Presentations That Don’t Suck #1

Common Slide Deck Design Problems and How To Fix Them

bad presentation slides and how to fix them

No one wants to be in PowerPoint Hell. Not you, and definitely not the people who will be watching your presentation. Here are some examples of bad presentation slides. Side by side, I’ll show you a better version of the exact same slide. It doesn’t matter which program you use to build your presentation. PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides or Canva will all work, but the same general rules apply.

let's talk about data slides

Most business presentations include data of some kind. There’s nothing worse than just a bunch of numbers on a slide. The human brain processes images more quickly than text or numbers, so my go-to solution is to use graphics instead. Most presentation programs have some sort of built-in chart options, but even those can be hard to digest sometimes. 

Instead of plopping the data into a slide as a table or even making a quick chart, think about how you can make it visual. 

Here I changed the list of countries from a table into a graphic. 

bad presentation slides data charts
bad presentation slides data charts

It’s more engaging and much more visually appealing. By using the bubble size to show the differences in population, it’s much easier to see how close in numbers India and China are. You can see how the US is just slightly more populous than Indonesia. It’s also much clearer that three of the four are in Asia and Southeast Asia.

Fonts matter. Big time.

If you have branded fonts, use them. Resist the urge to use funky or decorative fonts. Don’t mix too many together. Choose clean and professional fonts. You do want your presentation to be memorable, but not because of the pirate font you chose for your headlines. Aye matie! Here are two examples. One with a crack pipe worthy choice of fonts, and the other below with a simple combination of a san serif and a serif font. 

First up, the slide with an odd mix of fonts. What they’re going to remember when they see this is not what you’re saying but how odd the slide looks.  

Here’s what happens when we clean that up.  

The only difference is the font choices.  The headline is is uppercase Montserrat and I changed the body text to Lora.  Not only does a good font choice help a single slide look better, but you also want that to be consistent throughout your deck.

Use the same fonts in the same sizes and formats on all of your slides to help your deck look smart.

a little side note on fonts

In the example above, I used Montserrat and Lora. Both are very common fonts and they are an easy pairing. Montserrat is a sans serif font and Lora is a serif.  

Serifs are the little “feet” on the letters. Serif fonts have them and sans serif fonts don’t.  “Sans” means without.

Sans serif fonts tend to be more modern and clean while serifs usually lean more traditional and serious. I used this combination because it keeps the style modern and also makes it look like you know your stuff at the same time. 

You can spiff them up a bit further by using contrasting sizes using all uppercase for things like headlines. Whatever fonts you choose, be consistent through the deck in the choices as well as how you use them.

Aim for fonts that work well together, that balance each other, but also that are just different enough to give a little bit of contrast. 

serif vs sans serif fonts best fonts to use in presentations

be smart about images

Did you notice how the images all coordinate on the slides in the font example? If you need to use stock images in a presentation, make sure that they are of a consistent style and color story throughout your deck. They should reinforce your message and work with your brand style. 

Try to find images that don’t feel like the same old stock, too. If it wouldn’t happen in real life, don’t use it. If you’ve seen it 100 times in other things, don’t use it. Folks in the real estate industry… you know that image with the hands giving the keys? I’m talking to you.  

For more info on finding stock images, check out the post I did on that here.


These could be your annual financials, sales or market stats, or the details on a project.  The difference from the chart slide above is that these are numbers that relate to each other, but aren’t the same data set.   In real estate it might be something like sales averages, days on market, and aborption rate.  Together they tell a story but they don’t go on one chart like a trend of sales averages over time would.  

Don’t just put them in a list.  This is what I see people doing the most often, probably because it’s an easy out.

Do this instead and let your badass numbers shine.

bad presentation slides data charts
bad presentation slides data charts

 I used the same stock image on both but I changed the bullet point list to a data bar. Each number stands on its own but you can still see how they interrelate. Putting them in order this way helps you to walk through each and to tell the story of how you got from the start to the end.

Doing it this way also gives us the ability to add a short explaination (handy if we’re emailing a deck or giving people print copies).

the other people's logo headache

When you need to use partner or customer logos, please for the love of all that’s holy don’t just slap them on a slide. Especially if they’re colored and double especially with a cherry on top not against a colored background. Check first, of course, but I have yet to come across a company that won’t let you use their logo in black or greyscale.

Yikes, right?  It’s a retina burner and it looks messy.  Even sized and lined up, it just does’t work.

Here’s what happens when we go with greyscale instead, size them all the same, and align them.

how to use logos in slide decks
how to use logos in slide decks

You won’t always be able to get them in a png format with a transparent background, so it’s much easier to use white behind them. 

I didn’t want my slide to just be plain white, so I used a background image with a black semi-transparent overlay to add some interest. I put the logos lined up on a white banner bar over that.

So much better!


speaking of overlays, here's another way to use them

When you want to put text over a photo, the thing that I see most often is that people try to make the image semi-transparent to make the text more visible.  It kinda sorta but not really works.  Overlays fix that.

It looks washed out and odd, the text is still difficult to read, and the image competes with the content.  It’s just really hard to make this work.

Use an overlay instead.

bad presentations slides use text over a photo
bad presentation slides text over a photo

The background image isn’t transparent, but the colored block over it is. I used a black rectangle that’s the same size as the image on top of the photo and set it 30 % transparency. The text blocks are on top of that. 

I also moved the text to the left side and brought it down so that it sits over the least interesting part of the photo.  

Not into black? 

You can do the same thing with colors. It’s a bit harder because you lose some contrast, but it can work. A tip with doing this with colors is to use deeper and more saturated colors rather than light or soft ones.  It won’t be as legible as the white on black, but it’s doable.

This isn’t by any means a list of all the bad slides that I see. I hope that it’s at least a start, though, to help you put a great slide deck together. Keep your slides as clean as they can be and use graphics where you can to simplify statistics or ideas.  Be smart about your color and font choices, too.

I hope some of these easy design hacks will have you on your way to building more professional presentations.

Have an important deck and just can’t deal?  Hit me up.  I can not only make just about any deck look awesome, but I can help you work through what should be in it. too.



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