Presentation 101: How to Make a Simple Presentation

November 2, 2020

Here are a couple phrases I’ll bet you hear at least once a day: “Keep it simple”, “Make it fast”, “don’t complicate things”, “keep things light”... What is all this rush about simplifying processes? Well, it is only a concept that has existed since the beginning of human history. It is the one thing driving innovation, technological advancement, new scientific discoveries… Getting to places was hard and time consuming, so humans invented the wheels. Communicating to people far away was difficult and effortful, so humans invented the telephone. Connecting to others in the age of globalization was complex, so humans invented the internet. Our history is filled with examples of how human beings have fought to simplify processes.

The Complexity Bias and Why It is Wrong

Conficius once said: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” In that respect, not everyone seems to view simplification from a positive light. Have you heard of a concept called the complexity bias? The complexity bias is a logical fallacy that pushes us to think that complex means credible. We might favor the complex formula because it looks smarter. It might be because we are keen to take on challenges, to prove our worth, to be able to say we accomplished something despite the difficulties. But, we are wrong. Albert Einstein once said “Smart people simplify things.” It is these wise words that we should live by; perhaps, it is time we walk away from complex structures, thoughts, processes and embrace all that is simple.

Why an Elevator Pitch Works

Think about how startups get their investment. In most cases, it is through an elevator pitch. A simple half minute pitch presentation that will be memorable and get the investor interested. When introduced to the idea of an elevator pitch, a lot of people say their great startup idea cannot be reduced to a couple of sentences. But, trust me; I wrote a 3000 word personal statement for my college application and noticed it was supposed to be 3000 characters, not words. If I managed to shorten that, you can reduce your pitch to a couple sentences.

Simple is Better

A Wharton Business research found that 74% of executives believe complexity inhibits growth strategies and initiatives. All of them favor simplification and so should you. Let’s keep building on the example of a pitch presentation. How do we make it simple, but powerful? How do we make an effective, yet simple presentation? Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Less is more; keep things short and to the point.

People hate slides filled with text. People hate having to read out of the slides. The slide is not meant to speak on your behalf. It should be a visual aid that supports your main message. That is all you should have in mind when putting together a presentation. What is your main message and what do you want your audience to take away from it. When I was preparing my CV, I was trying to explain every single one of my responsibilities in a job with multiple bullet points. My advisor had said that it would be much more attractive to a recruiter if I outlined 1 or 2 key responsibilities instead of mentioning everything. The same goes for a slide. Ask yourself if you can explain your message in 10 slides instead of 30. There are presentation tools to help you stay to the point in your slide content. For instance, Decktopus offers character limits on slide texts to help you stick to your main message.

paperclip simple

  • Make it Minimalist, yet attractive.

Visuals matter. But an attractive visual does not need to be complex. Think of current design and architecture standards. Perhaps 200 years ago, complexity resembled richness. For a queen, it might have been important to fill their chambers with gold ornaments, extravagant wallpapers, countless Renaissance portraits. But, now modernity translates to simplicity. Minimalist designs are far more favoured to complexity and extravagance. When it comes to presentations, find themes and designs that are visually stunning but do not take away from the slide content. Find themes that, instead, make the content shine through brighter.

minimalist desk

  • Content First, Design Later

Many people try to hide inadequate content behind abundant visuals. But, when the content is ineffective, so will your presentation. Approach the presentation with a content-first strategy. How are you going to deliver the main message and what do you want your audience to remember after the presentation? Don’t let the design distract you or the audience. For this reason, finding appropriate templates may be key. There are good presentation tools that offer designs and templates specifically tiered to your presentation content. For sample presentation templates, check out the templates Decktopus offers here.

All this is to say that simple is better, especially when it comes to creating presentations. Don’t fall into the complexity bias trap; we prefer simpler in the contemporary age.

mug and pen

Some articles for inspiration:

What Makes for a Good Presentation?

An Effective Presentation, Why Does it Matter?

Early Stage Entrepreneur Hack: Talking to Users

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