At some point in an assistant’s career they will be asked to put together a slide deck for their Executive. This could be for a presentation in front of the board, for other members of staff or a pitch to win new clients. Whatever the occasion it is really important that the slides reflect the key points that your Executive is delivering. In the past I’ve been given scraps of paper and been asked to turn them into something visually stunning – it isn’t easy getting into the mind of someone else and trying to creatively design a slide that evokes their key points (that’s if they even have a key point!) Nevertheless, creating slides for your Executive can be a real creative outlet. It is a piece of your work that other people will see and appreciate, something that doesn’t always happen for assistants. So it is well worth spending time and ensuring you create a really memorable slide deck for your Executive. With that in mind, here is my ultimate guide to designing presentations.

  • Should your boss even be using slides? This is the first question to ask. The best presentations I’ve seen are based around the speaker telling a story and interweaving it with the points they need to cover. If your boss is a good speaker they should rely very little on slides.
  • Slides should be one of the last things that your Executive focuses on when creating a presentation. Without a key message and structured supporting points you can’t really develop a slide deck for them. Make sure they have thought this through before you begin to produce the slides.
  • Has your boss written a script? If so, make sure you have a copy so that you can create an interesting set of slides around their key points.
  • Each slide should contain one point. That point should be on the screen while your Executive is making it. If you are using bullet points set up an animation so that each bullet point appears one at a time. If your presentation contains charts make sure every chart is on a separate slide and is up on the screen when your manager refers to it.
  • Slides should support your point – not make them. Do not add paragraphs worth of text, this is a sure fire way of sending your audience to sleep or overwhelming them with information. Slides are there to reinforce the speaker’s point not distract the audience. If you do have additional information to share with the audience use a handout or send them more detailed documents later.
  • Your Executive has to control the flow of information so that the audience are in sync with what they are saying. Each slide should help with this rather than hinder it.
  • Images that are thought provoking will make a presentation more memorable.  Don’t what ever you do use Wordart or Clipart – yuck!
  • Get creative. This is your chance to add a really creative touch to your work so do take the time to make the slides visual, appealing to the eye and different to the bog standard slide packs. Creative slides will make your boss’s presentation more memorable and this will reflect well on you.
  • Keep the slides simple. As most assistants are advanced users of PowerPoint the temptation to use all of the features can be high. However this should be avoided in favour of a simple effective design. Keep decorative fonts to a minimum and only use animation when it helps make key points stand out. Do not have too much clutter on one slide. It is better to use more slides which are simple, readable and easily understood than squeezing everything onto a smaller number of slides.
  • Make sure you use good high quality images. Blurred images are not going to make the presentation look very professional so it is always better to use high-res images. Remember the image will be bigger on the screen so it really is worth investing in good quality images.
  • Don’t use words unless you really really have to. Images are much more visually interesting and can be used to emphasis a point just as well as text. If you are using text make sure it is readable, particularly for those at the back of the room.
  • Use bullet points sparingly. I often find it really useful to speak through my key points and then use one round up slide that lists what I have said. This keeps the audience on track and in sync with my thoughts. Does your slide even need bullet points, can you create a list with a little bit of spacing around each sentence? This tends to look a bit more modern than the standard bullet point image.
  • Stick to one type of alignment for text. A centred heading and left-aligned text does’t look to good so I always prefer left alignment even with the slide heading.
  • If you have very little time to put a presentation together here is a simple trick – use white text on a plain black background. It looks modern and projects well on the screen. Simple but different and it will help the presentation stand out.
  • Ensure the slides have a consistent feel throughout the deck. Avoid using different themes, fonts and colours. Each slide should feel like a new chapter in the same book. If your organisation does not have standard themes there are lots that you can use online and via PowerPoint.
  • Do, however, think outside the presentation theme – it can be a little boring if you are just using your Organisation’s theme on every slide. Can the company theme just be used on the first and last page? Yes themes look professional and consistent but they also limit your creativity. Try to think about your organisation’s brand in a more creative way – if for example the company colour is green do a Google search for ‘green’ and see what images appear and then use them for your slide backgrounds.  This is more creative than having a green font or a green sidebar.
  • If your Executive has a number of topics to cover during the presentation ensure you have a transition slide that indicates to the audience that your Executive is moving on to the next topic. This slide should look slightly different to the rest of the deck.
  • Do start with a really great cover page that will pull your audience in from the first moment the slides are on the screen.
  • Inserting a video into a slide is common practice and easy to do. However I have seen presenters panic when the video starts automatically and they aren’t quite ready for it. Instead of ‘auto play’ set the video to ‘click to play’ and let your Executive know that they have control over the start time.
  •  Always, always, always ensure your Executive has a back-up of their slides, ether online or on a USB stick. Make sure they have time to check through the slides on the screen before they start the presentation (just in case they are in the wrong order or an old draft).
  • Learn from masters of presentation design. For further reading, check out these great sites, which focus on making presentations beautiful and effective: Presentations Zen, Haiku Deck and Duarte.

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