Presentation Zen: 6 Steps to Design Great Slideshows

Let me take you through a crash course on how to use presentation zen to design engaging visual presentations that leave a lasting impression.  Two ideas are most important when considering this:

  1. empathy in presentation
  2. the presenter as a storyteller.

Keeping these ideas at the forefront, we will look at how to successfully utilize design to become a better, more empathetic storyteller. By the way, these tips about design will work whether you use Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote to create your next slideshow so let’s dive right into it.

Amplify Your Message

I am constantly aware that success as a presenter depends on enthusiasm for the content and ability to engage an audience. And while I still hold the opinion that other teachers are the most difficult audience for a teacher to present to (because you know, they know everything!), students who have been sitting through six other classes all day long finish a close second.

Presentation Zen

Presentation Zen

At the end of the day, you probably already possess the ability to tell a good story and empathize with your audience. Good design will help you amplify your message. Presentation Zen walks you through the six steps towards good design.

Step 1 – Keep It Simple

Avoid busy or complicated slides. If the design on your slide is too busy, your audience will tune you out while they try to decipher the information you are presenting on the screen.

Presentation Zen - 1 Keep It Simple

Presentation Zen – 1 Keep It Simple

Remove everything superfluous on your slide and only communicate your idea in the shortest amount of words possible. One if you can.

Step 2 – Use White or Negative Space

When you remove the clutter, you will offer a much more powerful, much more memorable visual message to your viewers.

Presentation Zen - 2 Use White

Presentation Zen – 2 Use White

Don’t try to fill your slide, use white to build space in your presentation. This will make the content easy to grasp, and your speech will remain the most important thread that your audience will follow.

Step 3 – Avoid Bullet Points

Just because PowerPoint gives you bullets, doesn’t mean you should use it for everything. Think of your presentation as a support to your speech, not the other way around.

Presentation Zen - 3 Avoid Bullets

Presentation Zen – 3 Avoid Bullets

In fact, if you have three points to make, use three slides, and move through them faster.

Step 4 – Use High Quality Images

You want a direct link into your audience’s brain? Tap into their primary visual cortex with high quality images. If you have to remember one rule from this entire article, it’s this one: use good photos. No stretch marks, no pixel blurs, no watermarks, no clip arts, high resolution photos. They are everywhere.

Presentation Zen - 4 Use High Quality Images

Presentation Zen – 4 Use High Quality Images

Because nothing screams of 1982 louder than a good clip art.

Step 5 – Use Color Well

Colors evoke emotions, use them.

Presentation Zen - 5 Use Color Well

Presentation Zen – 5 Use Color Well

When you begin your presentation, pick a color scheme with two colors: your basic color and a highlight color. Use not only black, and white but also a variety of gray shades to prioritize the content in your slideshow.

Step 6 – Choose Your Fonts

Finally pay particular attention to the font you choose.

Presentation Zen - 6 Choose Your Fonts

Presentation Zen – 6 Choose Your Fonts

Your typeface is like a personality test. It speaks volumes about who you are deep-down:

  • Comic Sans = wannabee mime
  • Droid Sans = in-the-know thespian

Presentation Zen Examples of Perfect Cocktails

Follow these 6 rules and you are sure to wow your audience (or at least keep them partially awake) with your next presentation.

This is my own presentation zen on presentation zen. It includes all the graphics from this article.

Presentation Zen

But many years later, I still come back to Thirst at one of the better design presentations of all time. Enjoy this masterful example of a presentation zen, and share with me with your best slideshows in the comment section below!

Evaluate Your Presentation Zen

Here are some questions you should ask yourself to evaluate your current slideshows:

  1. Do you talk too much? Do you talk enough?
  2. Are the viewers engaged?
  3. How could you replace text with more effective images?
  4. How might the aesthetics of the presentation affected the retention of its content?
  5. I already gave this presentation a few months ago. Do I still remember any of it?
  6. How will the audience get the definitions of important terms in the presentation if they are not written on the slides?
  7. Can English Language Learners who don’t have fully developed listening skills understand the presentation?


Presentation Zen is an expression originally coined by Garr Reynolds. Jessica Faivre’s reflection on Empathy, Storytelling and Design is the entire inspiration behind this post. I borrowed all my wife’s ideas to write this article.

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