AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

TAG | slide design

My name is John Nash, and I am an associate professor at Iowa State University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with a joint appointment in Human Computer Interaction. I’m also a program strategist, evaluator, and design geek.

2014 Update:  I am now an associate professor at the University of Kentucky in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies and director of  the dLab (

Today I’d like to share ways to improve slide presentations.

Hot Tip: Know Your Audience – This is an oft overlooked tip from Nancy Duarte, author of slide:ology, a wonderful book on the art and science of creating great presentations. Duarte suggests seven questions to ask before developing any presentation:

  1. What are they like?
  2. Why are they here?
  3. What keeps them up at night?
  4. How can you solve their problem?
  5. What do you want them to do?
  6. How can you best reach them?
  7. How might they resist?

It’s easy to see how these questions would be important to answer in a business or sales presentation. However, amongst evaluators, they are often overlooked when designing a client briefing or conference presentation. I’m especially drawn to question 5, which reminds me that every presentation should be a call to action.

Hot Tip: Let Go of Text – Text can be a crutch for the time-pressed and insecure presenter. Duarte suggests three strategies to excising text as a crutch on your slides:

REDUCE: Practice presenting your slides a few times, then highlight one keyword per bullet point. Deliver your slides from only the keywords, using the rest as notes. Eventually, consider replacing the keyword with an image.

RECORD: Read your presentation out loud and record the audio. Play it back. Once you get over the horror of hearing your own voice, you’ll be able to concentrate on your content and not focus on the slides.

REPEAT: Practice, make note cards, draw a mind map, do anything that helps you visualize or create a cheat sheet. Then, look at your slides and delete as much as possible that’s covered already on your cheat sheet.

Rad Resources: If I could recommend only two books on presenting, they would be the aforementioned slide:ology and Gary Reynold’s Presentation Zen.

Hot Tip: Ignite! Ignite-style presentations are exactly five minutes long using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Using Ignite means delivering the most salient content, from a point of passion, while remaining story-focused (and thus, I argue, more audience focused). For example, watch Molly Wright Steenson’s presentation on the otherwise arcane topic of pneumatic tube networks. Did you adsorb more information than in any other five minutes of your day? Notice how she uses minimal text, good images, and a great story to grab your attention.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Best of aea365 week. The contributions all this week are reposts of great aea365 blogs from our earlier years. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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My name is Michelle Mandolia and I work in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Evaluation Support Division.  At last year’s conference, I attended Stephanie Evergreen’s three Potent Presentations Initiative sessions on Message, Design, and Delivery (now available as a 3-part webinar series or as PDFs at  P2i has been a game changer for me.  Where I used to feel apprehensive about presentations, I feel excited to sit down to create because I know I have the tools.   Here are a few tips on what helped me gain my footing once the introduction to content was over.

Lesson Learned: Start anywhere.  P2i is a menu of many delicious options and you get to keep coming back for more.  Start where you are most excited and most comfortable and build from there.  I was eager to revamp a slide deck I had inherited.  I mainly focused on design elements—making sure my photos were high quality and full bleed; eliminating bullets; and sticking to one idea per slide.  Check out a before and after:


Mandolia 1 Mandolia 2

Mandolia 3 Mandolia 4

Developed into 3 Afters

Lesson Learned: Start small. For my coworker, a total redesign sounded daunting.  She started with a new presentation and focused on minimizing text and making it pop.  Our manager, whom my colleague was briefing, really responded to the new design.  Here are examples of a previous version of a slide she used and the new version:

 Mandolia 5


Mandolia 6


Lesson Learned: Just start. Ad libbing from bulleted slides is my comfort zone.  Scripting the entire presentation makes for a great follow up reference document but it didn’t work for me during delivery.  Now, I make my talking points into actual bulleted slides—a subtle distinction but a psychological trick that helps me present with greater ease.  The slide deck that the audience sees is new and follows p2i principles but the hardcopy I use when presenting contains my speaker note slides.  Here’s an example:

Mandolia 7

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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Hello, my name is Chris Metzner. I am a graphic and web designer based out of Jacksonville, Florida. I developed and continue to work with the AEA to maintain the p2i Potent Presentations Initiative website.

Most of us want to be better presenters. We are learning about the value of an important message, effective slide designs and powerful delivery techniques through the p2i website, but there is one thing we can learn more about that will take our presentation to the next, next level… a deeper understanding about color!

Cool Trick: Color affects our hearts and minds. An audience will respond to certain colors without realizing it, and by tapping into their emotions using a color scheme that matches your topic, you’ve made a more lasting impression.

Metzner 1

  • Red: Forces immediate action, very active, attention.
  • Orange: Energizing, warming, positive drive.
  • Yellow: Evokes creativity, positivity, visual antidepressant.
  • Green: Conjures images of nature, growth, wealth, success.
  • Blue: Expresses good health, harmony, calming, patience, suppresses appetites. Great for presenting data.
  • Indigo: Displays a strong intention, forces concentration, meditation. Too much can make the composition feel heavy.
  • Violet: Harmonizing, sophistication, feminine energy, royalty.
  • White: Shows purity and makes the layout feel clean.
  • Black: Strong and intense. Great for backgrounds because it brings stillness and binds everything inside the slide. Allows other colors to really stand out and emit their emotion.
  • Gray: Communicates balance and helps all colors around it come alive.

Metzner 2

Image credit:

Knowing your audience and having a better understanding about the colors you choose for your presentation can help make it more effective. Try to pick two similar colors that communicate your intended message (i.e., red and orange for immediate action such as recommendations, or green and blue for peaceful environmental awareness evaluation) and one complementary/opposite color used for emphasis to really drive home key points.

Rad Resources:

Hot Tips:

  • Doubting what color scheme to use? Try the colors in your organization’s logo.
  • Cool and neutral colors work best for the background, while warm colors, which people respond to more positively, work best for objects in the foreground.


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