6: 6 tips for presenting slides that don’t suck

6: 6 tips for presenting slides that don’t suck

This is an updated version of an article I wrote over a decade ago. I’ve preserved the original post if you want to giggle at me extolling rounded corners and drop shadows as the height of slideware sophistication.


I’m writing about one hundred things I’ve learned about being a product manager.

All product managers will need to stand up and present to others at some point. Some people are less comfortable giving a presentation than others; that’s natural. Either way, you won’t be helping yourself (or your audience) if your slide deck is atrocious. So here are my 6 tips for presenting slides that don’t suck.

1. Sketch it out #

If you have the calm demeanour and artistic skills of Bob Ross, before you reach for the company slide template, consider whether you could illustrate your points as you go along.

A whiteboard filled with incomprehsible overlapping writing and diagrams

Assuming you don’t end up with something that looks like the incomprehensible mess in the photo above, it can be a more engaging way of getting your message across. I quite like this example from Henrik Kniberg of Spotify fame:

2. Ditch the slides #

“That presentation needed more slides,” said nobody ever.

If you can, avoid using a slide deck altogether. You usually want people to focus on what you and what you have to say, not what’s on the big screen next to you.

In the UK, BBC television news reporters convey information primarily by looking the viewer in the eye and speaking without visual aids behind them. They generally only introduce infographics to liven up dry statistics or simplify a complex concept.

Think about how you could learn from people whose day job it is to prepare and present information engagingly every day.

3. Don’t forget your timing #

Which are always the slides your audience most wants to see? That’s right, the ones you flick past at speed because you’re running out of time at the end.

If you absolutely, positively need to kill every last m*********er in the room use a slide deck, use the fewest slides you can. You’ll almost always spend a few minutes talking about each slide (and far longer than you practised), so you’re not going to need more than a few slides for a 15 minute presentation.

4. Images not text #

Slides are better suited to displaying graphical, rather than textual information. There is a circle of hell reserved for people who insist on ‘presenting’ word-heavy slides by reading the text verbatim from the screen, usually with their back to the audience.

Presenting with Back to Audience
Don’t do this

Promise yourself and your future audiences never to repeat their mistakes.

5. Avoid the sirens’ call of stock photos #

People doing an awkward group high five (Photo by fauxels on Pexels)
Just wow (Photo by fauxels on Pexels)

Try to express your ideas graphically rather than textually, but avoid illustrating every point you make with overly literal stock photo. Your audience doesn’t need to see a bunch of stock photo models high-fiving every time you mention collaboration.

6. Plan for poor legibility #

A washed-out image is projected dimly onto a screen

The success or failure of your presentation should not have to depend on whether your audience can actually see your slides. You’ll inevitably end up in situations where the projector appears to use a candle as its light source and there’s no way to dim the lighting in the room.

If you must include text on your slides, use an unfussy font face that’s easy for your audience to read from a distance. Use a high contrast colour scheme, and keep your words big, bold and concise.

Jock Busuttil at PMF15 - How to change

Final thoughts #

Those are my 6 tips for presenting slides that don’t suck. What have you found works best for you? You can share your own tips in the comments.

The art of public speaking is an entire topic in itself. I offer some tips on that in the next entry in this series.


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Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock is a freelance head of product, author and conference speaker. He has spent nearly two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. His clients include the BBC, University of Cambridge, and the UK's Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, a product management consultancy and training company. He is also the author of the popular book The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management and the blog I Manage Products.

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