Antonio Calabrese

Anyone can be a designer with the tools available online. The unfortunate reality, however, is that not everyone can do it effectively.

Designing is more than putting relevant information on slides in a coherent manner. You need a strong presentation style to relay information in effective and memorable ways.

Developing a style isn't as complicated as it might seem. Applying basic principles can help level the playing field between amateur and professional designers. Think of these principles as tools; using them correctly will make it easier to achieve your goal.

What are these tools and how can they be used in the design process? Let's examine five basic design principles and how they can develop your presentation style.

Contrast

Our brains are wired to recognize patterns. The desire for uniformity goes back to our evolutionary history when a sudden change in the landscape could be life or death.

Whenever a pattern breaks, the brain instantly draws our attention to it. By adding contrast, a designer can use this knowledge to draw attention to essential information, creating a strong presentation style.

Contrast is a powerful tool because it can be implemented in numerous ways. Use different sizes, distances, or colors (black/white for example) to draw attention to a graph or picture that drives your message home.

Using Contrast in Text

A strong presentation style relies on using contrast to highlight words and phrases. Words in bold will instantly demand the reader's focus.

Italics are a subtle form of contrast and is used to draw attention to something. You should also use italics when referencing a movie, book, magazine, or other similar titles.

Underlining is another form of contrast and can be used to highlight important text.

These styles should not be over-used. They are meant to emphasize important concepts in your presentation and to draw attention to ideas. Overusing contrast can weaken its benefit and irritate your audience, causing them to lose their concentration.

Best Uses of Contrast

A straightforward presentation style is usually your best bet.

Your audience should know the purpose of a presentation from the beginning. There will be various ideas that act as key points supporting the thesis.

Contrast should be used to point out the thesis and key points. The audience will be able to form a solid outline of the ideas in the presentation by looking at what you have highlighted.

Repetition

People have used repetition since the beginning of time to drive points home and increase an audience's ability to remember key ideas. Repetition will reinforce ideas and build a strong presentation style.

This concept goes back to humans looking for patterns in everything. Breaking patterns using contrast will draw attention to certain points, while repetition keeps the central idea at the forefront of the presentation.

You can use repetition in numerous ways. Using slides to maintain a presentation's theme will maintain unity. Using the same font for your text will achieve cohesion for your slides. You won't need to change fonts if you use the contrast tips listed above.

Repetition of Phrases or ideas

Another method of repetition involves using a phrase or idea in numerous ways to hammer it into the audience's memory.

Using analogies is a great way of utilizing repetition. If you are doing a presentation about writing, you can compare various writing techniques to a toolbox. Repetition would be a hammer because it is used to "hammer" a point home to the reader.

Phrases are easier to use but also easier to over-use. A good rule of thumb is to only use a key phrase every three to four slides in a presentation. For analogies, you will want to subtly slip in a reference every couple of slides to keep it in the audience's mind.

Repetition is essential for a strong presentation style when used properly.

Best Uses of Repetition

Think of what the overall theme of your presentation is. This theme should be the driving factor of your presentation style. You can then draw a parallel to something that the audience will remember and recognize.

Recognition is important. If you are designing a presentation for a group of business professionals, using video games as a theme isn't a good idea. Your theme has to be relatable. Know your audience and cater to them!

Design with the overall picture of your work in mind and use repetition to "hammer" it home. Just remember to remain true to your presentation style.

Balance

Your presentation should never look like it was thrown together at random. Every picture and word should have a purpose.

Balance focuses on individual slides instead of the overall presentation and helps determine how different elements fit together. The best way to achieve balance is imagining your slide as a grid. Connect images via an invisible line to other elements.

There are two types of balance that you can use to improve your slides:

Symmetrical

Symmetry is all about harmony. If you draw a line down the middle of an image and both sides are the same, the image has symmetry. Placing two images next to each other that are the same shape will achieve the same effect.

If you have a pie chart on one side of a slide, don't place a square next to it. This layout will look as though you randomly placed the objects there. With letters and numbers, make sure that one side isn't overloaded while the other looks barren.

Being symmetrical might seem like it counteracts contrast, but it doesn't. You might argue that the circle/square example above could be a form of contrast by drawing attention to one shape instead of the other.

You should ask yourself "which item am I drawing attention to?" If the point of emphasis is not obvious, then it isn't contrasted, it's sloppy. Never sacrifice symmetry to draw attention to an element.

Asymmetrical

Asymmetry is when two sides are not equal but are balanced. Having a large square on one side of a slide and four squares forming a bigger box on the other would be an example of this idea.

You can use asymmetrical principles to achieve contrast without sacrificing balance. Place a larger image on one side of a slide with minor points bringing balance in smaller boxes.

Using Proximity to Achieve Balance

Ideas that are related to each other should be placed together. Ideas that are separate should have space between them. Proximity is very important when attempting to contrast an idea and maintain balance.

If you are comparing two ideas and need them on the same slide, group them together with supporting points on each side. Using proximity will let the audience know they are separate without interrupting the balance of the visual.

Best Uses of Balance

EVERY slide should be balanced. Imagine your slide as being split into four pieces, and make sure there is something that connects them together. The connector can be something as simple as a background image.

From there, as you place your images, make sure that each image adds to the overall picture and doesn't look as though there are four themes on the page. Use symmetry for a straight forward approach or asymmetry if you are attempting to contrast one element from another.

Maintaining balance will keep your presentation style looking professional.

Use Colors That Fit Your Presentation Style

Picking colors based off of what makes a presentation look "pretty" undermines just how important they are.

Various colors have been shown to impact people's moods and memories. Depending on your audience and the subject of the presentation, design slides with this in mind to maximize their impact.

Some of the better colors to use for professional audiences are:

Blue

The color blue represents stability and reliability. Studies have shown that workers in blue rooms are more productive than in rooms of other colors.

Green

The color green is associated with nature and has a calming effect on people. Researchers have also shown that green is a great color to use if your subject matter is difficult because it enhances reading comprehension and speed.

Orange

Orange is an exciting color that is perceived as energetic and warm. It is often used to draw attention to things but should be used in a limited capacity as it can be an eyesore.

Using the proper colors is critical for your presentation style.

End With A Call to Action

If you want to show off your presentation style, a great ending will do it for you.

A call to action is a statement that inspires the audience to do something. Anytime you've read an article online you've seen a sentence at the end asking the reader to leave a comment or contact a company. Those sentences are calls to action. You'll see one at the of this article as well!

CTAs are a great way to engage your audience and gives them something tangible to hold onto after the presentation. There are many forms of CTAs, some obvious and some subtle.

"Call now!"

"Leave a comment and like!"

"Let's get out there and vote!"

Your call to action will depend on who the presentation is for and the purpose of it. Many designers will be attempting to sell a service. If this is the case for you, don't fall into the "buy x product now" routine.

You have to tell someone why they should do something while making it seem like it has been their idea the entire time. Planting the idea can be done by either asking a question before a CTA or by stating the benefit to the consumer. A strong presentation style makes this part easy!

How To Make A Great Call To Action

If you are selling a product, think about what the product does. Every product has something that sets it apart. Imagine that you are doing a presentation for a pillow company, one that makes the "best pillow ever!". What makes it the best pillow?

Perhaps it is designed to stop neck pain and is backed by a guarantee. After your presentation, which will include statistics about neck pain and how this pillow fights it, you will need to make the consumer believe that they want this product and that they decided they wanted it long ago.

You could say "Call 1-800-Pillow now!", but that wouldn't drive it home. It's too sale-sy. If you want to blow away your audience with your presentation style, go big with the ending.

A better approach would be "Don't you deserve to wake up well-rested and pain-free? Of course, you do! With our money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose! For better sleep and a higher quality of life call 1-800-Pillow today".

You've laid out your case as to why someone needs this product and convinced them that it was their idea to get it by asking a question and answering it for them.

Bringing it All Together

Mastering these five principles of a strong presentation style takes more than reading an article. The best learning technique is trial and error.

If you are an amateur designer, try different things out before jumping head-first into the pool. Give yourself mock assignments and put together presentations that you can show to family and friends. Don't be afraid of criticism: it's what makes you better.

Keeping these techniques in mind will help you as you master your craft. Once you feel comfortable, there's no limit to where you can go.

If you are a student, you have two major advantages that many don't: you will be able to master these techniques in front of a live audience of students and your professor, and companies love to hire students because of the benefits they receive.

Use These Advantages to Make Money

Being a student is hard. In between exams, studying, and trying to find work that actually pays, there isn't much time for anything resembling a social life.

That's why we've set up a marketplace for businesses to hire students for design-based projects. Companies get energetic and tech savvy students that are willing to go the extra mile, and students get paid work and experience that they can do at their own pace.

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