1. Pick a template

Then use it, don’t just dump content onto the background. Titles need to be the same font in the same place. Charts need to be the same size in the same place. Colors need to match. This isn’t about aesthetics. Give the brain a visual pattern and what breaks it grabs attention. Otherwise, the audience sees the x-axis jump around when you want their focus on the uptick in sales.

Global companies spend months and tens of thousands of dollars on a custom template. You can find one for free or cheap on the internet. Only designers will know the difference.

2. Commit to a big idea

That’s where the most ambitious slide decks go south. I get it. You want to cram in as much information as possible and forget that everything must serve the overall message. Whether that’s “feed the homeless,” “we beat industry predictions,” or “our widgets change the world,” every slide supports the one main takeaway.

3. Showstopper slides

You don’t have time to make every slide drop-dead gorgeous, nor do you want to. Build in natural peaks and valleys to give eyes a rest. Then prioritize four or five showstoppers: slides with visuals or text so strong the audience needs a moment to process them. These are your a-ha moments.

Every section, then, is a module. You can delete or rearrange them without losing the essence of the presentation. If you’re adept, you can even jump out of sequence in real time based on where the audience wants to go. And once you have three or four thoughtfully made presentations, you have a mix-and-match library for any event.

4. Concept

This last is an old theater term. It’s one central image that ties everything together. It can be simple: a forest, the ocean, tiramisu. Use that to guide your font choices and imagery. What other aspects of your presentation can be influenced by it? Your clothing? Your tone of voice? How you move? How you adjust the lights? What you put on the table or hand out afterwards? I’ve had marketing managers who matched their socks to the signage, but it doesn’t have to be blatant. Your audience will feel it, even if they can’t say why.

5. Trust it

You know what your audience wants, and you’ve delivered it in the way that works best for them. You’ve removed visual distractions and given them a few juicy graphics. You’ve thought about not just what you’re saying but how you can unify the experience. Now trust the work and let go. You’ve bulletproofed your message a dozen ways. You can’t fail.

Have fun.