A Simple Rule to Designing Better Slides

Bad slides are boring, confusing, and lead to an audience who is not getting the most out of your talk. Great slides, on the other hand, amplify a your message and sync with what you are saying during your talk. Presentation guru Garr Reynolds states, "slides are the visual soundtrack to your talk". Although slides are important, many presenters feel that creating great slides requires superior artistic ability or an advanced degree in design...but, that is not the case. I've analyzed and studied hundred of great slides over the years, I've found a common theme; great presentations have consistent colors, simple text, and clean images and videos. This can all be summed up in a rule that I created called the 3-2-1 rule and using this rule will quickly allow you to take your presentation design to the next level.

I've been teaching the 3-2-1 rule at the KeyNotable Workshop for many years and the feedback I've received has been great. People love the 3-2-1 rule because whether you're an artist or someone who can't draw a straight line, the 3-2-1 rule simply works. Okay, so what is this 3-2-1 rule? Your presentation should only have 3 main colors, 2 types of fonts, and only 1 image/video per slide. Let's go ahead and break down the 3-2-1 rule.

The 3-2-1 rule is simple and "brands" your presentation

3-Colors on the Slide

Your presentation should be "branded" and every slide in your presentation should look similar. Branding? Yes, branding. Just like Coca-Cola uses red and white, or Pepsi uses red, white and blue your slides need to have a brand, so they look like they come from the same presentation; this creates the sense that the presentation has a common theme. Now while your slides should be colorful, many people put too many colors (and often random colors) in their presentation. This leads to presentations that seems disjointed and confusing, whether the audience consciously realizes it or not. Just like Coke and Pepsi brand their products, brand your presentation so it has the same look and feel all throughout.

So here's where the "3" comes in....when branding your presentation you should use no more than three main colors. One color should be dedicated to the slide background, one should be for the text color, and one should be the an accent color (a common color that appears on all slides and ties the entire presentation together). Choosing these colors shouldn't be random and ideally they should have some relation to each other. We'll talk about this "relationship of colors" in another post, but for now consider using a triadic color wheel (like the one here) to choose your colors. Once you have your 3 colors, you're ready to move on to selecting your fonts.

2-Fonts per presentation

I really love fonts. Fonts are fun, fonts can be unique, fonts can add to the style of your presentation. But, too many presenters put multiple fonts on in their presentation (even on a single slide) and it can make a slide look very cluttered and disorganized. Instead, pick one font that will be bold, clean and easy to read and another font for stylistic touches to your presentation. These same fonts should carry out through the entire presentation. You don't need both fonts on the screen at the same time, but when you need multiple fonts, stick to these two. I have a lot more to say about fonts...so much, it will be a post onto itself.

1-image or video per slide

One of the principals we teach at the Keynotable Workshop is to "keep it clean" (...your slides, that is). Too many images on a slide distracts the audience and causes confusion. Each slide should covey only one idea and to that end using one high-resolution image or video per slide will help you achieve that goal. One image/video will ensure that you don't overwhelm your audience with extraneous images and information.

Summary: There3-2-1 rule is will help keep your slides consistent, clean, and meaningful. This "rule", however, is simply a guideline to start designing presentations and once you are comfortable with slide design feel free to bend the rules as you see fit.

Do you have other techniques for slide design? Share them below and we'll be sure to repost them.

...and do you want to learn more about presenting more effectively? Then come to the Keynotable workshop in Montreal on May 22, 2019. We'll be talking about these techniques and more. Check out the website for more information.


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