Yesterday, I critiqued a revision of an existing slide deck where I claimed that some of the design choices and text elements could be significantly improved. As someone who spends time thinking, writing, and teaching how to give great presentations, I found the use of serif fonts, stock images, and wide borders distracting and an ineffective use of the slide space.

So how would I revise this presentation? I developed two options. Both start with the same cover slide and use an image from the company’s website. I include the presentation title, presenter’s name, and company logo. As in the original redesign, I spelled out “PAMA” (“Professional Aviation Maintenance Association”), though presumably everyone in attendance knows what the acronym stands for, so I’m not sure it’s necessary. I used the open-source, sans serif font Lato, which offers a variety of options, including bold, medium, light, etc.

In the first version, I wrote “5 Traits of Excellence” on a full-slide picture of gold trophies (I think the trophies do a better job representing “excellence” than the compass that was used in the original redesign). For each of the next five slides, I used a large number in the background with the point of the slide in text. It’s a simple, clean approach, and it’s easy for an audience to follow as the speaker discusses each point.

In the second, I started with the same slide, but for each of the next five slides, I used a (free) image to help reinforce each point. Each of the images I used here is freely licensed under Creative Commons—all I need to do is attribute the source. I maximized the size of the images to cover the entire slide and increased the size of the text. No generic stock photos for me—these come from the photo sites Compfight and 500px.

When choosing visuals, I don’t run to the computer and start searching for an image associated with, say, “Empower Others.” Instead, I think about what image each bit of text brings to mind, and then look for that specific image. Random searches aren’t nearly as useful.

So that’s where I ended up. What are my takeaways?

  • Don’t include your name or logo on every slide—your audience won’t forget who you are or where you work by the third slide. Keep that information at the beginning and end of your presentation.
  • Avoid serif fonts and instead try to use san serif fonts; they are easier to read in a presentation. Mixing and matching fonts or font types may add some nice variety to your presentation, but be careful, too many font types will make your presentation look cluttered.
  • Avoid unnecessary textured backgrounds, especially if they resemble some basic, canned template.
  • Avoid images that look like stock images. First think about the kind of visual you’d like to use, and then go find it. It’s easy to find high-quality, free images.
  • Don’t be afraid to use the entire slide space. Slides don’t have a ton of space, so maximize it for content, not for logos or decorative elements.

What do you think? Which version do you prefer?