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Right-Sizing Your Slide Decks

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Presentation: a speech or talk in which a new product, idea, or piece of work is shown and explained to an audience

From Oxford Languages

If you are creating a slide deck, it can be helpful to take a step back and think about how your slide deck is actually going to be used in real life. Is it going to be supporting a speaker in an actual presentation? Or is it going to be a standalone document that people review on their own?

When slides have too much text, audience members have to choose between listening to what you are saying or reading the text on the screen. They might not do either of them well if they don’t support each other.

If you are using a slide deck to support a presentation, it’s important to remember: your slide deck is not the presentation itself.

Know Your Audience

You’ve heard us say this more than a few times before: know your audience. What does your audience want to know? What do they need to know? How familiar are they with the content? With you? Do you need to build trust or is there already familiarity?

As always, it’s critical to get feedback from your audience. If people leave presentations with a lot of the same questions every time, that can be a powerful clue that the presentation (and maybe the slides) aren’t hitting the right note.

Along the same lines, pay attention to the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias which can make it difficult to clearly explain information that you know very well to others.

For example, imagine you are going to give a presentation on your favorite tv show. If your audience has never seen it, you probably don’t want to start with describing the most recent episode. You likely need to give them some background info on the characters or major story arcs first. The same with the information we might be sharing.

Design Tips

Here are some things to consider:

  • Consider the setting. Are people going to be reading your information on a screen or in an auditorium?

  • Make sure there is enough contrast. You can use a tool like WebAIM’s Contrast Checker to check it.

  • Create a master template as a foundation.

  • Build in transitions to make sure there is adequate pacing and breaks.

  • Choose a color palette that you use throughout to create cohesion but still keep it engaging. When you have cohesion, you can then change things up to make important things stand out.

  • Get creative. If every slide is a header with 3 bullet points, your audience will likely zone out. Use icons instead of bullets or separate lists out onto their own pages with images or other graphics to allow people to focus on one concept at a time.

Did you know that Microsoft PowerPoint will suggest slide designs for you? Click on the Design Idea tab to get some new ideas. Always make sure to check for underlying accessibility and include alternative text.


We have too much technology at our fingertips to make boring slide decks. But we also want to be wary of overwhelming our audience too, especially in presentations on unfamiliar topics.

Get creative and remember that it’s all about making a successful experience (presentation or visual document) for our audience!



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