Thanks for coming to my talk at Write/Speak/Code conference!
Here's resources, slides, and highlights from my talk. The recording will be up shortly.
Tricks Revealed To Making Better Decks & Submitting Them
Ever wish you could make a deck appear like a magician? After writing your talk, the next step is making a presentation slide deck, which may feel like the most difficult trick to pull off. If you’ve felt stuck staring at a blank screen not knowing where to start, you’re not the only one. This talk will reveal resources and tips to help you get unstuck (hopefully!) and prepare you with the knowledge to improve your efficiency in crafting decks when you need them. Learn simple guidelines, design principles, and tools to elevate the user experience for all your audience viewers offline and online and help build confidence in preparing them for send off from a conference A/V guru's perspective.
Making slide decks for your talk sounds scary and overwhelming. It can involve knowing a slide maker software, designing, editing, copywriting, and more. There's also a lot of fears around making decks:
"I don't know how to start."
"I don't know what if it looks good."
"I don't know how to submits or format."
"It's so much work."
All of these are real and I hope these resources and tips below can help you feel less stressed and help with a small makeover!
Why did I want to talk about this?
After 5 years of organizing and running decks for 100+ events/500+ decks, I wanted to share what I knew about behind the scenes and my thoughts on deck designing in general as someone who had to design pitch decks for early founders. You may have seen me at Lesbians Who Tech conferences (SF/NYC) or at 500 Startups events (Demo days, Diversity & Inclusion Summits)!
What are slide decks/Powerpoint slides?
They are a visual story like comics or films. They can help the content or a script and that’s been turned into a visual story for us to understand in a visual medium for visual learners and for the audience to takeaway quick points.
I like to think of slides as a movie movie: The audio is the speaker, while slides are moving pictures and subtitles are closed caption. Similar to closed captioning, slides can help viewers give clarity, help them focus, or listen better.
Why have slides?
As a viewer, I struggle with being in meetings without visual elements as a visual learner and on digital devices with small fonts & low contrast. My mother and I are those folks who use "LARGE" text sizes on digital screens.
We aren't the only ones, as there are over 5 billion people who are visual learners and over 314 million people in the world with visual impairment with visual acuity, color blindness, low vision, and more. In general, slides can help folks with different learning styles like visual learners or folks with accessibility needs.
How to Start
Below are the steps I'll be covering in this post. I do these simple steps in my own design process.
Research & ask about the A/V setup of the event or where you’ll be speaking. It can help inform how you format or design your slides.
- Venue? How far back will your audiences be compared to you? How’s the lighting? Lighting affects how you read on digital screens like a bright or dark movie theater would. If it's a dark theater, I may ask A/V to lower the brightness on the projector, add a transparent light grey/white overlay on top of slides with a white background. Or try to have a continuous dark background so it's easier to read type. Some folks have brightness sensitivity.
- Projector? Is it a project or a tv monitor, how big are they? The type of screen and size affects audience readability. If screens are really small, that means the content will be small too. If screens are small, I would use minimal type and more imagery or break up slides with lots of content.
- Format? Full screen or widescreen? What type format will the event accept? It'll help ensure you submit the right format. Widescreen 16:9 is the most common format for tv monitors/projectors. It'll also allow more content per line to fit without feeling squished squished compared to 4:3 fullscreen format.
Research the type of talk you'll be doing to get an idea how slides are structured and to jump start the creative flow.
- If your talk has more storytelling: Watch Ted Talks
- If your talk is a mix of story, tips, technical: Watch Grace Hopper/Lesbians Who Tech/Write Speak Code Conferences
- If your talk has more selling/pitching: Watch founder pitches on 500 Startups youtube channel.
How to get started on making slides? I love to get started with exercises visual storytellers will use, a storyboard and a moodboard.
- Storyboard: A great way to visualize your slides with paper and pencil instead of getting stuck on the design elements. (download here)
- Moodboard: Using pinterest or taking screenshots and keeping it in a folder. You only want to focus on the layouts, fonts, colors here. You can copy and get inspiration from here! Recommended sites to look: Dribbble/Behance/Slideshare or from talks you love from conferences like Ted Talks.
Designing is the tough part now! There's several ways folks make slides. Either hacking their own, using a template, a mix of both, hiring a team or individual, or no slides at all. I recommend for 1st timers to do a template or for people not too familiar with slide builder tools.
- Presentation Templates Marketplace: Envato, CreativeMarket, SlideForest
- Presentation Makers: Powerpoint, Google Slides, Keynote, Canva, Adobe Spark, Prezi, Deckset, Beautiful.ai
- Hire a designer: Dribbble, Behance
Ensure the colors you use meet WCAG Accessibility standards of a ratio of 3:1 minimum. I tell people to go for the ideal of 4.5:1 ratio because you don't know if someone will you viewing your slides on a mobile device vs a projector.
- Color Contrast Tools: WCAG Google Chrome Plugin or a quick hack is turn down to 25% brightness on your computer. If you can't read from a far, it means your contrast ratio may be too low!
- Color blindness simulations: Color Oracle , Color Blindly (avoid certain color combo like red/green together).
Images are a fantastic way to give feeling or literal visuals for your talk. I like to go abstract with icons and less presentation of people in my slides. Below are some great resources to start! They are free to use as long as there's attribution.
- Photo/Video Stocks: Unsplash, WOCinTech, Gender Spectrum Stock, Flickr CC, Wikipedia CC, Pexels, Pixel Bay
- Icons: Flaticon, Pixel Bay, Noun Project
- Drawings: incorporate your own doodles or hiring someone to draw!
Bigger font sizes, the better!
- Font size for main copy: 24 points
- Font size for headers: 36 to 44 points
- Line spacing ideal: 1.4/1.5 is better for readability.
- Short headlines, 1-2 short sentences for copy is a good guidelines.
- Use short, concise short for better clarity and for different cognitive abilities.
After you finish your slides, the next step is definitely running through slides & timing, but also editing! A tip from Chris Anderson, author of ted talks is to go through a lot of the copy and slides & DELETE DELETE DELETE. For my talk, I had a lot more bullet points and lists. I chose to delete all of it but 1 to illustrate how I like to do my lists. Editing & refining is an ongoing process. You may find while testing it doesn't flow right.
Here's a general checklist:
- Font size big enough & high enough contrast?
- Added Alt text to images?
- Use max of 2 font types, 2-3 colors on 1 slides?
- Have I tried to turn as much content into visuals?
- Provide credit of use of images somewhere?
- Format correctly?
- Make file available offline in case there's no wifi?
- Checked out the venue?
General A/V Tips
Ask AV for help but also help AV folks back by meeting deadlines, sending videos & custom fonts. Theres a lot of work when prepping decks!
It was really helpful when speakers told me WHEN they would give me an updated version, if there was anything special to be on the look out for, needed to test their slides, or to help check their slide conversions.
Please double check conversions (Ex: Google slides to pptx). It's better to export as a PDF or images and then throw it into a powerpoint if all else fails because conversions don't do well with importing fonts.
- Practice with your phone as a clicker
- Test slides at home and at venue
- Bring a USB with backup files
- Do I have audio/videos? Tell AV folks if you do
- Confidence monitor?
- Do they have my most updated slides/whens the deadline?
- Do I have custom fonts? Send AV folks custom fonts (keynote)
- Sans Serif is most readable. Less cursive will help folks with dyslexia to read text easier.
- Use Title case or sentence case. ALL CAPS is more difficult to process.
- Enhance emphasis with visual elements like bold font weight, icons, labels.
What if there's no info on the venue or AV setup?
Go with the worst case scenario! Have a dark background with light text color. Big font sizes, minimal text.
What if there's no AV testing time?
Depending on when your talk is... you can sneak in early, during lunch, or a break, to chat to the AV person to ask to run through your slides. They are there to make sure it's the most updated and your talk goes smooth!
Where do I even start, everything is overwhelming?
Let's start slow with making 1 screen layout. Start with a title screen and then 1 content screen. Put 1 image or 1 word and move onto the next or copy a slide you've seen in your inspiration board or favorite talk.
I always tell early designers to copy and play with existing patterns to understand how it's made and applying the same technique here will further train your creative chops. It's easy to get stuck too, so moving onto the next slides or only adding it a few words/images at first will help.
Books: TED Talks by Chris Anderson
Avatar generator: avataaars.com
Closed Captioning for speakers/webinars: WebCaptioner
Apps to use Phone as clicker: Apps, Google Slides App, Keynote Remote
Font pairing tool: Canva
Color Wheel Psychology: Logo Company