Future Learning Tech

5 Ways to “Messagize” Your Slides

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How many slides do you see every week? How many leave you with a clear message?

We've all been there: Teams are assembled, the speaker takes the stage with slides on the screen (how many are there?), and as you’re listening, you ask yourself, “What’s the point?”

This is the no-message epidemic, exacerbated by a tool called PowerPoint. And many people I meet believe this epidemic could be solved if only they were graphic designers.

Are you a designer? I’m not. My clients aren’t either. Most professionals don’t have designers or a budget for designers. But I don’t believe we need to be or hire designers to create effective slides. Here’s the secret: We need to shift from the data-dumping default to message-centric slides.

I took on this challenge, and I am excited to share with you five ways you can end data dumping forever and messagize your slides to make your point.

1. Start at the bottom

Do you begin by opening a slide and typing in your script? Inserting an Excel file? Searching Google Images for a cute picture? When I ask people I work with how they begin working on a slide, the most common answer is the title. I want to change that.


With the Make a Point method, you begin at the bottom, below the slide. The messaging-first approach means the message leads the design, not data made beautiful or nicely organized. Start in the speaker notes where you write the slide’s one-sentence main message. That’s where design begins—at the bottom, in the speaker notes where you can’t even see it. Then, you work your way up.

2. Choose a layout that fits your message

Many organizations have a brand template. Some even have templates with a variety of pretty layouts. These can be useful if used in a message-centric way. Your job is to fit the slide layout to your message. Trust me when I say that bullets are not an option; they just encourage data dumping. There must be an anti-bullet movement out there, right? Instead of seeing which layout has the most space for text or choosing the layout that is most like bullets (but not bullets), define your message and then select the right layout from there.

You can add a message banner with the message briefly stated and insert focus elements (arrow, circle, color). A message can be delivered with very little.

3. Replace decoration with design

I wish organizations blocked Google Images. Many people I work with choose an image related to the subject matter of the presentation, or a cute image to make it “visual.” I call this decoration. Design is about selecting the right visual element that reinforces a message. Decoration versus design—that’s what it’s all about. I have come to resent “pretty” slides, especially when describing a problem which sometimes needs to look messy to get the message across.

4. Messagizing means simplifying

Everyone wants to achieve maximum visual simplicity. It’s the ultimate sophistication. I like to think of simplicity as maximum impact with minimum means. In the slide world, it means the minimum needed on the slide to show the message. This means minimum elements—visual or textual—and plenty of white space.

5. Ask yourself if it supports or distracts

So how do you choose what to put on the slide and what to leave out? Approach each element or word on a slide and ask yourself: Is this supporting the message, or distracting from it? Just because you have data or images doesn’t mean you need to use them. The only reason to put anything on a slide is to show the audience the message in an easier, clearer way.

Who’s got time for all of this? Don’t worry, it’s not about designing from scratch. It’s about taking existing slides and upgrading them, in as little as 10 minutes and without a single designer in the room. Minimal changes—adding a message banner, bolding important text, or removing an element that’s not needed to show the message—make a huge difference.

We cannot ban PowerPoint from our organizational culture (yet), but we can change the way we design our slides. Is your team going to be leading the message-centric slide revolution?

For more information about the Make a Point methodology, join me at the ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition for the session, Message-Centric PowerPointers: Where Messaging and Design Meet.

About the Author

Lior Student is a wordsmith who drinks too much coffee. Lior is the founder of Make a Point, a 5-step message-development process and a message-crafting app. Since 2005, Lior has dedicated her career to the art of crystalizing ideas, articulating their essence and delivering a message that gets results. Lior believes in the power of words to seize opportunities. Lior works globally with data-dumpers, buzz-word-addicts, slide-dependents and I've-got-no-time-executives; her clients include Microsoft, Applied Materials, Cisco, Amdocs, NICE, EY. Lior drives the messaging process, teaches new ways of thinking, asks, listens, pushes, focuses, refines and challenges – to move individuals, teams and organizations from ideas to memorable messages. Everyday, Lior Student sets out on a journey with thinkers, idea creators and focus seekers, traveling from raw ideas to memorable messages.

1 Comment
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Thanks for writing! I really like the start at the bottom point. I was wondering if you had some examples for point #3 showing the difference for you between decoration and design.
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