You’ve just been invited to speak at an event.

It’s a great opportunity, but something is dampening your enthusiasm.

The event is next week, and you don’t have time to build a new presentation deck.

You’ll have to work with what you have, but what you have looks pretty shoddy.

You feel stuck between two options – turn down the opportunity or work with what you have, at the risk of looking unprofessional.

It’s a terrible choice to have to make. Unless…

The inevitable question

Is there a way to just clean up the presentation? Give it a face lift so that you can rise to the occasion?

I get this question. All. The. Time.

On the inside, I’m doing this.


Why? Because too often, when I actually see the presentation that “needs a quick clean up”, what it actually needs is a total overhaul.

Putting lipstick on a pig

Creating an effective presentation has much more to do with substance than with design.

The right presentation takes your viewer on a journey, from where they are (in terms of mindset, challenges and objectives) to where you want to take them (i.e. how you want them to feel at the end, and the action you want them to take).

There’s an art and a science to creating effective presentations.

If your content is weak, making it look pretty will only get you so far.

Turning lemons into lemonade

Ok. Now that I’ve gotten that little rant out of the way, I have to concede that reality can get in the way of perfection. And maybe it should.

If you’re serious about growing your company, sometimes you need to jump on opportunities that present themselves because you won’t get another kick at the can.

So – back to those two undesirable options of either turning down the opportunity and working with what you have– there really is no choice: You’re going to need to turn your presentation lemons into lemonade. It’s the only responsible thing to do.

That’s why, in this post, I’m going to give you some advice for quickly cleaning up your PowerPoint for that unexpected opportunity so that you can go in feeling more confident, relaxed and ready to shine.


Fix the flow

Before you start thinking of tweaks to your design, take a look at your slides to see if they need some re-ordering.

Remember my advice about taking your audience on a journey from where they are to what you want to take them? Think about that as you’re reordering the slides.

For example, if you’re working on a sales presentation, an effective flow might consist of:

  • The customer’s problem or objective
  • Different ways to solve the problem
  • Your solution
  • Benefits of your solution
  • Next steps

For more helpful tips on fixing your flow, check out my post on how to structure an effective sales presentation.

To make it easy to get a broad overview of all your slides and move them around, I recommend the Slide Sorter view:

powerpoint quick tips slide sorter


Start strong

I like to start a presentation with a bang, to pique the interest of the audience and to let them know what you have to say is worth their attention.

A great way to do that is to open with a striking statistic that helps you lay the groundwork for your presentation’s argument.

(For example, when we created a deck for a change management organization, we opened with a statistic about the millions of dollars lost globally by unhealthy organizations. That one dropped some jaws.)

Another option is to start with a great story, like an inspiring origin story of how your company got its start.


Pare it down

One of the biggest mistakes I see our clients make is to try to cover too much ground in too little time.

Presenters typically need 2-3 minutes to present the average slide.

So, for example, if you have 45 minutes for your presentation, try to limit yourself to 15-20 slides. Fewer, if you need to allow time for questions or if your slides are dense.

To help you decide what to trim, spend some time identifying the key messages you want your audience to take away from your presentation. Any slides that don’t reinforce those messages should be left behind.

Remember: if there are a couple of slides that you’re on the fence about, you can always slip them into your appendix so that you can pull them out in case you need them.


Cut the copy

Your audience can either read your slides or listen to you. Not both. I know which one I would prefer, how about you?

Keep your audience focused on what you’re saying by reducing the amount of text you put on each slide.

One way to help you do that is to follow this widely accepted rule of thumb: limit each slide to a single idea.

Taking this a step further, make sure that the idea of each slide can be understood at a glance.

According to Catrinel Bartolomeu, Director of Marketing at Duarte, “the audience should be able to quickly grasp the meaning of the slide before turning back to the presenter. And they should be able to do it in three seconds or less.”


Ditch the jargon

When you’re very close to your subject matter, buzzwords and acronyms can easily slip into your speech and your slides.

Using jargon and acronyms can create confusion and reduce the effectiveness of your presentation – especially if you’re presenting in a forum where your audience isn’t likely to speak up and ask for clarification.

FREE Presentation Design Cheat Sheet

Download our FREE cheat sheet to keep your message sharp and concise, make your data interesting, make the most of typography, adopt a clear structure, and much more.



Upgrade your visuals

Presentations that are rich in visuals are more impactful.

Studies have shown, in fact, that presentations that use visuals are 43% more persuasive than the exact same presentations without visuals.

Maybe that’s why, according to a Venngage survey of close to 400 conference speakers, 84.3% of presenters use presentation decks that are highly visually focused.

So while you’re trimming out volumes of copy, bring in some impactful photos or illustrations in its place.

With so many fantastic free stock photo sites around, you don’t need to spend a fortune to do that.

So ditch the cheesy clip art and raise your visual standards.


Choose interesting but readable fonts

Typography can add visual appeal to your presentation.

Why be boring and stick to Arial and Times New Roman when there are so many free fonts available? Have some fun with fonts that your audience hasn’t seen a hundred times before.

A few notes of caution:

  • Make sure the fonts you choose are easy to read.
  • If you’re using PowerPoint, make sure to embed your fonts to keep them from changing when the presentation is run on another computer.
  • Don’t get carried away. Whatever text you do keep in your sides should add, not detract. Try to limit the number of fonts you use to two or three fonts that pair well. For some guidance on pairing fonts, check out my post on free font pairings.

PowerPoint makes it easy to upgrade or streamline your fonts with its nifty find and replace fonts feature.


Adopt a consistent and harmonious color palette

An easy way to level up your presentation deck is to use the same small and carefully selected collection of colors from beginning to end.

If you’ve got well-defined brand guidelines, you already have a color palette to use. In PowerPoint, define a custom color theme and stick to it.

(And if you haven’t yet established your brand guidelines, use one of these great tools tocreate your own color palette.)




It’s basic, I know, but it’s so easy for small errors to slip into a deck when you’re scrambling to make last-minute changes. At the very least, a typo is distracting. At worst, it will make you seem unprofessional.

Make sure to proofread your slides at the end of the process or, better yet, have them proofread by somebody else who isn’t as close to your content.

Closing thoughts

I hope you’ll find these tips will help you give your deck a quick clean up so that you can feel more confident about your presentation. If you need help to make your presentation truly memorable, give us a call.

And if you’ve enjoyed this post, please let me know by signing up to my email list.


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