Modern Presentation Design?

I was challenged to write about modern presentation design. The challenge was intended to focus on slide design. I choose to relate that to the overall presentation purpose and delivery.

PowerPoint MVP, Ellen Finkelstein orchestrated this challenge to a group of presentation specialists. I was one of several who accepted her challenge. You can find the links within this article. If you’re planning to use PowerPoint slides in the next year, be sure to follow each link and read these posts. It could make the difference between grief and joy for your next presentation.

The concept intrigued me because I wondered about the use of the word modern as applied to presentations. I normally associate modern with fashion – particularly for clothing, home design and automobiles.

Modern seems to be about style, image and novelty. I was tempted to dismiss the subject as trivial.

How might modern design apply to presentation? Let’s remember that the goal isn’t to be modern. The goal is to deliver an effective presentation that persuades the listeners of the value of the message and to act accordingly. Could modern design be a valuable tool for presenters?

The relevant question is, “Might modern design enhance the effectiveness of the presentation?”

I believe the answer is yes.

Novelty in design and delivery can help to attract and hold the attention of the audience. It doesn’t take much to achieve this because we’ve suffered through too many boring same old presentations.

Troy Chollar predicts more effective use of eye-catching transitions with Morph.

A presenter wants to project an image of confidence, credibility and commitment. Modern design can contribute to that powerful image because it demonstrates awareness, resourcefulness and extra effort.

Craig Hadden offers a unique tip about displaying your Twitter account on your slides to stimulate social media interaction.

If you’re wondering “should you go wide screen?” Anug Malhotra addresses that question along with 16 other practical suggestions on his list of 17 Tips for 2017.

Each presenter should follow proven presentation principles and adapt the relevant techniques to their own personal style. When they do that, they appear natural, comfortable and more trustworthy.

Ellen Finkelstein offers 10 suggestions of modern style including thin fonts and borders.

Ken Molay reminds us that modern design can make it more challenging to use the software. Modern doesn’t always mean better.

Mike Parkinson reminds presenters that it’s imperative to connect the dots for your listeners. One way to do that is with the use of the PowerPoint Zoom feature which is an adaption of Prezi.

Should you modernize your presentation slides?

Yes – if you want better results from your presentations.

What are your questions and ideas about modern presentation design?

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Show More Courtesy for the Audience

Imagine that you’re attending a conference, arrived in the room early, sitting in your chair, waiting for the presentation to begin. How would you feel while watching the pre-presentation slide show and one of the slides read…

That’s like a restaurant posting a sign stating “As a courtesy to our chefs please be sure to eat everything on your plate”.

I found that slide and the arrogance behind it ironic for three reasons:

1. The onus is on the speaker to keep it interesting. I would stay as long as I believe it was in my best interest to stay. I would leave when I want to leave.

2. The speaker was already discourteous by starting late and loudly blaming “the person who was supposed to bring my presentation”.  Why didn’t the speaker have a copy of his slides with him? When he started, he seemed to rush through the presentation and still went late. I’m not sure what his key message was. I walked away remembering nothing from his presentation. Perhaps I should have left before he started as a courtesy to me.

3. The event organizers were discourteous to the attendees in several ways. That included the 15-minute late start for the opening program; the lack of directions to the main stage, and hiding the coffee room - among other transgressions.

Hmm, imagine what courtesies the attendees might request from the organizers and speakers.

Event Organizer, as a courtesy to your attendees:

Post directions and/or maps to the different rooms especially the main stage.

Start on time.

End on time.

Don’t place the exhibit booths on the other side of the curtain in the same room as the keynote presentations because it’s too noisy for everyone.

poor lighting for the presentation
 Arrange proper lighting for the main stage. The dimmed chandeliers might be appropriate for a wedding reception but not for a business event.

If the speaker is not using slides, blank the projector. Don’t flash your promotional slides during the speaker’s talk. That’s distracting and discourteous to the speaker as well as the audience.

The promotional slides that you show between speakers can be effective if the audience can read them. There’s no point in listing all 30 exhibitors on one slide. Consider splitting that list across three slides.

Clarify the start and end times of the presentation with the speaker and MC including speaking time and question period. Allow the speaker to manage how they use that time.

MC, as a courtesy to your audience:

Prepare your transition phrases. Avoid the overuse of these meaningless words:  “so” “I just wanna” “as was mentioned”…

Silence the room before introducing a speaker.

When conveying instructions for a networking activity state the directions clearly and indicate how you will signal the end of the activity.

Confirm the ending time with the speaker before the presentation starts.

Speaker, as a courtesy to your audience:
Be in the room with all your materials well before it’s time to speak.

Prepare and rehearse your opening.

Prepare and rehearse your closing.

Prepare and rehearse your presentation so you don’t need to read it from sheets of paper or your slides.

Use slides if they help illustrate your message. If they don’t, then don’t use them. If you plan to use the slides for your notes, see previous point.


Courtesy to the Audience

The audience should never feel trapped. They’re attending the program for an enjoyable experience and/or to learn insights and capture useful ideas. Telling them to stay in their seats like compliant kindergartners doesn’t enhance the experience or the learning. Naturally, the need to deliver rules like that suggests that the organizers believe that the speakers aren’t good enough to hold their audience.

In my experience as a professional speaker over the past 20 years I’ve learned that the audience can vote with their feet or mobile devices. Often I openly invite people to leave the room whenever they want. I’d like them to attend but only if they want to be there. For that reason I ask the organizer to keep at least one door open so people can easily leave or enter the room while minimizing any disruption. That seems courteous to everyone.

PS: You might be surprised to learn that all of these observations were gathered at one conference that I attended.

What discourteous practices have you experience?

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Will The Presentation Start and Finish on Time?

How important is that? The answer probably depends on whether you are the presenter or a member of the audience. What are the consequences of being late?

How do you feel when the presenter fails to start on time? You planned or rushed to arrive on time. Perhaps you even arrived a few minutes early. But the presenter dismisses your efforts and devalues your time by delaying the start for the late-comers.

How do you feel when the presenter doesn’t end on time? This means that you’re forced to decide between leaving early and being late for your next meeting.  Which is the lesser evil? Might you feel anxious or annoyed when forced into that situation?

If the presenter didn’t start and finish at the times promised – that suggests that they lied to you. They announced a start and end time but failed to deliver as promised. They disrespected you and the rest of the audience. That’s not a productive way to develop trust, build a relationship or make a sale.

Consider these two presentations.

We’re Only a Bit Late

It was a morning seminar for about a dozen business owners. The presenter had confided to me that his target audience was busy people. Despite that, the program started 10 minutes late.

At the scheduled start time some of the registrants hadn’t arrived. The presenter seemed both annoyed and anxious so he waited and made the people in the room wait. That suggests that the people in the room weren’t important compared to the people not in the room. The message is “you’re not important because you arrived on time – I’m waiting for the important people to arrive”. That’s a strange message to convey to people who respected your time.

The program ended 12 minutes late. The presenter apologized for finishing a “bit late”. He added, “because we started late” as if that should excuse the late finish. Did he forget that he was the one who made the decision to start late? Most of us arrived on time. He didn’t seem to take responsibility for starting or finishing late.

The phrase “a bit late” is insulting because it attempts to devalue the other person’s time and effort to show up on time. I noticed that several of the business owners appeared anxious and irritated as they rushed from the seminar to show up a bit late for their next meeting.

Your Clock is Wrong

The webinar was scheduled to start at 11:00 am. I connected a few minutes early. At 11:01 the presenter announced that they would start at the top of the hour, in 8 minutes.

That would be 11:09 by my clock which is synchronized with Internet time. That’s not the top of the hour.

I believe that he was delaying the start. Perhaps he wasn’t ready yet. Maybe he was experiencing technical problems or his guest was late. In either case, it would have been truthful to say that. It’s not the first time a webinar started late and most listeners would understand. Instead, he lied and insulted us by suggesting that our clocks were wrong and he was starting on time.

The first statement from the presenter was a lie. By suggesting that they were starting “at the top of the hour” he was pretending that he would start on time as scheduled.

He also implied that the clocks of the audience were wrong. He lied. Not a good way to build trust with your audience. I left the webinar because his first statement was a lie. How could I believe anything else from him? This was a free webinar in which he would probably offer a product or service to sell. Would you buy from a person who has demonstrated that he is a bold faced liar?

How Important is it to Start and End on Time?

In both of these incidents, the presenter was late and lied about the circumstances. They dismissed or devalued the value of time for the audience. Is every presenter who starts or ends late a liar? I don’t know, but there was a strong correlation in these two incidents. When you are the presenter you might not always control the start time but you surely control the end time.

One of the first judgments that people will make of you is “Were you on time?” The next might be, “Did you keep your promise?” The answers to both of those questions will answer the more important questions, “Do you respect me?” and “Can we trust you?”


When the presenter fails to keep the promise of following the schedule they set, does that taint that person as undependable and untrustworthy? When the presenter steals your time, does that label that person a thief? When the presenter trivializes your time does that demonstrate a lack of respect?

How do you feel?

When is the presenter justified to start late?
When is the presenter justified to end late?
Would you leave the presentation when it is late?

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Was that a good excuse?

He arrived late for the workshop. We were into our first exercise. As the instructor, I was asking each person for their answer to the initial question about their expectations. When it was his turn, he replied, “I missed the beginning. I don’t know what you want.”

My private thoughts?
That’s his problem. Not mine. I don’t know if that was a circumstantial problem or a systemic problem. Is he always late?

Second Chance
I gave him the benefit of the doubt and said, I’d come back to him. Gave him time to think and continued with the rest of the room. Then, I returned to him and repeated the question. His answer was an amalgam of the answers he heard. There was an absence of original thought.

I wondered. Was he a freeloader? Did he have an excuse for everything?  Was he the Wally in Dilbert?

First Impressions
The first impression is cemented quickly. It’s often right. Even if it’s wrong we will find ways to reinforce what we already decided. I believe he didn’t contribute value to the workshop. I could be wrong – but I was prejudiced by the first impression.

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