I’m a huge fan of Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen techniques for better design and delivery of presentations. This is why the moment Sagee mentioned the words “effective slide style” and “via video conference” in the same sentence (tweet, actually…), I had no option but to sit down and write this post.
IF I wanted to make this post short, I’d simply send you to read Garr’s book, which is accidentally also called Presentation Zen. But I am not that kind of a guy, and there are a few issues worth mentioning which relate specifically to presentations and video conferences, something I have quite an experience with.
Know Thy Enemy
Whenever people teach presentation design, they start by telling you to first think of your target audience: who they are, what their knowledge is, what they expect, and what’s in it for them.
With video conferencing, there’s the added complexity of the medium. Video conferencing is here for over a decade, but it is still quite a young technology. As you don’t always know what’s on the other side of the line, in terms of the video conferencing infrastructure that is being used, you will need to be very strict with your slide deck.
So here are a few things to remember when dealing with video conferences:
1. Limit Your Timeframe
Video conferences may start a bit later than scheduled. The culprit will usually be technical issues at the beginning of the call – either with the dialing process itself or video quality issues resulting from bad internet connections or the existence of firewalls.
While this is getting better, I still suggest that you take it into consideration. If you have scheduled an hour – plan your presentation for 45 minutes. This way, you have better chances of getting all your points conveyed. Remember that nobody ever complains when a presentation ends sooner than originally planned.
2. Pictures Are Worth More Than Words
This one is pure Garr. If you want to convey a message – do it with visuals. Have less text on the slides and more images.
One of my (few) slides from the 2025 virtual event
Make sure your images and text are large. If you have a diagram to show – try making sure that the diagram lines are a bit bold.
- Because you never know what kind of resolution your audience is capable of displaying. If you are trying to show a presentation from a PC (1600×1200) to a remote device capable of only VGA resolution (640×480), then your slide will be scaled down in size, losing the thinner lines in your diagram.
3. Large Images and Text
The larger the images and text – the better the experience for the participants.
- Remember that the remote side might be using a layout that shows both the slides and you (the presenter), and so will shrink the presentation to a lower resolution.
4. No Animation, No transition
I generally hate animation and transition. They take too much time and effort to create, and if someone asks a question in the middle of a complex animation it can be quite an ordeal to move back and forth through the presentation.
And for video conferencing there’s an added “bonus” – you don’t really know how much of your flying/fading/popping/swirling animation survives the video channel.
Because video conferencing endpoints vary in the amount of frames per second invested in the data sharing channel – it can be anything between 1 and 30.
So skip the animations and transitions. If you want to show “animation” or some “progress” – just do it “old school”, splitting it into several slides. And if you really like animation – just know it might get lost in the video conference, and design it so that your presentation conveys the message without it as well.
5. Transition Slides Make No Sense
This is something I am not writing here wholeheartedly. It bugs me also with face-to-face presentations – the use of transition slides between sections in the presentation. It’s those slides with a section title in them and nothing more.
Usually, you will be passing them over without saying a word, or just reading the title off the slide and moving along.
I hate these, and it makes no sense for video conferencing presentations either.
Because on a video conference, due to the lower frame rate, the transition between slides might not look as smooth as it does on your local PC. This will either look like you’re trying to rush things a bit more than you really do, or that you are trying to skip a “problematic” slide (which you actually are).
My suggestion here would be to have the transition between topics done without such “title” slides and instead have your voice do that transition for you.
6. Make it Small
There’s a tendency for presentations to be increasingly larger in physical size with every passing year. It can be attributed to the use of elaborate templates or to the use of more and more images.
That being said, you should try and make your presentation as small in size as possible.
Because if all else fails, you will find yourself 30 minutes into the meeting, sending the presentation by email, waiting for it to arrive, switching to a voice conference and telling the participants on the other side of the line to “skip to the next slide please”.
A younger me going over a presentation on a video conference (recorded locally for posterity)
This is my short list of suggestions for creation of slide decks for meetings over video conferencing. I try to follow them as much as possible, and I have had some great experiences giving such presentations. I can also say that I attended a lot of presentations where these tips were ignored, which is a shame, but that is life.
If you have experiences of your own in this matter, or good stories to tell about botched sessions due to bad slides – I’d be happy to hear them.