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Tips to Transform Your Presentations

Published on Nov 06, 2015

An introduction to the presentation best practices that have inspired Haiku Deck, as well as some specific tips and techniques for presenting data. Created as a guest lecture for the UW Communication Leadership Graduate Program


Tips to Transform Your Presentations

The Haiku Deck Way - Catherine Carr, @mamatweeta
You can learn more at http://haikudeck.com, download the free iOS app at http://bit.ly/ScJc5m, or request a new platform here: http://bit.ly/12SRHal.

Photo by Marie in NC


Presentations should be captivating.

After all, what are presentations but stories?

They should capture our attention and speak to our emotions.

They should stir our imaginations.

They should make time stand still.

Photo by Joe Parks

Too often, they're not.

Yet, too often, it's time standing still in the not-so-inspiring way.

We fall into the header-and-bullets formula.

We turn our slides into slideuments. We pack them with tiny text and read them out loud, word for word.

Does the world need more flying bullet points and lame clip art? We say no.

Does it need more beautiful stories and ideas? More simplicity, more fun?

That is why we're here.

Photo by fixedgear

Why It Matters


Here's a link to the full recap of Dave Paradi's Annoying PowerPoint Survey:


  • Boring
  • Long
  • Much/many
  • Read/text
Photo by thisisbossi


  • Boring
  • Long
  • Much/many
  • Read/text
Photo by thisisbossi


The common theme throughout all this? Information overload.
Photo by Pulpolux !!!

Big Data

I hear and read about "big data" all the time. To me, it's another lens onto information overload.

It's not that data isn't important -- but data for data's sake is not always helpful. We'll explore this more in a bit.
Photo by dalbera

Better Presentations = Better Results

Dave Paradi, author of the Annoying PowerPoint Survey, stresses that better presentations lead to better results, in the form of more sales, increased efficiency, and faster decision-making.

I'd also add that the content you create -- including your presentations -- is part of your personal brand, and a stronger brand leads to better results.

7 Tips

A Few Best Practices

We have studied the advice of many presentation experts, and we have specifically designed Haiku Deck to make it easy to follow their recommendations.

Here are few tips that are especially good to keep in mind, no matter what presentation tool you're using.

The Winning Formula


Keep it Simple

We believe that constraints lead to creativity (the haiku, which inspired our name, illustrates this perfectly).

Many presentation tools operate under the assumption that more is better--more options, more choices, more gimmicks.

In our view, less is more.
Photo by Alicia Lynn

1. Build around one big idea

Tip #1: Craft your presentation around one big, memorable idea.

In this deck, our big idea is that although many of us are used to creating our presentations in a certain way, it's not too hard to transform the process.

It's also worth it.

2. One idea per slide

Tip #2: Focus on one idea per slide.

We deliberately limit the amount of text you can put on a slide to encourage this.

After all, one idea per slide is really all your audience can absorb.

"But," you say, "that will mean I'll have too many slides."

Trust us--it's not the number of slides that matters; it's how clearly those slides communicate your message.
Photo by garryknight


This absolutely applies to data, too! It's a common practice to cram slides full of data, but highlighting one data point, so that the meaning is clear, is an excellent practice.

3. Not too many words

Tip #3: Keep words to a minimum.

Some experts have rules about how many words to include on a slide. The general consensus is the fewer, the better.

I like to think of words like oysters. About a half-dozen is perfect. Too many more than that is probably overdoing it.

Remember, the point of your slides is not to duplicate exactly what you're going to say. It's to reinforce, illustrate, and deepen your message.

Photo by cizauskas

Untitled Slide

Here's a fairly typical presentation slide I clipped from Slideshare.

It's great content, don't get me wrong, but when this is the 2nd slide you see, it might be tough to get past. Or at minimum you'd probably want to skip over it pretty quickly. Is there a different way to communicate this?


Make it Beautiful

Image isn't everything, but let's face it--it matters. Even the most compelling story can fall flat if it unfolds in unappealing slides filled with 8-point text.

We believe that beautiful, image-rich slides should be easy for anyone to create.

Photo by Egg Dance

4. Pictures tell stories

Tip #4: Pictures, above all, grab our attention and connect with our emotions, making ideas vivid and memorable.

The key is to use your images for true storytelling power, not just as embellishment.

This image, of Edith Macefield's house surrounded by a big housing development in Ballard, tells a powerful story. (This is the house that inspired the movie UP.)
Photo by Great Beyond

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Here's an image I pulled recently for a company whose fundamental value proposition is around data transparency -- with evocative photos, you can really show the difference between opacity....
Photo by garryknight

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or distortion...

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and transparency, clarity.
Photo by kevin dooley

5. Keep formatting clean and consistent

Tip #5: Keep formatting consistent and simple.

Did you notice how in this deck, each tip appears in the same place on the slide? And how I used solid-color slides to introduce sections?

Think about how your formatting can create a sense of hierarchy and rhythm to aid comprehension.

{And don't forget to keep it simple.}
Photo by geishaboy500

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Unfortunately, here is how many people interpret the idea of consistent formatting...


Have Fun

"Fun" is not a word that most of us associate with either creating or listening to presentations. But we don't see why these things shouldn't be fun!

Read more about our story and our philosophy here:

Photo by lasmit42

6. Find the story in everything

Tip #6: Keep your focus on what really matters: your story.

When you're working on a presentation, it's easy to get caught up in time-consuming things like building animations, text formatting, and fancy transitions. But these aren't the things that make your message memorable--it's the story.

Give yourself time to explore and create.

Sometimes a little metaphorical thinking can help you discover your big idea, and everything just flows from there.

We have tried to make Haiku Deck incredibly simple to use so you can concentrate on your message. And we often find that the very process of exploring pictures and words with Haiku Deck's built-in image search unlocks ideas and opens up new creative possibilities.
Photo by courosa

7. Connect with your audience

Tip #7: Be yourself.

When it comes to presentation design, we often favor consistency over individual style. We grab the corporate template, or we stick with a set combination of fonts, layouts, and colors.

We believe every story deserves to be told in its own unique way, and that injecting your own personality is going to make your communication more effective.
This approach will also help you establish a real connection with your audience.

It takes practice not to just read everything you're going to say right off your slides, but it's well worth the effort.

When your slides are there to reinforce and beautifully illustrate your ideas, you can engage with your audience in a more meaningful, authentic way.

{This is also a lot more fun for everybody.}

Photo by fennfoot

Presenting Data

Now let's go a little deeper on how to apply these techniques to the presentation of data. This is something you'll be required to do in nearly every class you take, and every job you have.

Photo by harold.lloyd

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The same expert I mentioned earlier, Dave Paradi, did a companion study with a couple hundred executives and business leaders, to uncover what they found frustration about the presentation of financial information (one flavor of data) specifically. The results really echo what we saw before. More than two-thirds felt there were too many numbers. (Hello, information overload!)

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We've all been in the audience when the speaker gets bogged down in the detail and goes over time. It's not a great experience for anyone. Less is more!

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Tables are tempting because they feel information dense and authoritative. But in a presentation context, it's pretty difficult to absorb all that information. Consider other ways to tell the story that matters!

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This theme emerges in the research over and over again -- many presenters focus on the numbers themselves, not on why they matter.

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And, just like in the companion survey, the #1 thing that presenters can do to annoy their audience is to read off their slides word for word.

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Find the real story! There's always one hidden in the numbers, just waiting to be discovered. Telling the real story in the right way will make your message easier to understand and more memorable.


  • Leapfrog Social Media - Sentiment Analysis
  • Mumm Napa Net Promoter Score
  • Telo Naming Survey
  • Haiku Deck User Experience Survey
So, the same techniques can apply when you're presenting data -- keep it simple, make it beautiful, and have fun!

Photo by harold.lloyd


  • Simple
  • Beautiful
  • Fun
So, the same techniques can apply when you're presenting data -- keep it simple, make it beautiful, and have fun!

Photo by harold.lloyd


  • Presentations in general
  • Presenting data
  • Social media/brand and content development/quantitative vs.. qualitative
Photo by Earthworm