Design Effective Presentations

The Planning Process

As you begin putting your presentation together, consider the following first steps:

  • Determine what you’re trying to accomplish
  • Know your audience
  • Choose the appropriate medium
  • Start with a pen and paper


Preliminary outline of the presentation on the paper


Remember the “Tell ‘Em” Rule

This popular rule in writing and speech outlines three steps:

  1. Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em
  2. Tell ‘em
  3. Tell ‘em what you told ‘em

In other words, introduce your presentation by outlining its goals (step 1); deliver the content that achieves these goals (step 2); and then summarize what you’ve delivered (step 3).


Designing Your Presentation: Simplifying Slides

Each slide should cover a single idea

An easy way to avoid cluttering your slides is to make sure each one conveys a single concept or point of emphasis. If you’re explaining three possible solutions to a problem, for instance, don’ t crowd them all onto one slide; at the very least, use three. Only your most compelling and crucial points should be highlighted on your slides.

Think of your slides as a backdrop

Remember, your slides are there to provide visual support and impact to your oral presentation —that’s it. Your audience cannot read a long list of bullet points and listen to what you’re saying at the same time. Instead, give them something interesting and memorable to look at as they listen. This leaves them with visual reminders of your presentation’s main takeaways.

Consider this example from Mary Harrington and Rebecca Carr:

Three sample slides that become increasingly simple and spare from left to right

Harrington, M. & Carr, R. (2010). Twelve tips for creating an effective presentation.


Designing Your Presentation: Graphic Design 

  • Beware of visual clutter.
  • Think about fonts.
  • Consider color and spacing.
  • Choose compelling imagery.

Screenshot of a slide showing the importance of addressing visual clutter, different fonts and spacing, and using compelling images

See some visual design principles in action: