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How to make your slideshow sing -- and sell

Here are the top 10 rules


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A good slide deck is often the price of entry for serious consideration by today’s buyers.  Shabby slide decks reflect poorly on you, your company and your solution. However many salespeople don’t have the time or expertise to create a work of art. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an art major to create a good deck if you follow some simple best practices with these design rules:

1. Adapt to your environment

Where and how your presentation will be viewed is important to the design. For example:

  • If you’re using your prospect’s projector, weak lighting combined with a bright room can make your images and text fuzzy and hard to read. You’ll need to use more contrast between colors and shapes as well as a larger type size to combat this.
  • Check the slide aspect. While most new projectors are 16:9, there are still plenty older ones out there using 4:3. Find out earlier and adjust your slides accordingly. Better yet, bring your own portable projector and you won’t have to worry.
  • Using your laptop or tablet or doing a web presentation? Smaller screens multiply the impact of any movement and it can be distracting. Limit your animations to simple builds or wipes.

2. Have a hierarchy

Think of your slide as an advertisement broken into three parts: Headline, subhead, and details. Give more weight through size, color, movement, or space to the more important elements on your slide to ensure that your audience quickly gets the main point. Let the size or color guide the eye toward the most important elements, not compete with each other.

3. Incorporate white space

Keep your slides simple so they are a quick read, this means include enough white space to help your audience focus. Your prospect should be able to follow what you’re saying and take in your visuals at the same time. If the slide has too much information, your prospect will tune you out until he has finished processing the point of the slide, so leave off the big logos, added boxes, or cutesy graphics.

4. Use contrast

You want your prospect to be able to quickly grasp the intent of each slide. If everything blurs together, your prospect won’t know what to focus on. To make certain elements stand out, make the contrast between them more distinct through the use of placement, space, color, or size.

5. Be consistent

Too many different sizes, fonts, colors, alignments, or transitions can make your presentation look like Frankenstein’s monster. Keep design elements consistent within your presentation from slide to slide. A good template can help you accomplish that.

6. Create alignment

A well-aligned slide is easy to read and won’t distract any OCD members in your audience. An easy way to achieve alignment is to use the grid feature in PowerPoint to help you lay out different elements and keep them looking neat and organized. Align text from left or right as opposed to centering it, which is more difficult to read.

7. Group like items

Art displays often group like items in threes to form a whole. Think about grouping similar elements in your presentation together to create a unified message as opposed to multiple messages. For example, grouping together several images of your product being used can create a message about overall usefulness as opposed to focusing on individual features.

8. Foster readability

You may have a powerful message but if people can’t read your text in the back of the room or it’s too fancy to decipher, you’ve missed the point. Here are some tips to ensure readability:
* Always use at least an 18-point font on your slides
* Use a sans serif font like Arial, Helvetica or Calibri for body text.
* Save decorator fonts for slide headers.
* Use dark text on a light background. (Black slides are cool, but difficult to read.)
* Limit your use of ALL CAPS, which feels like watching a used car commercial.

9. Balance text

If at first glance, your slide looks like a page from the dictionary, your prospect will be quick to bail out when trying to read it. In most cases, don’t exceed eight lines of text per slide and keep it balanced on the slide to make it easy to read. Keep your sentences from looking too choppy or too verbose by sticking to six words or less per line with 30 to 40 characters (including spaces) per line.

10. Give bullets a rest

You can easily fall into the bullet point trap with slide after slide of bullet points and sub-bullet points. Overusing bullets is boring for your audience and discourages interaction. Consider whether you need to use bullet points at all or if a graphic may be a better choice. If you do use bullet points, make sure each one supports your key message. This forces you to weed through your bullet points to find the one thing that you absolutely have to share with your clients.

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Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen, author of Sales Presentations for Dummies, helps sales and business executives craft and deliver winning presentations and demos by applying today’s best practices from business, acting, improv, and storytelling. Julie’s techniques for leveraging proven performance skills in presentations have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM and Oracle, as well as local Colorado companies. Learn more about sales workshops and keynotes at  PerformanceSalesandTraining.com, start a sales conversation at Julie@actingforsales.com  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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