Most PowerPoint slides are bad. Here’s how to fix them.

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By Paul Moss

Mar 5, 2024

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As a PowerPoint instructor in the consulting industry, there’s one critique I hear more than anything else – that consultants are just here to make slides look pretty. And sure, there’s some truth to that.

But, let’s not overlook the real power of presentation design. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about clarity and impact. The way your slides are designed directly influences how well your audience grasps your message – and that’s what we’re all aiming for, right?

So when I review slides, I like to ask myself 5 key questions. These questions aren’t just out of the blue, they’re a specific way to make your slide design better. Let’s check out this slide and use those 5 questions to see how we can make it look better. 

original slide 1

1. What are you trying to say?

It can be easy to get caught up in the actual slides you’re making and forget that you’re trying to communicate a message. The key to effective slide design begins with a clear understanding of the main message you want to convey. A descriptive title plays a crucial role in communicating the message clearly.

Beyond titles, ensuring that subtitles provide meaningful takeaways enhances the overall impact of the slide. However, the ultimate goal is to consider the implications of the information presented—answering the “so what” question—connecting the content to the audience’s interests or concerns.  Aligning the slide content with the broader context of the presentation ensures that each component serves the overall goal of effectively communicating your message.


2. What can you simplify?

The next question to consider is: what items can I simplify? Everything you put on your slide comes at a cost, and that cost is the audience’s attention. So you want to take away things that don’t really contribute to the overall message you’re trying to communicate.

Start with removing unnecessary elements, such as extra text and pictures to make the slide simple, clear and easy to read. You can also minimize the use of gridlines on your charts and reduce the number of colors, since too many colors can end up being a distraction. Remember, your goal is not to impress your audience, it’s to help them understand your message.


3. How can I show this better?

This applies to every element on your slide, but especially to text and charts. Effective presentation design is all about making your slide easy to understand — can you simplify your chart or find a better way to display the information? Complicated charts can hinder understanding, so keeping it straightforward is very important.

Now, let’s take a look at a practical example: Line charts versus Column/Bar Charts. Line charts are great for showing trends over time, but if you’re comparing them a column, or even better, a bar chart, is the way to go. Bar charts have advantages, especially when it comes to readability and optimizing space on your slide.

An important part of slide making is making sure your charts match the message you’re trying to communicate. It’s about making it easy for your audience to understand your message. So, don’t hesitate to swap that line chart for a bar chart when needed—your audience will thank you for the clarity. 


4. What grabs my attention?

Even after you’ve removed the clutter off your slide, it’s important to think about what your audience is gonna focus on. Because the audience has limited attention, so you need to help them understand the key insights of the slide.

The first is to draw attention to the title. It’s a good idea to make them pretty big and bold, so they attract attention. The use of colors is another way to focus their attention on things in your charts you want them to see clearly.  Now it’s gonna be much easier for the audience to focus on what we want them to focus on, which is gonna help them understand the overall message of the slide.


5. What looks intentional?

When you’re formatting, you want to avoid randomness. Everything should have a purpose. Why did you choose this color? Why are these two objects aligned? Why does this font size look like this? If you get sloppy with these kind of things, it can come across as unprofessional and even worse, distracting.

A few things you can do would be to check out the fonts. For example, do they complement or clash with each other? Then on colors, is there a consistent color scheme throughout your slides?

These types of considerations contribute to a polished and intentional look, making your presentation more professional and engaging.


Slide design matters. We first tried to understand what the slide was saying. Then we looked into what we could simplify on the slide. We found ways to show the information better. We helped the audience focus their attention. And we made sure each of the elements on our slide were intentional. The result is a slide that’s not only better looking, but it’s much more effective. 

slideimp scaled

In the end, what you get is a slide that not only looks better but packs a more impactful message. Always keep in mind, the key is to make sure your audience really gets what you’re trying to convey.

 If you’re interested in learning more about how to build your own high-quality consulting-style PowerPoint slides, make sure you check out our advanced courses. 


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