This is a question I get from researchers all the time. The answer is never what they expect.
We want our decks to be engaging, energizing, and impactful. And it’s not about just keeping your audience awake and entertained during a presentation, which is what most “how to present without putting your audience to sleep” PowerPoint tutorials are about. Our bar is a lot higher than that.
You want to get buy-in to your ideas. Have your results live on and spark real conversations. Drive strategy and innovation. Get your slides pinned up in workshops and design studios. Socialize your findings and get your recommendations put into practice, and see them come to life in the real world.
That’s not entertainment– but it is magic.
So, “how do I make my slides look better?” isn’t actually the right question.
Because what you have isn’t purely an aesthetics problem; typically, what you have is a communication problem.
That’s a hard pill for researchers to swallow, who differentiate and pride themselves on their insights and analysis. Writing those ideas out onto a page is one thing. Thinking about how to visually structure those ideas so that, as you tell your story, a separate human, with their own competing thoughts, feelings, stresses, other fires to put out, who does not share your brain, can literally see what you are saying is a different thing altogether. And it’s something that isn’t commonly done in research decks of any kind, though it should be–most take for granted that research decks are going to be somewhat bad and a little boring, because, well, doesn’t everyone make decks that are somewhat bad and a little boring? They’re used to it.
So, this communication problem won’t be solved by choosing a cooler-looking template, using a prettier color palette, or downloading some shiny new icons. Those kinds of choices–based solely on what seems aesthetically-pleasing to you– are arbitrary, and often, end up wasting your time as you try to force data points into a design that wasn’t created for that.
Similarly, you can hire a graphic designer who can just take your slides and make them look better, but that still isn’t solving the problem. It’s like putting a new coat of paint on a house with a shaky foundation.
The good news is — we can fix the foundation!
The foundation of a great deck design starts with what you already know, or can easily ask your client for clarification if you’re unsure. For example, with my qual hat on, some questions I always ask include:
Do you know who your audience is, and what their burning questions are?
Do you know what your direct client wants for their business–AND for themselves?
What are their objectives–both spoken and unspoken?
How well do you know your client’s company culture?
What other questions would help you understand the context, the time and place your deck is going to live in?
How do answers to these questions impact your deck directly?
You can give even disparate members of your audience what they need right now in the form of clear takeaways and next steps. Having answers to these questions can help you figure out how to write and design the takeaways so they’re meaningful and easily understood and remembered by the people who need to be informed, inspired, and convinced. It can also help you land your deck on a strong Call-to-Action.
They can help you go above and beyond. Knowing more about what people really want can help you brainstorm cool value-adds you can include in the deliverable that they didn’t explicitly ask for, but that you know would make your clients’ lives easier. i.e., your client will love you.
They can help you work smarter– not harder. Spend less time in PowerPoint, and more doing what you love. And having these things figured out before you begin creating slides will mean that when you open PowerPoint, you’re just executing on what you already know– you won’t have to waste time thinking much as you create. This is a massive time saver, and you can start doing it way ahead of time, even when you’re still in the field, which I always highly encourage.
They help you visually structure your story so you’re immediately connecting with what they already care about most. Understanding your audience, their attitudes, challenges, and culture is key to understanding how to structure your deck to achieve those outcomes, and will help you make good visual design decisions when you start creating slides. This visual organization and structure is the key to making your slides look like products, and less like PowerPoint.
The Final Takeaway
The look and feel of your deck is obviously important, but it’s secondary; taking an audience-first approach to your deck– building your foundation– will help you leverage look and feel as another level of business communication that inspires your clients to act.
Is this similar to your process? Questions? Shoot an email over to firstname.lastname@example.org!