How to Create a Slide Deck
that Doesn't Ruin Your Presentation

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A few years back, I attended a TEDx event that was singlehandedly ruined by poor slides. The below picture sums it up rather nicely I think.

Alex Merry, public speaking coach, presentation skills, thought leadership, communication training, leadership development, TED talks, keynote speech

I felt so sorry for the speakers that day. Not least because some of their talks were rather good. They'd put months of preparation in for the big day, but their slides tripped them up just before the finish line.

This, in part, was the organiser's fault. At the very least, the speakers should have been told where they can and cannot stand - especially if a front-facing projector is being used like in the picture above (always worth asking the event organisers if they are using a front or rear-facing projector).

In this particular instance, the speaker's choice of slide design didn't help either. So I thought I'd put a blog together to ensure that this 👆 doesn't happen to you.

The tips I'm about to share don't just apply to conference presentations either. I'm in the middle of writing a book on how to present to senior leadership at the moment. In preparation for it, I sent out a survey to some of the most intimidating, c-suite execs I know (no offence if you're reading this!) and asked them what the most frustrating presentation habits of their teams are.

Poor slides - more specifically 'information-dense' slides was one of the top 3 most common answers.

So the rules I'm about to share are important in any presentation context, from the big stage to the board room (so do share appropriately).

But before you crack open Keynote or Powerpoint, ask yourself this question:

What can slides say that I can't?

If the answer is nothing, don't bother (you're welcome) If the answer is something, then read on my friends!

Rule 1: Don't start with your slides 🏁

If you can't get your message across without your slides, it means there is a problem with your message. A slide's purpose is to enhance the audience's experience, not create the experience.

Instead, build your slides after you've created your content.

Rule 2: Slides with white backgrounds SUCK 😱

They're ugly and make your presentation look very Windows '98. Not only that, white backgrounds are incredibly bright - if you're presenting on a big screen, it will strain your audience's eyes! A white background's sole purpose should be to highlight how poorly adjusted the projector/screen set-up is.

Instead... always use a dark colour for your slide background and choose a text colour that effectively contrasts with that. My personal preference is black 🖤 - much easier on the eye and provides the perfect filter for a technique called 'Opacity.' Something which allows you to fade an image/words into the background to ensure what you want the audience to see pops out.

Alex Merry, public speaking coach, presentation skills, thought leadership, communication training, leadership development, TED talks, keynote speech

Rule 3: Lists SUCK too... 🥱

Unless you build them like this 👇.

Notice how your eyes shift their gaze with each point I make? Such a simple way to prevent information overload. Not only that, you can use this technique instead of spending hours creating animations that do nothing to enhance your presentation.

Rule 4: There's power in a picture 🖼

Collages. Great to stare at when you're sitting on the loo, but a terrible addition to any slide deck.

More than one picture per slide = information overload. Don't get me started on infographics.

Instead... keep them easy on the eye, ensure they are high res (I use unsplash.com) and take up the whole slide. They will help you to simplify the complex (they can make great metaphors) and increase your stage presence.

Alex Merry, public speaking coach, presentation skills, thought leadership, communication training, leadership development, TED talks, keynote speech

n.b. If you're delivering a TEDx talk, you will be asked to provide photo credit.

Rule 5: Tables - useful during an earthquake, not in a slide deck

3 earthquakes in the last 24 hours (I'm currently in Split, Croatia)! Anyway, back to tables...

Tables require attention. Any kind of data needs to be made into something easy to understand like a simple chart or a graph. When your audience is deciphering what a slide means, they are not listening to you. If you find yourself having to present data-heavy visualisations, first, make sure it's not a table - don't be lazy, second, here is a trick to ensure your audience doesn't get distracted by information overload...

You can get access to the full deck (complete with ready to use slide templates here).

Rule 6: Data presented well is a joy 🥳

Aspire for your graphs to look as clear as this one. The deck above will show you how to use slides to turn this into a complete data story.

Alex Merry, public speaking coach, presentation skills, thought leadership, communication training, leadership development, TED talks, keynote speech

Image credit: TED

Rule 7: Animations are like rocking chairs 🪑

They give you something to do but they don't get you (or your presentations) anywhere.

Rule 8: The 3-second rule ⌛️

If your slide isn't digestible in under 3 seconds, it needs to be simplified.

Rule 9: Never start a presentation with a video

I call this opener the cop-out. It shows a lack of confidence and is a missed opportunity to connect with your audience authentically.

Instead, check out last week's newsletter.

Rule 10: Give each slide a trigger word 🔫


'Next slide please.' Boris Johnson

To this day, I don't understand why Boris wasn't just given the clicker. Actually, on second thoughts, perhaps it was for the best!

I digress.

The timing of your slides is critical to the success of your talk. Clicking the slide before you know what you're going to say is an amateur move.

Each slide should be 'revealed' at the exact moment it was intended meant for. Giving each slide a trigger word will ensure that your visuals enhance your presentation rather than dictate it.

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