The bane of my existence is a bad presentation. As an academic I must endure a bevy of boring slides that do little to communicate what is probably very good research. Research that people have spent months and years on can fall on deaf ears if delivered in a manner that fails to tell the story of its meaning. 

If you want to give a good presentation, become a non-fiction storyteller.

I’ve been teaching my students how to present powerfully in the last three years. I incorporate it into one class and force them to present their case study analysis using the Stop Killing Your Audience method that I’ve pieced together using a few different resources. I’m here to give you the down and dirty on how to give a good presentation. Warning: it challenges the status quo, but I’m in good company so let’s be brave together, shall we?

Three parts to your presentation
  1. Slides your audience sees// That’s right, you have an audience. We don’t have to be there, so don’t waste our time with boring slides that are too hard to read, too busy or depict silliness. Bring meaning to your slides. More on this later.
  2. Notes only you see// Everyone has access to a teleprompter — notes in your hand or a printed slide deck or a self-created slide + note combo document. These are for YOU, not your audience.
  3. Handout to give to the audience// If people are attending your presentation voluntarily or students are in a class where they will be tested on the material, they will be taking notes. What happens when someone takes notes? They miss about half of what you are saying. (Full disclosure: Sometimes I take notes to avoid boredom.) Make a one-page document that summarizes the important points in your presentation, include your contact information and tell the audience up front that you’ll be handing this to them on the way out so no notes are needed. (If you don’t think you can condense your presentation or research into one page, I challenge this assumption as I condensed my 250-page, 70,000 word doctoral dissertation into this format for my committee.) Never, ever under any circumstance give your slide deck (a printout of your slides) to your audience.

Font // The older your audience, the bigger the font. The bigger the room, the bigger the font. Font size should be rarely smaller than 36 point. You don’t need to put as many words on a slide that don’t fit with size 36. Seth Godin suggests no more than 6 words on a slide, but in academic sometimes we need to put definitions on a slide for students or pastors need to put Bible versus on a slide for congregants. Just keep in mind that word count should be minimal.

Font style should correlate with the meaning at hand. The tone of your message should match that of your font. For example, if you are giving a presentation on human trafficking, a humorous style would be unwise. The meaning of your message should match the meaning behind the font.  So, since I’m sitting in Park City, Utah as I write this post, consider this:font style

Contrast// As we age our eyes are less able to distinguish colors close to each other on the color wheel. Therefore, using contrasting colors for background and font combinations is best. Light text on dark background or vice versa is best. Make it easy for the audience to read your slide. The goal is to enhance your message with the use of color, not detract from it. In the example below, the first two are easy to read because they contrast highly, unlike the last two.


Images// Use images that depict meaning or showcase beauty. High quality stock photos or free high quality images like those available on my favorite site––are crucial to the visual success of your presentation. Try to avoid cliche images, cartoons, or images that do not reflect your audience. For example, if you’re presenting research on the impact on the economy of Japanese professional women working part-time, choose a background image that depicts an Asian-looking woman. This seems obvious, but please believe me when I say that it happens all. the. time. in my world.

Cliche images:

Beautiful, free images from

Presentations aren’t meant to be read.

Nancy Duarte, arguably the foremost expert on presentation media, says that presentations are akin to billboards. They are “glance media” wherein your audience should be able to ascertain the meaning of your slide in a 3-second window.  If you have data, your job is to tell your story with data, not let the numbers become the star of the show. You are the star of the show and your slides are merely visual wallpaper. Duarte’s company provides an excellent and FREE resource for diagramming data. You can access hundreds of free diagrams here.

Use background images that are evocative and emotional. not staid and static. Consider:

nonemotional slideemtional slides







Here are some resources to get you started.

Bring me to your organization so your people can stop killing your audiences! Trainers, teachers, sales people, etc. Workshops available in 60 minute, 90 minute or two-day workshop formats. Contact me here. 

pres zen


Garr Reynolds book, Presentation Zen.

Click image to buy on Amazon or read Garr Reynold’s musings on presenting powerfully on his blog at

Watch Garr Reynolds Authors @ Google talk.

Watch Garr Reynolds on How to Present Data




Nancy Duarte’s book, Slide:ology.

Click image to buy on Amazon or read blogs by Nancy and her team at

Watch Nancy Duarte explain her Five Rules for Presentation Design