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  • Writer's pictureShannon Malkin Daniels

Visual Aid Do's and Don'ts

I've given, attended and helped create A LOT of presentations. That means I've seen a lot of decks. And if I can be honest, most of them are BAD.

I'm not gonna lie, when I was starting out, I didn't know what the heck I was doing with my presentation deck (I cringe when I see some of my old decks). I've used and even taught the 6 by 6 rule - no more than 6 bullets per slide with 6 words per bullet. But even that is too many words, 36 to be precise, on a slide.

Let me get real with you for minute. If you've got a bunch of bullets and text on your slides, your deck sucks. Here's why:

  • People want to listen, not read. This is especially annoying if the words on your slides are the same as the ones coming out of your mouth. You could have saved your audience a lot of time by just sending them your deck if you were going to read it verbatim. It's called a VISUAL aid for a reason. It's meant to visually enhance what you're saying. And if the audience is reading they aren't listening, which defeats the entire purpose of you speaking.

  • Your slides are for your audience, not you. Don't use your deck as your personal presenter notes. That's not what it's there for. If you need presenter notes, use the notes section of your presentation software. We've made that real easy for you with encaptiv.

  • People can't see all that crap on your slides. Whether it's bullets, text or a bunch of diagrams and images, putting too much on a slide is a recipe for disaster. Why? Because the more you put on a slide, the smaller you have to make everything. And the smaller it gets, the harder it is to see. What's the point of even having a visual if people can't see it? Give your slides the cell phone test. Pull up your slides on your cell phone. Hold your phone a full arm length away from you (no cheating). If you can't VERY CLEARLY and QUICKLY (1 to 5 seconds) see and make sense of what is on the slide, you have too much and it is too small. When we were designing encaptiv people said, "But audience members won't be able to see all my text on their phone screens, it's too small." EXACTLY!!! That's the point. Put a picture there instead.

So what should you do?


  • Use images and diagrams that represent and reinforce what you're saying.

  • Try to stick to 1 image per slide, but no more than 3 (this includes diagrams).

  • Keep charts and graphs simple and easy to understand.

  • Use high quality images - there are tons of free and low-cost stock image libraries out there (,,,

If you must use text:

  • Make it LARGE (32+ point font).

  • Avoid putting paragraphs on a slide.

  • Remember that less is more.

Battling the common excuse

But, Shannon...I don't just use my deck for presenting, I also email it to people who could not attend or for marketing purposes. That's great, but it still doesn't change things. The deck you use to present with should be a completely different deck than you email out. The deck you email out can have more details and text in it because it's not a visual aid, it's an informational piece. The solution? Have 2 different decks - one you present with and one you email.

Does this mean there's never a need to put text on slides. No. There will be cases where you need to put bullets, text and information on the slide. Just keep in mind as you design your slides that they are meant to bolster your message, not deliver it for you.

The next time you create a presentation deck, use these tips to differentiate yourself from all the bad ones out there and leave a GOOD lasting impression on your audience!


Don't Do This

It's okay for me to share these, I'm only embarrassing myself. These are my slides before I knew better. Unfortunately, this is what most of the slides I see look like.

What NOT to do

All Text = Disengaging

Do This

Do you SEE the difference? Which would you rather look at during a presentation?

Simple diagrams, not much text.

Large text, simple image that evokes emotion.

Image only. YOU explain what it means, the image adds impact to your words.

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