The Top 5 Presentation Design Mistakes

Presentation Mistakes

Design has come a long way in the last decade. The tools to create beautiful things are more accessible than ever (and there are more YouTube videos teaching you how to use them too). Here are the top 5 mistakes I consistently see in self-made presentations when I’m called in as a “fixer.”

1. Failing to Consider Your Audience

This is such a biggie. Presentations aren’t effective unless they convince someone to do something, whether it’s approve a new work strategy or write you a big fat check, when you make a presentation you’re trying to accomplish something.

How do you get people to do what you want them to do? Understand their paint point and provide a solution. When you don’t consider your audience it becomes almost impossible to create an effective presentation. Remember – target your audience. Don’t try to use the same presentation to sell your startup to a two-sided marketplace. Obviously there might be some shared components to decks that you use to pitch investors and sell clients – but run it through the filter by sitting in their shoes.

Pitch yourself a presentation as if you were each potential audience member and see if what you say to the different personas is different and where the message should diverge.

2. Trying to Be Flashy

I’m going to keep this to the point – lose the animations, transitions and god forbid, any sound effects that might be in your presentation. Keep it simple, keep it clean.


3. Overloading Individual Slides

1 slide = 1 point. I’ve seen people try to cram 40 slides worth of information down into 10 slides because it needs to be a “short” presentation. Guess what – it’s not the number of slides that indicate your presentation length…it’s the amount of material you’re trying to cover.

For example – let’s saying you’re trying to make a point that has 4 really important bullets that accompany it. If the bullets are important enough to make it into your presentation at all they’re important enough to warrant a slide each. Having a single slide filled with content (bullets, I’m looking at you) is distracting to your audience. I guarantee that they’re too busy trying to read ahead to listen to you.

So please, please, please, please…don’t equate the total number of slides with the “length” of your presentation. Again, it’s all about the content people!

4. Overcomplicating Design

Presentations aren’t about the visuals! Totally weird for a graphic designer to say, right? But it’s true. Your presentation is about the information you’re delivering to elicit a specific response. I see so many presentations that have unnecessary images, fancy fonts and color overload.

Fonts should be readable (and as a rule of thumb only 2 fonts per presentation – one for titles and one for text).

Images should be critical not just filler and try to avoid stock photography, especially of people.

Colors should have meaning! If I look at a slide and you’ve used 8 different colors I’m going to assume there’s a reason for each color. Try to stick to a single palette of neutrals with one or two additional color tones for emphasis.

5. Misusing Supporting Evidence

There are two parts to this one A) evidence overload and B) misleading evidence.

A) Evidence Overload.

I see lots of decks that have page after page of “supporting evidence.” At first blush your audience might think “wow, there are a lot of charts here…they must be on to something.” But more they are way more likely to tune out all those charts and totally miss the take away. Only use the most compelling, jaw-dropping, can’t misinterpret it piece of evidence you have. Keep it simple – don’t overwhelm them with “data” for the sake of seeming like you’ve done your research. Value their time and just give them the data that best makes your point. I’ve seen firsthand the negative effects of ‘evidence overload’ when one of my clients was told “We GET IT…move on” by a prominent VC during his pitch (pre-my involvement with the deck).

B) Misleading Evidence

“Of course I would never use misleading evidence!” you say as you read this. But I have yet to work with an initial draft of a deck that didn’t abuse the “evidence” in some way. Whether this was massaging the marketplace size or being liberal with “number of users” most decks try to fudge the “evidence” in their favor. I see a lot of people trying to use vanity metrics (like total number of users) instead of providing real evidence of user/client engagement. Guess what – your audience is picking up on this way more quickly than you realize. Especially if you’re pitching an investment deck to a VC…mess around with the evidence and get ready to get nailed the minute you stop talking.


There you have it – the most common mistakes I see in presentations and how you can start to avoid them!

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