Presentation design: 5 ways to break the mould

Presentation design is all about emotion. A business presentation is a powerful opportunity to engage an audience and inspire it to take action. But so often we see lacklustre default designs that fail to seize that opportunity, leaving audiences disengaged and contents under-sold.

By planning and using imagination, you can break the mould and create a presentation design that’s impactful, engaging and motivational.

The power of presentations

A well-designed presentation can be an immensely powerful tool.

On a business level it can lead to:On a personal level they can lead to:
• organizational change,
• growth in business value, and
• higher staff motivation and productivity levels.
• a pay rise,
• promotion
• career development opportunities

Presentations can make people laugh, or even cry. And herein lies the key, the ultimate presentation design connects with your audience emotionally.

When we experience a reaction or connection to information, our brains sort, store and recall it more vividly and more easily. Therefore, the more emotionally engaged your audience is with your presentation, the more it’ll remember it and retell it, so amplifying your message.


“The ultimate presentation design connects with your audience emotionally.”


Visuals aid understanding and memory too. Our brains process images much faster than text as visuals tend to have more associated connections within our long-term memory so our brains have more context from which to apply meaning.

The following five tips combine emotion and imagery to help you create a compelling presentation design that will surprise and inspire your audience.

Presentation design tip 1 - leave the office. Image shows a lady working on her computer in a coffee shop

01 – Leave the office

Changing your environment can stimulate creativity and foster out-of-the-box thinking. Leave your desk, take your pen and a notepad and go somewhere you find inspiring and won’t be disturbed – the park, the coffee shop, the library. I have a particular spot in my garden where I write my blog posts and do ‘bigger picture’ thinking. I leave my phone and just take a pen and paper and let my mind wander – it’s surprising where it goes!

Think about the key messages or actions that you’d like your audience to remember and work back from there. Use brain-storming tools – word associations, thesaurus, Pinterest – whatever works for you and explore the ideas and emotions you want to present without imposing any limits on yourself.

Analogies, similes and metaphors can be useful starting points for thinking in a visually creative way. What could be used to explain your messages and what kinds of thoughts and images do they generate? Think about who your audience is and what their sources of inspiration are. What will spark their interest and keep them engaged?

Tip 2: Tell a story. Image shows a lady in her 30s presenting to a room

02 – Tell a story

Your presentation will be competing in a world of information overload and reduced attention spans. Visual storytelling is an effective way to cut through the chatter and connect with your audience emotionally.

Our brains prefer information that is packaged as stories. We understand concepts, ideas and instructions more easily when they’re given social context and can imagine a scenario in which they would be carried out.


“We actually recall and process information better if it’s socially encoded – that is, if the facts are set in the context of the way people behave and feel.”

Caroline Webb, How to have a good day

You may be thinking: “How on earth do I find a story within this business presentation?” But people run that business, and that business serves other people. People have collected the data about other people, that you’re using. You can see where this is leading; it’s your job to find the “people” story and use it in your presentation.

Presentation design tip 3: Storyboard with pen and paper. Image shows a man sketching.

03 – Storyboard

Plan your presentation design out on paper. Sketch the concept of each slide out quickly and redraft with more detail until your story flows. Avoid at all cost jumping straight into your presentation design software and adding reams of text.

Start to gather imagery that conveys the emotions you want your audience to feel during your presentation.

04 – Cut the text

Depending on the nature of your presentation you can achieve a much greater emotional response through visuals than with text, so keep your words to a minimum. That’s not to say you can’t use any – graphs, data and diagrams will need some labelling and context – but establish in your own mind exactly what you want to achieve with each slide. Whether that’s an emotional reaction and an understanding of a set of data, or something else. Is it more important that they listen to what you’re saying at that moment, or that they take in the information being shown to them?


“The audience will either read your slides or listen to you. They will not do both. So, ask yourself this: is it more important that they listen, or more effective if they read?”

Nancy Duarte, slide:ology

Presentation design tip 5: Mix it up. Variety in layout, pace and visual style can keep an audience engaged.

05 – Mix it up

I’m sure we’ve all sat through presentations that seem endless – the slide layouts are duplicated and contain reams of text and the presenter talks intensely all the time.

Repetition of design elements can diminish retention and recall. Whereas variety in layout, pace and visual style can keep an audience engaged. As I mentioned at the start, visuals are highly effective for sorting, storing and recalling information, so it follows that different visuals help our brains to distinguish information to be stored separately and clearly.


“A diversity of media keeps our brains engaged in the material, and the visualisation can enable us to digest it more efficiently and facilitate understanding.”

Lankow, Ritchie & Crooks, Infographics: the power of visual storytelling

Presentations can be extremely powerful. You have a captive audience, which is rare these days. Make the most of it with an impressive and memorable presentation design. If you’d like to chat about how we could help you create a professional presentation design give us a on 01606 276176 or email us workwithus@nwc.design. We won’t bite.