Presentation Series - Part 1 of 2: Botox Presentations:  How A Simple Grid Gives Your Slides A Facelift

"Every slide needs to look LIKE something has gone a bit wrong."

These are Kevin's wise words. Kevin is a freelance designer (and more). He has worked as a Creative Director on ad campaigns for major mobile, tech and car companies. He’s also lectured at universities and colleges on design. #respect2kevin

We’re discussing some basics of how to design a PowerPoint presentation when you are not a designer.

“There aren’t any rules, it’s all guidance”, Kevin says.  “You can’t really do a 'paint by numbers’ approach”.

I’m speaking with Kevin because I’m wanting the skinny on how he designs business presentations. 


Because however well written and designed I think my presentation might be - I’ve needed a designer to give it that facelift. Every marketing and strategy presentation that I've done needs to be designed well to sell your thinking.

And it’s irked me that I've needed a designer to give it that facelift. 

So, I want to talk about in this post are three ways Kevin says that non-designers can give presentations a facelift:

·      The first way is start off on the basics before you break any rules

·      The second way is to learn about the 'power of space' on a slide and how space can make a slide sing like a pop-king

·      The third way is to explore ‘rhythm’ and how to bring drama and pace to your story through design

Let’s get going and look at the first way:


1.  Start off on the right foot

The first thing to do is to get all your words and images ready.

Once ready, Kevin suggests putting all words and images onto slides first, before you even start to design. 

“Have minimal copy before you put anything down on a slide. From a design perspective, less is better”. Kevin says.

This is a case of slicing, editing and getting rid of word flab. Once you have done this, you can then put your images, sexy charts or videos into the charts. The slides won’t look pretty, but all the elements will be down on a slide, at least.

At this point in the conversation with Kevin, I am getting excited: I can see rules to follow. Lovely, safe rules. They feel so warm. Like a hug.

Kevin then says ‘of course, you'll need a grid.’

‘A what?’ I ask. 

Which leads me onto the next point:


2.  All hail the mighty grid

Kevin now talks to me about ‘the importance of adhering to a grid’. 


But what is a grid? Why is it important?

A grid is an invisible object that neatly groups our words and images onto a slide. It is important because it gives the presentation a visual consistency. All this is very pleasing to the brain.

Kevin explains that a grid is not something that you can see on PowerPoint.

So, what does this look like in reality?


 A basic version of a grid looks like is this

An example of a grid with a headline

An example of a grid with a headline

Example of a grid with a chart in

Example of a grid with a chart in

Example of a chart with a grid hidden

Example of a chart with a grid hidden

Grid Yoga

A grid can be far more flexible too. It is a bit like yoga. It stretches in different ways across a slide, yet is rooted to the structure of your grid.

In other words, this means that your grid doesn’t have to be one square box. 

It can do its own type of yoga. It can do downward facing dog, modified cobra or placid chipmunk (okay, one of those 3 isn’t a yoga move, but it got your attention, didn't it?!).

It can be divided into thirds or halves. It’s up to you.

Here’s an example

Our grid divided into 3 boxes

Our grid divided into 3 boxes

Our grid divided in 2 boxes

Our grid divided in 2 boxes

Rise & Fall, Rise And Fall

Have you ever heard a Gregorian Chant! It’s mostly sung on one note. Unless you happen to be a 14th Century monk, it’s exceptionally dull.  But if you listen to Mariah Carey, Prince, or James Brown, you’ll notice that they can get your attention quickly (and hold it) because of their vocal range, and ability to go up to the high notes (like Mariah) or hit the base notes (like James).

And when it comes to your presentation, varying the visual range of your grid creates interest because there is variation, there is rise and fall.

If you keep to one style of grid, there is no rhythm in how your presentation looks. 

The 'visual language’ of your presentation becomes monotone.

This makes brains fall asleep.


So, we’ve got to mix up the visual style.


Look at this example of a presentation deck.

I went onto Pinterest and took a screengrab of this set of presentation slides.


Can you see how many different styles of grids that there are?

See how there is consistency yet variation at the same time?

I then colour coded the grids to show how there are 4 grid designs so you can see what I mean.

The slides catch the eye before the brain

I liked this example because your likes it before the brain knows why.  It makes me pay attention because

1.                It neatly groups logos, photos and text together

2.                It creates space around elements - nothing is too crowded together

3.                It creates a visual drama – the pictures and the angular shapes are exciting.

But how do I choose the right grid when I am not a designer?

What if I don’t know which grid works best?


And this leads me to my 3rd point…


3.  You don’t need to do the grid until the end

I remember moving to my new house. I was hugely excited and had a plan of where all the furniture, my TV and books etc were going to go. However, when all was in the house and in position, NOTHING looked right.

The chairs were wider than I thought, the colour of the sofa didn’t go with the colour of the walls, and I’d forgotten about an extra bookcase that needed to go in.


It would have been quicker to put all the furniture in the room and work out a design from there.


Just like moving into a house with all your stuff, it makes a lot of sense to design the grid once every element is in the presentation. You might be lucky to know what your grids are going to be from the start.

But most of the time you’ll need to be patient and do them at the end.


So why wait until then end? 

“You read a lot online about how you must do grids first. Well, that’s not true in reality”, Kevin says.

"You have to understand that when you have lots of time, it can be done. But what you usually end up doing in the real world is putting what you have on your slides and then retro-fitting a grid to it.”

That makes me feel better.

It sounds manageable.

Words and pics first. Then retro-fit a grid.


You can speed up which grid design to choose

When it’s time, go to Pinterest.  

There are 100s of templates on there if you type in ‘PowerPoint Templates'. 

Pick one that suits your presentation and the words and pictures that you have to work with. 


All that talk of grids has brought us to the end.

We covered

1). why it’s important to start off on the right foot and get all your copy and images onto slides first, before designing

2). what a grid is, how to create one and the importance of visual rhythm

3). why you should design a grid once all your images and pictures are in there


If there’s one action that you could do today… 

It’s to go onto Pinterest and find examples that catch the eye, before the brain.

Simply, type in ‘PowerPoint Templates’.

And you're off.


Happy Grid-Hunting.