episode 49: What Makes Presentation Slides Beautiful (with Mitch Grasso)

What makes a slide “bad” or “ugly?”

  • Nolan: Overall, a lack of thoughtful design and no thought given to the audience. Professional graphic designers far to often say, “Oh, it’s just PowerPoint, it’s not meant to be designed” or “It’s just PowerPoint, it doesn’t matter.”
  • Sandy: And traditional graphic designers forget about working with alignment and a grid when tasked with presentation slides. The lack of on-slide organization and slide to slide consistency leads to cognitive overload for the audience. A vast majority of beautiful templates are designed on a grid.
  • Troy: Too much content, content that is too small, images that are too pixelated or poorly cropped. Basically, no thought to the content, no professional design applied to the content, and no consideration for the audience view.
  • Mitch: Design = communication and art = something completely different. At SlideRocket we were an online PowerPoint competitor. With Beautiful.ai I have a different goal, to enable non-experts to create aesthetic/beautiful slides by doing lots of the design thinking for the user. It is “opinionated software” in that enforces a design aesthetic on the user that is within the bounds of universal design principles.


Who benefits most from creating “beautiful” slides?

  • Troy: Everyone. The presenter is more smooth and polished on stage. The production company has a roadmap to the presenter’s actions. The audience gets a great presentation delivery, instead of a presenter reading slide content with awkward pauses and lots of uncertainty in the presenter’s voice.
  • Sandy: You don’t get comments like, “Well, this is too small to read, but…” Everyone is prepared.
  • Nolan: Can I say that the message itself benefits?


Aesthetics can sometimes trump content and the audience will walk away saying, “What a beautiful presentation,” but have no memory of what was actually presented.

  • Nolan: That is something I never really want to hear. On one level, it’s nice, but you don’t want style over substance.
  • Sandy: This happened to me recently. The slides were beautiful, but I cannot recall much of the content and the irony is the presentation topic was “How to make your presentation memorable.”
  • Troy: So many design decisions impact the audience perception and recollection. Virtually all content needs to first support the presenter and second support the audience interpreting the presentation content. Creating that balance of content to styling, in an aesthetically pleasing way is the problem that a presentation designer solve.


Is there such a thing as technical beauty in the building of a presentation?

  • Nolan: On the technical side, presentations built to be completely editable whenever possible is a technical beauty – and 99% of the time mine are. Meaning, no flattened JPEGs, icons are all true vectors that can be recolored and resized, colors are applied correctly from the palette and font themes used. All so that the user can change a number at the last minute or tweak a global color value easily.
  • Troy: I am going to take the route of PowerPoint file setup. Doing things correctly, makes life so much better for you later. For example, using a shape with a text box stacked on top of will be a mess to move/align/animate when the slide needs to be updated later vs. just doing it right as a shape with text inside it to begin with. That is not only technically beautiful, but a lot less frustrating!


What can presenters do to make charts, like financial numbers and technical information, look beautiful?

  • Nolan: In the book, Good Charts by Scott Berinato, the author talks about pretty charts and says, “It’s not a better chart because it’s prettier, it’s prettier because it’s a better chart.”
  • Mitch: Dataviz is hugely important. Visualizing is a way to get away from “PowerPoint hell.” Beautiful.ai shines with the ability to create data visualizations, it goes beyond PowerPoint’s SmartArt and creates some really great ways of presenting data. The bottom line is data should be about telling a story, super detailed charts do not tell the story.
  • Sandy: Charts need to be simplified. When I train using my “PowerPoint Audiences are People, Too” I focus on deconstructing charts to make them simpler for the audience.
  • Troy: Simplify. Include the data needed for the presentation point, make it large, make it easy to interpret. Done.


How strong is the connection between design and storytelling? Can better design increase the impact and effectiveness of a presentation? 

  • Mitch: There is a design of story, and there is design of slides, each has an approach. Design should be about better communication and more effective presentation – for any type of presentation. Presentations are designed to communicate.
  • Troy: We are talking about presentation design to support the presenter’s story. The design itself can be intricate, layered, animated to richly support the presenter. Or the design can be simple, stark and almost nothing to put the focus on the presenter. I see both ends of the spectrum in presentation design, and both can be used to create a strong connection between the design and storytelling. Better design, actual presentation design, that focuses on the audience is going to impact the effectiveness of the presentation. That’s our job, no matter what software is used, to create the design that coordinates with the presenter and creates that connection between presenter and design.



Show Suggestions? Questions for your Hosts?

Email us at: [email protected]

New Episodes 1st and 3rd Tuesday Every Month

Thanks for joining us!