The Top 7 PowerPoint slide designs

by Olivia Mitchell

The PowerPoint revolution has sparked the evolution of different styles of PowerPoint slide design.  I’ve identified seven different PowerPoint slide designs to inspire you  – do add others in the comments.

If you’re just getting started with creating non-bullet point slides, I recommend the assertion-evidence or Presentation Zen style. Then start mixing and matching between styles to provide variety for your audience.

PowerPoint Slide Design #1: The assertion-evidence slide

Professor Michael Alley is most often credited with this slide design. The slide is composed of two parts:

  1. A short sentence headline that states the main assertion of the slide
  2. Evidence of that assertion presented in a visual manner.

Here’s Alley’s example of a bullet-point slide make-over using the assertion-evidence style:

alley-pre-make-over alley-post-makeover

This PowerPoint slide design is also similar to Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points approach. It’s the only format which has consciously taken into account Mayer’s multimedia learning principles. It’s also one of the easiest to put into practice. I recommend it as the easiest way to transition away from bullet-point slides.

Ellen Finkelstein has created a slidecast on the assertion-evidence style, that she calls the Tell ‘n’ Show method.

How to use the assertion-evidence style

  1. Identify the main points (called assertions in this method) you are making in your presentation.
  2. Put each assertion on a separate slide.
  3. Create visual evidence for each assertion. This could be in the form of photos (real or metaphoric representations), diagrams, charts or flowcharts.

If you’re short on time, leave the assertion unadorned on the slide – in a white font on a black background. Al Gore used a slide like this in his 2006 TED presentation:al-gore-assertion

PowerPoint Slide Design #2: Classic PresentationZen

The Presentation Zen style developed by Garr Reynolds has many elements in common with the Assertion-Evidence format but approaches PowerPoint slide design from a design perspective rather than a learning perspective. Garr teams high-quality photos with single words or short phrases or quotations:

PowerPoint slide design pz-alone-time
powerpoint slide design PowerPoint slide design

Garr’s style has been widely copied. A Presentation Zen disciple won the recent SlideShare Credit Crisis contest with this slide deck:

For more examples of Garr’s slide design style see his sample slides on Slideshare.

How to copy the style

  1. Find high-quality photos (istockphoto is a good choice).
  2. Use subtle gradients and fades across the slide. Use a san serif font. Play with font colours and font size to make keywords stand out.
  3. And of course, buy the book, Presentation Zen.

PowerPoint Slide Design #3: The Lessig method

Professor Lawrence Lessig is possibly more famous for his slide design methodology than his causes (first copyright and now political corruption). Lessig flashes on the screen a few words punctuated with an occasional photo as he’s talking. To get the full effect of his method watch a few minutes of this recent video (if you’re reading this in your RSS feed, you may need to click through to the blogpost to see the video).

The Lessig method relies on super-accurate synchronisation between you and your slides. That’s something that you’ll only achieve after hours of rehearsal, so it’s not for the lazy. The tight choreography makes it more like a performance – a poetry reading – than a presentation.

Lessig’s method is unquestionably great branding. But is it effective? Does it help the average audience remember what he’s saying? The research into multimedia learning (which is the closest thing we have to research into learning from PowerPoint) would suggest not. I find myself focusing on the method rather than the message.

How to copy the method

First, only use the Lessig method if your priority is to dazzle your audience. If you still want to go ahead:

  1. Script your talk.
  2. Pick out the keyword or key phrase for each sentence and put it on a slide – white font on black background.
  3. Then work hard to get your choreography perfect!

PowerPoint Slide Design #4: Lessig 2.0

A number of people have taken Lessig’s concept and run with it. The most famous is Dick Hardt of Sxip. But there’s another one you may not have seen from Adam Savage:

These presentations are like a 35mm slideshow on speed. The audience is not going to get bored – but what do they absorb and learn? There’s  a tendency for the photos to take over the presentation and for the message to get lost.

How to replicate Lessig 2.0

  1. Have lots of photos.
  2. Put them in sequence and then practice, practice, practice till you’ve got a smooth seamless delivery integrating your narrative and the slides. The synchronisation is not quite as critical as when you’re synching with words but it’s still lots of work.

PowerPoint Slide Design #5: Duarte Design Diagrams

The designers at Duarte are experts at converting concepts, ideas and facts into visuals. Check out their portfolio. Notice the iconic graphics, the restrained colour palette and the subtle but highly effective animation. I’ve reproduced a couple of screenshots of slides here (with Nancy Duarte’s permission) but these shots don’t do them justice:

duarte1 duarte-diagram

These types of slides help us understand and grasp complex concepts – this should be one of the prime functions of PowerPoint and other slideware.  Yet – they’re under-utilised. When Slideshare ran the Credit Crisis slide contest I thought that we might see some great conceptual diagrams – but there were few and those I saw were badly executed.

How to create a diagram like Duarte Design

  1. Start with a piece of paper in front of you.
  2. Sketch visual expressions of your concept. Show relationships, processes, and changes over time.
  3. Once you’ve got something on paper, then start building it in Powerpoint.
  4. And for more inspiration read the Slide:ology blog and buy the Slide:ology book.

PowerPoint Slide Design #6: Ethos3 story-telling style

Scott Schwertly of Ethos3 tells stories with PowerPoint. In this clip below Scott creates contrasting characters and uses them to introduce his message:

To see the slides by themselves click through to the slideshare version of Meet Henry. Here’s another example of this stye from Bill746 (sorry that’s all I know):

JOBOLOGY for High School Students

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: plan strategy)

I think this is a fun and lively way of making a point. But I wouldn’t want to sit through an entire presentation constructed this way.

How to construct story-telling PowerPoint slides

  1. Decide on the point you want to get across.
  2. Create your story and characters – you’ll note that both the examples above contrast good guy with bad guy.
  3. Flesh out your characters with key details. You want your audience to relate to your characters.
  4. Implement with high quality photos.

PowerPoint Slide Design #7: Comic style

Comics are the original combination of text and pictures. And now many people and organizations are experimenting with online comic presentations.

Garr Reynolds has used elements of this style successfully in his online presentations. He creates a host who guides us through the presentation with humour:

Brain Rules for Presenters

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: reynolds garr)

How to adapt the comic style to live presentations

To use this PowerPoint slide design in a live presentation needs some adaptation. In a live presentation most of the text that you normally see in an online comic presentation will be spoken by you and so should not be on the slide.

But you can still make use of some of the elements of an online comic presentation.

  1. Have a character (or two) that runs through your visual presentation. Your character can be represented by a photo or be hand-drawn.
  2. Have them occasionally comment on what you’re saying through a call-out.

Here’s a simple example from one of my presentations that I use as a demonstration on our courses. The presentation was about a government savings scheme and explained that anybody up to the age of 75 could open a savings scheme – with the exception of the family dog:

jodie-bugger

What other PowerPoint slide designs are there?

I’ve covered seven different PowerPoint slide design styles. What have I missed? Add them in the comments.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan Schultink January 7, 2009 at 12:33 am

Great post Olivia. Different presentation styles for different settings and presenter personalities is a field in need of further “research” and “debate” (shameless plug of a post on my blog that touches on this subject).

It is interesting to put the presentation styles in context:

Garr usually presents “big ideas” and relies a lot on quotes

Ethos3 leverages online sharing tools a lot to spread presentations

Duarte makes a lot of presentations that are used in day-to-day business presentation settings (not all “Al Gore style”), often for clients with a complicated technical product that require complex diagrams (Silicon Valley based).

Reply

Olivia Mitchell January 7, 2009 at 6:01 am

Hi Jan – excellent point that the style you use depends on the context and the audience. For example Ethos3 are also focused towards the GenY market and so Scott’s story-telling slides are particularly appropriate for that audience. Olivia

Reply

Scott Schwertly January 7, 2009 at 12:36 pm

I love this post! It’s very informative, and I think it’s great how you have simplified all that is out there into 7 unique styles. Very cool! Personally, I am huge fan of the Lessig Method.

In addition, thanks for including Ethos3. It’s much appreciated!

Reply

Olivia Mitchell January 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm

A pleasure to mention you and Ethos3, Scott. I found from my research into the Lessig method for this post that it is polarising – some people love it, some people don’t! Olivia

Reply

Rick February 22, 2009 at 7:34 am

Your best slide is a riddle. It engages the audience. They’ll listen to you for the answer. The answer will stick better because they were engaged and listening.

Reply

Olivia Mitchell February 22, 2009 at 7:41 am

Nice point, Rick. It’s an extension of the idea that the slide should not stand alone. It should need you to explain it and make sense of it. Olivia

Reply

Denis François Gravel June 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Good Job Olivia,

I suggest two others method.

First: Pecha Kucha. “Each presenter is allowed 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds each – giving 6 minutes 40 seconds of fame before the next presenter is up”. It is not mainstream, but it is gaining fans.
http://www.pecha-kucha.org/

Second: the most popular method. The boring, boring, really boring, bullet point. Then again….No, you can forget it.

Reply

Olivia Mitchell June 15, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Hi Denis

I see Pecha Kucha as a presentation format not a slide design method. It’s a particular constraint on the way that you present – having to time your “narration” for each slide to 20 seconds. But Pecha Kucha doesn’t tell you how you should design your slides. It could be any of the styles above – or your own style. Olivia

Reply

Denis François Gravel June 16, 2009 at 8:20 am

I agree. I left a similar comment on Presentation Advisors blog. It says : Pecha Kucha is not a “design” method. It is rather a delivery method but it as its place on the list. http://bit.ly/y5qAt

For the Bullet point method,I still think that it is a non design method and that two much people rely on it.

Denis François

Reply

Steve Baugh August 3, 2012 at 11:20 am

Have you ever been approached by an audience member who asks for your presentation to forward to a coworker? Most of these methods fall down for that, not enough detail and the speaker isn’t there to fill in the blanks. I like two presentations, one for the audience who is present for the details, and a boring, boring, really boring, bullet point with more detail (not just a three word bullet points) so that the presentation can be forwarded. I think the styles you mention are best if the presentation will be taped and put on YouTube, but otherwise give me the boring details so I can pull it out later and forward it.

Reply

Roger C. Parker December 24, 2009 at 5:03 am

This is a very useful post; thank you for sharing so much helpful and relevant information.

I especially like the “bridge” that accompanies each example, “How to copy…” or “How to Use…” Nice idea.

Roger C. Parker

Reply

Olivia Mitchell December 24, 2009 at 5:49 am

Thanks Roger :-) .

Reply

Asaawe June 6, 2012 at 6:24 am

Nice work.
For custom presentations slidesdesigner.com is one of great.

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