A few weeks ago, I came across an older blog post describing a suggested redesign of a slide presentation. As someone interested in helping researchers and analysts improve their presentation slides, I felt that some of the redesign decisions were poorly conceived. High-quality slides should be simple, clean, and easy for your audience to follow without distracting from your talk. I’ll offer some critiques of the revision in this post, and tomorrow I’ll offer my own alternative. Let’s start with changes the author made to the title slide. Here are the before and after title slides and captions in the original blog post: Redesign A few points here:

  • At least three of the images on the redesigned slide have a standard stock image feel to them. With so many great image websites (especially ones that are free, such as Unsplash, Compfight, and 500px), why settle for substandard stock images?
  • Is it necessary to spell out “PAMA”? This was a membership luncheon, so presumably everyone knows what PAMA stands for.
  • Adding the company’s logo and tagline might be helpful on the first and last slides, but—as you’ll see—the redesign includes it on every slide. By my rough calculation, the new border takes up 30 percent of the total slide space. That’s a lot of space to use for repeated information that adds little content.
  • Why does the revision remove the presentation subtitle?
  • Why use the serif Rockwell font? Serif style typefaces have small strokes (sometimes called feet) extending from the edges of the letter; for example, in Times New Roman. Sans serif typefaces do not have these stokes; Arial is a basic example. Many presentation writers and coaches (like author Garr Reynolds) suggest using sans serif fonts in presentations because the serifs tend to disappear or get distorted on projectors with low resolution.

Okay, onto the “killer culprits” of the presentation: bullet points. BeforeAfter The text explains the motivation for the revision:

So for Jim’s “Five Traits of Personal Excellence” slide, [the revision] expanded the slide into five individual pages, with a consistent background. Each page had its own key message with a prominent font… Subtle transitions and clean animation added style and panache to the slides.

Let me start by saying I like the idea of what I call the “layering approach.” There’s no need to have all six bullet points on the same slide. Instead, break the single slide into separate slides and walk the audience through the message one point at a time. That way, the audience quickly reads the text and then listens to the speaker. But there’s still room for improvement. Notice that the revision keeps the “5 Traits of Personal Excellence” title on all five slides. Similar to the repetitive use of the logo and tagline, it’s not adding any value to the presentation. And notice that the text size seems pretty small—there’s lots of space (especially if the blue border is removed) to increase the size and make it easier to read. I’m also not sold on the overall slide design: I find the swirly orange background distracting (especially with the serif text) and, to me, the golden compass doesn’t suggest “personal excellence.” A better option might be to use a solid background or a different image—I think a trophy or medal better suggests “excellence”—and stretch the image to account for the entire slide. As a smaller point, I wish the revision had modified the text to give the points parallel treatment:

  1. Follow the Golden Rule
  2. Maintain a Positive Attitude
  3. Work Toward a Goal or Worthy Ideal
  4. Accept and Embrace Change
  5. Empower Others

So what do you think? Do you like the revised slides? Would you make the same changes? Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I might have revised these slides.