In the first post of this series, I shared with you how to get started with planning your presentation. In this post, we’ll focus on the second phase: Produce.


There’s something evil out there. Something that quickly and surely will drain your audience and leave them tired, unfocused and looking at their watches. That evil is bullet points.

Do not use bullet points!

Don’t be tempted to use Powerpoint or Keynote’s default first slide with bullet points. It’s the worst mistake you could ever make.

A classic bullet point slide. Boring, uninspiring and hard to read.
A classic bullet point slide. Boring, uninspiring and hard to read (made for my Elevator Pitch talk at Flash on the Beach as an example of how NOT to make presentation slides.

The brain cannot keep focus on both listening and reading at the same time. Also, we tend to “chunk” information into smaller groups – which means that long bullet point lists are simply too overwhelming for us to take in – especially because we’re using our hearing sense at the same time.

So, what’s the alternative to using bullet points?

Put one bullet on one slide.

A slide without bullet points is much more pleasing for the audience to look at.
A slide without bullet points is much more pleasing for the audience to look at.

Bullet point lists are great as supporting notes for your presentation, but they belong in your notes, not on the slides. Both Powerpoint and Keynote have a presenter notes function built in. Use it!


Slides should work as visual support for your message. A place where the audience can rest their eyes – not a space they have to dedicate 80% of their brainpower to decode.

We know from perception theory that humans decode visuals first. First we see graphics, then headlines and highlighted text, and finally, body text. The Picture Superiority Effect also suggests that concepts are more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures as opposed to in words. So use images to support your message.

Use images to support your message - in this case, a slide visualising an attentive audience by only using an image.
Use images to support your message – in this case, an example of how a single image can visualise an attentive audience. Plus, kittens are a must-have in any presentation slide set :) Image credit.

The cognitive theory about Dual-coding mentions that we have 2 mental systems in which we store information: a visual system and a verbal system (more information about the Dual-coding theory can be found here).

It suggests that humans have difficulty deciphering several stimuli/ input into the same system, for instance when looking at an image and some text simultaneously. Or think about when two people talk to you simultaneously – it’s very annoying and difficult to keep track, isn’t it? It’s exactly the same when we try to force two sets of input into people’s visual system.

Multiple visual input can make it hard for people to take in the information you're giving them.
Multiple visual input can make it hard for people to take in the information you’re giving them. Image credit.

On the other hand, if an image (stored in the visual system) is supported by narration (spoken words that are stored in the verbal channel) it is likely to enhance learning and memory storage, because storing the input in two places creates a stronger memory of the input than if it were only stored in one place.

And that’s why you should keep your slides simple and avoid multiple “same system” input. Don’t force your audience to multitask; they can’t.

Apply the KISS principle

Consider your slide production as an actual design job. This means that you should apply all the design principles you know, like the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Creating simple slides with plenty of white space will ensure that you create visually pleasing, calm slides that the audience can easily decipher.

Applying the KISS rule to your presentation slides enhance their visual aesthetics.
Applying the KISS rule to your presentation slides enhance their visual aesthetics. Image credit.

Entice Trust – aim for Beauty

We know from various studies (like this one) on how web-users perceive a given site’s credibility that the visual design is key to creating a site users will find trustworthy.

This can be transferred to presentation slide design (and any other graphic/ interface design for that matter). If your presentation is beautiful, your audience is more likely to trust you.

Another usability/ aesthetics study (mentioned in Donald Norman’s book Emotional Design: why we love (or hate) everyday things) showed that two ATM interfaces worked radically different, despite having identical functionality. The difference between them was their aesthetics; one was simply designed more beautifully than the other. The more beautiful interface worked better for the users – they completed the tasks quicker and more easily on the aesthetically pleasing interface.

Norman suggests this is because when we look at something beautiful, we relax. And when we relax, we become more open and forgiving. So indeed, aesthetics matter highly when it comes to design – and this goes for presentation slides as well.

The 10 minute rule

Humans have a very short attention span. This means that shortly after you’ve started your presentation, your audience will start to look at their watch and wonder when you’ll finish. They lose focus.

Using physical props changes the scene during your presentation.
Using physical props changes the scene
during your presentation.Image credit.

A handy trick to overcome this lack of focus in the audience can be found in the book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. The book suggests that exactly 10 minutes into your presentation, you do something different. You change the scene by for instance showing a video, digging out some physical props or handing out a sample. By doing that you persuade the audience to re-focus on you.

This sign played a significant role in Bruce Lawson’s presentation during The Future of Webdesign London 2010 – a smart, analogue way to repeatedly change the scene throughout a presentation that otherwise consisted purely of digital slides and video examples.

This completes the second phase: Produce. Next, it’s time to look at the final phase: Perform.


4 Responses

  1. HI Dennis, yes, the 10 minute rule is a great trick. I get what you mean by the meetings shorter than 10 minutes – I’ll write a post in the near future that especially address those.

  2. Hi Trine,

    Great blog post series. I have a request: may I use the slide “classic bullet point slide” for an class presentation on good presentation technique? I’ll give you full credit, naturally.


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