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Design Principles for your Presentations: both literally and figuratively


By Claudia Brogan

One of my speaking heroes recently recommended to me the fine books by Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design. Whether you consider yourself an experienced graphic artist or are early in your development of presentation design, you’ll certainly find unique and borrowable tips that you can relate to and act on. Reynolds has a knack for trimming ideas to their elegant, clarified essence.

I highly recommend that speakers learn Reynolds’ key presentation ideas. One crisp, clear overview with a useful introduction to the principles of Garr Reynolds can be found here.

Garr uses a straightforward, inspiring way to help you take a fresh look at your presentations, whether the verbal elements and organization of your next speech, or the slide-design lessons which will improve the visual parts of your speech.

One key idea that Reynolds champions is removing text whenever possible and ditching bullet lists and complicated diagrams. Instead, he coaches us to take the initiative to dig up powerful images to convey your idea in more vivid ways. Audience members react with a visceral sense: the inspiring sight of an open road conjures up a new beginning, or a photo of two people in earnest conversation illustrates effective eye contact when providing Customer Service. Artistic paintings and inspirations model how your audience members can take a new creative approach to a vexing problem.

Recently, when re-reading Reynolds’ masterful book Presentation Zen Design I noticed that three of his slide-design principles also work masterfully to help us improve our stand-up presentations.

Designing for the Last Row

Not only is this true when selecting font-type, size, and text passages to ensure everyone in the room can clearly see the screen, this is also a smart reminder for us when delivering oral presentations. Begin your remarks by speaking to each of the back corners of your audience. This signals to all that they are included, that you are aiming for them to hear well, and that even your quietest comments will be aimed so that they too can appreciate them.

Avoid Clutter

Simplicity is the key in designing slide presentations. Exclude the nonessential and choose “decorations” or illustrations judiciously so the slides are clean and clear. Interestingly enough, this same principle applies to oral presentations. In writing and practicing your next presentation, ask yourself which descriptions or anecdotes serve only as “decoration.” Just because a story is funny does not mean it belongs in the precious short time allotted for your speech. Use a careful editing eye to see if anything superfluous can be removed to help your next speech flow smoothly and clearly to capture the key points you hope to deliver.

Let the Letters (and Words) Breathe

When the spaces between letters on a slide look uneven, adjust the text to make the words legible. When text is increased in size, the amount of vertical space between lines can increase too much. This space between lines is called “leading;” too much of it or too little of it will make the slides hard to read. Similarly, when delivering your next presentation, be intentional about the use of pauses between words. People who speak quickly often race even quicker when nervous or excited: make notations where you want to deliver a specific pause for emphasis, for dramatic effect, and for the listener to catch up to your next point. Letting the words of your speech “breathe,” with pauses in between, will help clean up your speech and add interest.

Each of us as speakers can continually learn ways to improve our presentations. Liberally borrow ideas from other professionals, try them on for size, and model them in our next speech. We are never done learning. Give these three principles a try—both in your design of slides and in your verbal delivery—and see what great improvements you discover.

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.


Picture by Robert Conley https://www.flickr.com/photos/yelnoc/361303918