?” You might object that most people are visual learners. I doubt this is the case in my working milieu (Academia) and I would recommend to adjust one’s presentations according to one’s perspective audience.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Elisa, I appreciate your perspective and insight. My wife is a teacher and she would completely agree that each of us have different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinetic…etc. 

      However, I don’t think we can ignore the truth that visual media production and consumption is growing.  

      We only need to consider the explosive growth of Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube to confirm that visual communication is not going away – if anything it’s leeching into virtually ever form of information consumption.

      • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

        Elisa and Tor, 
        To both of your points, it’s important to have meaningful and balanced information delivery types because:

        1) It would be very unusual to have an audience of strictly visual learners, strictly auditory learners, or strictly kinetic learners.   Even if it did happen, it might be very difficult to discover prior to delivery of the presentation.   
        2) While most people have dominant learning pathways, they can also use the others effectively (i.e. a predominantly visual learner can still retain knowledge received kinetically).  

        • Jim Martin

          I agree John.  I like the emphasis you place on having both meaningful and balanced delivery types.  That struck me several years ago, when I realized that I was overdoing one delivery type in order to compensate for having ignored that particular type in the past.  I needed more balance.

      • http://elisafreschi.blogspot.com elisa freschi

        After the n-presentation  with plenty of images I listened to, I would like to add that images should help convey an idea, but an excessive use of them makes one achieve the opposite result, since the audience (at least, this was my case) struggles to understand what the image should
        represent and why it is linked with that serious topic one is listening
        to. While she is struggling, the speaker has lost her.

        Thus, I would suggest to use images only if they are directly relevant. If you are convinced that your audience is made of visual learners who can hardly read and will only remember images, be sure that the image you chose is not just decorative. If you want to discuss the *impact* of Said’s book “Orientalism” on the Academia, you cannot choose the photo of a car accident (as a depiction of a violent “impact”).

  • JasonYana

    Great article Michael, It was quite timely as I am working on a presentation for a client this morning.   I am a visual construction marketing and architectural illustrator and my clients are generally presenting building products to architects.    

    These presentations are generally highly technical in nature with construction details included.  What I do is make 3d photorealistic details that are more evocative, communicative and beautiful.  

    I am going to apply these rules to the presentation and see how they apply to construction presentations.  

    Would it be inappropriate for me to quote your rules, with a link to this article of course, and then include how I applied them in a blog post at http://www.jasonyana.com ?


    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Sure! Thanks.

      • http://www.jasonyana.com/ Jason Yana

        Here are the results of my applying the seven rules into a presentation – I think I did ok.


        Thanks Michael – My client just left and he loves the presentation – I think your podcast helped.

        Regards and let me know if you ever want a free custom 3d rendering to use instead of one of those stock photos.


        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          Very nice, Jason. Beautiful 3D renderings!

          • http://www.jasonyana.com/ Jason Yana


        • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

          Love that, Jason!  Great renderings and application!  I just subscribed to your blog…

          • http://www.jasonyana.com/ Jason Yana

            Thanks John!

  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    Tell a story that connects the audience to the point you’re trying to get across.  Start with the main point and finish with the main point.  What is the ONE thing you are trying to tell your audience?

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      That’s right, Jon!  Working on your objective statement should be where the most effort is placed into your presentation preparation.    Otherwise, your audience will most likely leave trying to figure it out.

      They do a great job teaching this at the SCORRE conference.

    • Jim Martin

      Jon, great succinct suggestions!  Thanks.

  • http://www.MoneyPlanSOS.com/about Steve MoneyPlanSOS Stewart

    I thought I’ve heard all the tips on making presentations more effective, but you surprised me with specific font recommendations. Everyone says stick to one or two fonts, but you shared what publishers actually use. Very valuable!

    Here is something that helps to draw the crowd into what you are sharing: Using “gentle” hand gestures. One thing I do is “offer my hand to the crowd” when making a point or asking a question. Similar to preparing for a handshake, you put your hand outward with palm-side up, as if you were offering them some M&Ms. I’m always surprised at how well this works and how many more people in the audience nod their heads in agreement or maintain eye contact longer.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Hmmm….that’s an interesting tactic and use of gesture, thanks for the tip Steve!

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Great suggestions Michael – this podcast should be mandatory listening for every business school attendee. Working in corporate America, I’m regularly exposed to acute “PowerPoint Poisoning” which is basically the ineffectual use of the medium. 

    Too many executives and middle managers use PowerPoint as a crutch for a lame presentation. 

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Agreed, Tor!  The name of the class should be “Acute PowerPoint Poisoning”.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree, Tor. The test for me is always, “Could my presentation stand on its own without slides? Until the answer is “yes,” I’m not ready to start building slides. Thanks.

  • Thomas Freeman

    I have recently discovered http://www.prezi.com and xtranormal.com  Both of these sites add an element to presentations that I think help move us away from static slides.  I have used these effectively in preaching opportunities as well as classroom settings.  Like anything else, they must be used appropriately and in a manner that reinforces your message rather than distracting from it.  I believe that the “prezi” style is going to be the main presentation style in the near future.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, Prezi is very cool. I just need to take the time to learn it.

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  • http://christopherbattles.net/ Christopher Battles

    Thank you Michael.
    I assist with the media and sound at my church and I learned a good deal from this.
    A lot of good tips and pointers.  I know it is frustrating when the guest speaker has a slideshow and I did not know about it.  

    K, bye

  • http://www.trafficguygary.com/ Gary Thomas

    Here are some phrases to avoid when giving a presentation:
    1. “I’ll be brief…”  As soon as I hear a speaker say this I know I’m in for the long haul.
    2. “I know you can’t read this but…”  If you know they can’t read it, FIX IT! Or delete it.
    3. “As you can obviously see…”  Never assume it is obvious to EVERYONE in the room.

    Anyone have any others?

  • http://www.trafficguygary.com/ Gary Thomas

    I need to find where I heard/read that serif fonts should NOT be used in slide presentations.  If I recall, the human factors studies said that while it is easier to read serif fonts on the written page, san serif fonts are more readable on the projected screen.  Something to do with how the image is pixelated.  For that reason, I’ve always avoided fonts like Times Roman in my slide deck.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      With modern projectors, it is not a problem. You shouldn’t have any pixelation.

  • http://chadmbarrett.com Chad M. Barrett

    Michael – Do you have any suggestions for someone that gives training presentations that include a significant amount of technical detail? I deliver presentations in order to train a group of people. I am concerned about information retention and having participants apply that information after the presentation.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I would probably use a handout in that kind of situation. I’d keep my slides focused on a singular point, but have a leave-behind that increased retention. Thanks.

      • http://chadmbarrett.com Chad M. Barrett

        Thanks. This is what I have been doing. The preparation of the extra document has been some effort, so I thought I’d check and see if there might be another way. 

  • http://jornadadeumlider.com Fernando Almeida

    Thank you for your podcast. I found your tips really helpful for public speaking (in conferences, seminars, workshops, preaching, etc.). I do have a specific question regarding the education industry. As a college professor I usually have a lot of content to deliver and sometimes the bullet-points are helpful to emphasize points that we want to make sure the students get. However you strongly advocate avoiding slides with too much content. I was wondering whether you would advocating the same tips and principles for the education industry, or would have some additional ones for us in this particular setting?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I would probably have a handout with more detail and keep the slides focused on the main points. It’s hard for me to know without seeing the exact content. Thanks.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    I love the emphasis on content being the “main thing.” 

  • BryanSullo

    I went into this podcast thinking, “He’s really dredging the bottom of the barrel for topics. Has he run out of content so soon?” but I was surprised by the level of information you provided. I’ll put these rules to use right away!

    One other “rule” for designing slides (or brochures, or Web sites, etc.): When using images, don’t change the aspect ratio (unless you do it on purpose). I can’t count the number of presentations I’ve seen where the designer simply sized the picture to fit the available space, without worrying about whether they stretched or scrunched the image. It looks so amatureish. 

    Maybe I’m just more visually oriented than others, but don’t people notice, when they do this, that something’s off? I guess not, judging by the number of people who stretch standard TV images to fit their wide screen TV, or who leave the wrong resolution on their monitor, resulting in circles that look like ovals.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree on the aspect ratio. Nothing looks worse—or more amateurish. Thanks.

  • http://ryankparker.com/ Ryan K. Parker

    Thanks for taking my question this week. It was super helpful. Keep rockin’ it!

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  • http://www.EngagingLeader.com/ Jesse Lahey

    Michael, I listened to this episode as I was traveling to Lexington, KY to give a speech today on “3 Secrets to Professional Presence in Times of Stress and Change.” I incorporated several ideas from your podcast into my presentation, and the feedback I received was extremely positive. Thanks for sharing your secrets!

    By the way, I used Keynote for the presentation by hooking up my iPad to the organizer’s projector using an Apple VGA connector. I controlled the presentation from my iPhone using the Keynote Remote app, which used Bluetooth to connect to my iPad. This allowed me to see my slides and speakers note on my iPhone, and I didn’t have to be fixed behind a podium or look at the screen.

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  • Bernd Geropp

    Thanks Michael,
    as always: a great podcast with very useful tips.

    During my time in corporate world I was bored with lots of bad presentations.
    That’s why I’d like to add a tip:
    “Only make a speech or a presentation if you have something important to
    Your message must be of interest for your listeners – not just for yourself.”

    In order to make a good presentation I thnk the answers of the following 3 questions are crucial:
    1. Why are you making your presentation?
    2. Does your presentation have a logical structure and is easy to understand?
    3. Do you dry-run your presentation?
    I just recently put a video together focusing on these questions:


  • http://www.ivanhoesanchez.com Ivanhoe Sánchez

    Mike I just read a new HBR Press book from Nancy Duarte: Persuasive Presentations. It’s amazing! Not as graphic like Slide:ology because it’s not centered on slide presentations but it’s as powerful as Nancy can be. Recommend it 100%.

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  • http://churchthatworks.com/ Jonathan Squirrell

    Thanks Michael. Looking back as a pastor I can remember good and ‘not so good’ presentations. This is really helpful. We want to be adding value to the talk and not detracting from it.

  • John

    Hi Michael, I just wanted to thank you for this podcast. Recently, I was asked to give a presentation and decided to ditch the bullet points and follow the advice you gave herein. It was definitely risky for me, and out of my comfort zone, but the presentation went great and opened the door to new job opportunities–thank you! You really are changing lives with your podcasts!

  • http://www.ConnXN.net Peter M. Beaumont

    Great podcast as usual. You could probably do a series of these on speaking and presentations. Maybe on Platform University! I also have a back up plan. I request that there is a spare projector and i also check what they are using to project. I also take a USB stick with a pdf, my notes and a Keynote as well as a Powerpoint version (converted from Keynote) so that I have the possibility to use animation and transitions if i can’t use my Mac. The pdf is the ultimate fall back!