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How to Design Compelling Visuals for Learning Presentations

Whether you just started doing learning presentations or that has been a part of your L&D responsibilities for a long time, there is a simple truth you may have learned – visuals dominate our world. We have all experienced bad presentations. But what is the secret to phenomenal visuals that help create engaging and memorable learning experiences?


You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create great visuals. You may be a seasoned webinar host or a beginner trainer dipping your toes into the world of presentations (online or not). Either way, this article will equip you with practical tips on creating compelling visuals for any learning experience (like a training, workshop, webinar and so on). Let's unravel the art of visual communication, one slide at a time!



Table of contents:


Presentation Structure

First things first – we need to be clear on the structure of the presentation.


Here are the slides you always need to consider:

  • Starting Slide: This is the initial visual your audience sees as they log in. Make it inviting and relevant to your webinar topic.

  • Title Slide: Introduce yourself and the webinar topic. This sets the stage for what's to come.

  • Agenda Slide: Tell your audience what they can expect from the webinar. This keeps them tuned in and anticipating what's next.

  • Navigation/Sub-Heading Slide: Helps guide your audience through your presentation journey by displaying where in the presentation you are at.

  • Content Slides: This is where the magic happens! These are the main slides in your presentation where you deliver your information. There are several sub-types within this category, such as:

    • Text Slides: These slides might feature bullet points, numbered lists, or key quotes. We have a lot to say about these slides, so read on.

    • Image Slides: These slides primarily use visuals like photos, diagrams, or infographics to convey information.

    • Data Slides: These slides present data in the form of graphs, charts, or tables.

    • Process or Flowchart Slides: These slides illustrate a process or sequence of steps, often using arrows and diagrams.

  • Interactive Slide: A great way to keep your audience engaged. These include a single word on a slide, quotes, conceptual images, video clips (max of 2-3 min long, otherwise you risk losing the audience), questions, quizzes, or prompts for discussion to engage your audience and encourage participation. Check out some examples below.





  • Recap/Summary Slide: Reinforce the key points from your webinar, ensuring the audience retains the crucial takeaways.

  • Q&A Slide: Invite your audience to ask questions or provide feedback. This slide often comes towards the end and fosters a sense of interaction and community.

  • Conclusion/Call to Action Slide: Summarize your main message and encourage your audience to take some action, like trying out a new strategy or visiting a website.

  • Contact Information/Thank You Slide: Conclude your webinar by thanking your audience for their time, and providing your contact information for further engagement.


Tip #1. Use a Visual Hierarchy

Your slides should follow a certain visual hierarchy – that is, guide the viewer’s eye to the most important elements first. The rule of thumb is to follow a “Z” pattern that our eyes follow naturally – start at top left corner, proceed to the top right corner, move diagonally to the bottom left corner and finish at the bottom right corner. For maximum impact, place your information on this path.


This is not the only way to guide the viewer’s eye though. You can also use varying sizes, shapes, colors, and positions of the elements on your slide.





Tip #2. Keep It Simple

When it comes to visuals – less is more. Your audience should focus on what you are saying, not what’s written/displayed on the slide. That’s why any visual clutter (of images, text or shapes) can take away meaning from your slides because they turn into distractions.


It’s a good practice to stick to a single idea or concept per slide. This will ensure your message is heard, it is clear, and easily digestible. Instead of having multiple elements together on a single slide, separate them. You don’t need a graph, bullet points, an image, and a block of text.


Specifically for this last one – you should never have a big block of text on your slides! If you’re tempted to put it there, put it in the notes where people won’t see it. The only exception would be a quote. But even then, try to shorten it as much as possible.



Tip #3. Use Consistent Design Elements

When your visuals are consistent in color, fonts, image style and design layouts, your presentation looks cohesive and professional. Follow a consistent approach not only in the big things (like colors and fonts) but in the little one as well – titles, headlines, sentence capitalization and so on.


If your company uses specific brand colors or has its own presentation template, use those. If you’re not restricted by a company template, we recommend our favorite template library – SlidesGo. They have both free and paid templates and infographics, so there is something for everyone.


Tip #4. Less Text, More Visuals

This tip is fairly simple – use as little text as possible. Instead, you can use visual elements such as images, graphs, charts, and infographics to communicate your message.


Curious how to turn text into graphs? Head over to our other favorite library – PresentationGo. They have graphs for anything you can think of – charts and diagrams, text and tables, timelines and planning, graphics and metaphors, maps – you name it. Best of all – it’s completely free (though we strongly encourage you to donate as much as you can so the good folks at PresentationGo can keep running the website).


Here's an additional tip – we like to remove all default placeholders on a slide and start with a blank slate. This way, we are not tied down to the default design layout. And we should be extra careful when we add different elements because we need to carefully think what value they add. For example, should the company logo be on every slide? Do we need a title everywhere? Can this bullet list be turned into something more engaging, like a graph?


But what happens if you have to have some text on your slide? Then make sure it’s readable even on a mobile device – make sure the font is at least 16pt; even better if it’s 22pt. And stick to no more than 5 to 6 bullet points per slide. Anything above this number turns into clutter and makes it less memorable.


White space


Speaking of less is more, we have to talk about white space – that is all the space on your slide that is not occupied by an image, text or a graph, it’s the empty space without any content. White space allows your design to “breath”, to feel more spacious. A clean, uncluttered slide helps your audience focus on the key message. Some advertisers have even stated that white space “creates higher perceived value and imparts a feeling of luxury, it sharpens the viewer’s focus by isolating elements” (Duarte, 2012). Use whitespace effectively to create a balance between the elements on your slide. Simplicity often leads to greater clarity and understanding.


Tip #5. Use Typography to Your Advantage

The fonts you use can make or break your presentation, they communicate beyond the words they form. Did you know that over half a million fonts exist in the world? So how do you pick the right ones?


For one, try to use 1 or 2 fonts for the entire deck. It might be tempting to use those fancy fonts your computer comes with or download one of the many free fonts online. But the simple truth is that your presentation doesn’t need it. Choose fonts that reflect the tone of your presentation.


When it comes to choosing the font (or font combinations), stick to sans serif fonts (those without the little lines on top and bottoms of letters) because they are easier to read on screen. Examples of these are Arial and Calibri. Where sans serif fonts are more modern and fun, you can use serif fonts (like Palatino and Garamond) for when you need your text to look more elegant and or classy. You can also use script fonts for when you want to be more personal and show a more human side. We’ll let you explore those by yourself. Overall, combine different fronts sparingly and thoughtfully.


What if you want to emphasize something? Use bold text, rather than underlining. It’s cleaner and draws the eye enough without overwhelming the viewer.


Tip #6. Use Color and Contrast Wisely

Color and contrast can be used to highlight important points and guide your audience’s attention.


Stick to a limited color palette. Just like before, we err on the side of consistency – use the same 1 or 2 primary colors and no more than 1 or 2 complimentary colors throughout your deck. We recommend using colors that best align with your brand’s visual identity.


You need to have a healthy contrast between the text and the background. The default white background and black text are a cliché for a reason – it’s easy to read and doesn’t strain the eyes. Contrast is key for anyone with visual impairments, so use light-dark contrast to help them as much as possible.


When it comes to text and background, there are also some combinations you want to avoid, like red and green, red and blue and orange and blue. These colors interfere with each other and can seem to shake on the screen.


Tip #7. Use High-Quality, Relevant Images

Seeing a low-quality, pixelated image with a watermark or an outdated clipart on a presentation slide makes the presentation look unprofessional. That’s why if you want to use images, make sure they are high-quality. And to elevate your visual game to the next level, ensure all the images you use are in a similar style and color palette. They should look like the same photographer took all pictures, even if that’s not actually the case.

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Source: Freepik


The same is true for any graphics you use. A great source of similar-looking illustrations can be found on Storyset. Just pick a style, change the color, and download the graphic(s) you need. And remember – less is more. Do you really need all 4 or 5 graphics on the same slide? Are they connected to each other and tell a story or do they distract and take away from your message?


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Source: Storyset and Freepik


Finally, while it can be tempting to pick the first image that pops into your search results, it’s much better to spend time and go for images that are relevant and not as cliché (for example, instead of using a bullseye to illustrate a goal, why not go for something less obvious?). Your images should be there to trigger emotions, illustrate a point or provide context. At the end of the day, an image's relevance is more important than its aesthetic appeal.


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Tip #8. Use Icons and Symbols

Icons and symbols can simplify complex ideas, making them quick to understand. They're great for summarizing information or drawing attention to key points. Make sure they're uniformly designed and large enough to be easily discerned.


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Tip #9. Incorporate Data Visualization

We often need to present data. And the simplest way is to just paste the graph that represents our data. But there is a better way. Any graph (like a pie chart or a bar graph) represents the “What” of the data. You need to find the “Why” and the “How” and spin a narrative from that. What made the numbers go up or down? How will people (learners, customers, end-users, etc.) be affected by that?


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Having said that, keep in mind that sometimes the best chart is no chart at all. If there is a single number that conveys the message loud and strong – make it loud and strong on the slide as well. You can show this number as big as possible on the screen.



If you want to share several elements related to the same thing (for example, tips on how to design compelling images for a webinar), consider displaying a diagram that shows how parts of a whole work together.



All visual aids like graphs, charts, and infographics should be used whenever you want to simplify complex information and data. But you need to be careful too. Any visual elements you use in your slide deck need to be well-designed, easy to understand, and accurately labeled.



Tip #10. Use Animations and Transitions Sparingly

Movements draw the eye. Both great film directors and popular YouTubers know this. This is what animations allow you to do – add movement to your visuals. But just like everything we’ve discussed so far, less is more. Think of it this way – if you add every kind of animation, it would be like seasoning your dish with every spice available in the pantry. So let’s untangle animation.


You should use animation when you want to:

  • Reveal content gradually

  • Emphasize key points

  • Visualize data, like a step-by-step process, graph, a chart or reveal how things are put together

  • Tell a story

  • Comparing and contrasting

  • Show direction


If you are adding an animation and it doesn’t tick either of the boxes above, then remove it. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!


Let’s assume that you’ve determined a proper need for the animation. Which one should you choose? There are just so many! The rule of thumb is to use natural animations, not busy, flashy, or frantic ones. Our favorite animations are: appear, fade, wipe and the occasional motion path (this is where you control the movement of an object on the screen). Also, if you’re going to use animation throughout your deck, make sure it’s the same one on all slides. Having multiple different animations can be very distracting.


Conclusion


You may have deduced by now that you don’t need to be a graphic design wizard to create compelling visuals. Stick to some basics: structure your presentation, keep your slides simple and visually consistent, limit your text and use more visual elements. Harness the power of typography, leverage color and contrast, and use high-quality images that resonate with your message. Icons and symbols can distill complex ideas into easily digestible nuggets of information, while data visualization can simplify complex data and make it more palatable. And, of course, remember to use animations and transitions judiciously to enhance your message, not distract from it.


From captivating starting slides to engaging interactive slides, every image you use, every color you choose, and every word you write can make a world of difference in creating an unforgettable learning experience. One slide at a time, you have the power to transform your webinar from a mundane monologue into an immersive visual journey that leaves your audience yearning for more.


How to you design compelling visuals for your learning interventions? Let us know in the comments down below.



Source: Duarte, N. (2012) HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations (HBR Guide series). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.




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