Five rules for better presentations

Next slide please.

15 May 2023


I’ve delivered a lot of presentations in my time. Here are five rules I like to follow if I’m preparing slides to illustrate a talk – particularly if they are going to be projected on a big screen behind me…

1. Two minutes per slide

That’s five slides for a ten-minute presentation, 15 if I have a whole half-hour at my disposal. This might feel light if you’re used to bringing lots of slides, but it’s much easier for people to stay focused on your words if you don’t keep flashing up new things for them to look at.

2. Rule of three

I try to have three key messages, and guide my audience through three stages: tell them the three things I’m going to talk about, talk about each one in turn, and then tell them the three things again. Being super clear about your key messages really helps people remember them!

3. Work hard on the visuals

I like to use images to build depth in a talk – for example finding just the right photo to weave into my story, or crafting the best possible chart to reinforce the point or idea I’m communicating. Remember to keep charts simple so people don’t get distracted deciphering them.

4. No bullets, no paragraphs

Nobody coming to your talk wants to look at a Word document turned on its side while you read it out loud. Putting short phrases or punchy stats on screen can work well though (and coupled with a good typeface can be really striking if people are taking photos of your talk).

5. Be social

I treat presentations as the start of a conversation, and try to make the most of people following online as well as in the room. Putting your @handle or email on screen invites further discussion; including handles and hashtags for the event organisers is a nice touch too.

NB: This approach is what works for me when I’m preparing to talk to different audiences, but of course everyone has their own individual style and preferred way of presenting. I’d love to hear your tips for making slides to go with your talks!