Tools & Tips

When Good Could Be Better, 3 Steps to Persuasive Presentations


Zach Grosser


May 13, 2023

When Good Could Be Better, 3 Steps to Persuasive Presentations

Zach Grosser, Owner of Zacht Studios, shares 3 tips to make a Good Presentation and then 3 more steps to up-level your deck to be more Persuasive.

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Hey, I'm Zach Grosser. I'm the owner and managing director of Zacht Studios. We're a design agency that focuses on presentation design, helping companies tell their story, fundraise, do other kinds of pitches, important presentations, and more. I'm based in Amsterdam, but I'm originally from the United States.

I started my presentation design career at the Apple Store when I was teaching Keynote. Then I was the presentation designer at Square. Where I led the communication design team, and then I worked at Figma teaching Design Education, and doing European community after I moved to Amsterdam. Today we're gonna talk about persuasive presentations.

Now we want our presentations to be persuasive because we wanna accomplish something, right? And that could be a lot of different things. You could have a, uh, idea. Or feature or products that you're trying to get buy-in across your organization. Or you might be a designer that's looking for a job, given there's been a lot of layoffs lately, there's also a lot of designer training.

There's lots of reasons you might be applying for a job and you're building your portfolio to do pitches to like a design panel or a hiring manager at a company. So what we want from them is something very specific and I'm gonna help you with that today. But first before we get to persuasive presentations, we just wanna make good presentations.

Now you probably already make really good presentations. I would bet. So I'm just gonna review three steps that I like to try to make sure my presentations become good. Then we'll do persuasive. So what makes a good presentation? Well, the fundamental thing is the story. If you don't have a good story, you don't have a good presentation.

With storytelling, what I like to do is focus on a couple things. One is I will start with a list of bullet points. This is my list that I used to make this presentation. Spoiler alert. And um, one thing you'll notice is it might not be accurate anymore. This, if you finish this video and they come back to this point, I would bet there's a lot of things that have changed.

That's okay. The presentation building process is very iterative, but at least I have a starting place now. The reason I wanna start with bullet points is because I find that as soon as I start going to a slide tool, start dropping ideas there, I start thinking of all the other slide stuff. Uh, I start thinking about the typefaces and type sizes and how I'm organizing the information on a page.

I start picking colors, um, and I've got now my ideas across different slides. I can't really look at them all at once. If you start with bullet points, you're gonna be less distracted. It's just gonna give you an opportunity to focus just on the story. Now, the other thing I like about these bullet points is I always aim for one to 10 words per bullet point, because there's a potential chance that these bullet points become slide titles later.

Might be a way to just help you write your slide titles all at once too. They're also easy to move around, see 'em all at once, as I mentioned. The other thing to help your story flow is to think about connecting ideas. What's the thing between the slides? It might be something you say out loud, but it's generally not something that's visualized.

I like to think about this as maybe the gradient between slides. Yes. And an example of this is the, the really classic pitch deck. You've got the problem slide, and then there's the solution. It's very obvious to see that logical jump from one to the other. If you go from talking about one thing to something very different, your audience is gonna feel confused and left behind.

They should almost be able to predict the type of slide that's gonna happen next. Not visually, but I mean like the idea of it. So think about the connecting ideas. Does it flow? And if you've got this bullet point list and you can just read straight down it, you kind of get the idea of your presentation just by reading these bullet points.

If not, I would recommend just taking an extra couple minutes to go through and edit your bullet list to make sure that it feels like a cohesive story. Once we have our story done, now we can move to slide. What you wanna consider next is information density. What happens a lot, especially people that don't start their process with those bullet points, is people brain dump onto slides.

I think we've all seen that classic PowerPoint slide that's just covered in text. Those aren't really effective. I think that's why we talk about them a lot is, is they don't really work. And especially if you're gonna be presenting live, someone is going to be, um, reading down that list. Rather than hearing what you're saying, your speech, what you're saying, live shouldn't just be word for word on this slide.

Um, when it is, people will focus on one or the other and miss the other context. And usually when we're presenting live, we start to ad lib a little bit. That's where some of your personality comes through, which we'll talk about in a couple minutes, and they just miss it. So people will be less focused on your presentation.

The other thing they consider with information density is how it's going to be delivered. So we just talked about the live example, but maybe you're gonna send the presentation as a PDF or a link to the doc. Um, what you want to consider with that is the information density approximately of like a marketing website.

Marketing websites have enough information, but it's not too crazy. It's not a Wikipedia article, density of information. What happens on a marketing website is someone's gonna read down it. It's also gonna follow a story. There's a lot of similarities between web design and presentation design, and they're gonna get a good idea of what you're trying to tell them without being overwhelmed.

Hopefully. And since we're talking about the. Information density of a PDF version for Sali version. Sometimes you're gonna need to make both. You're gonna be presenting in front of a group of people over a Zoom meeting or at a big talk, and you're gonna want that version that has a little bit more context on a little bit more text that people can read later.

Or earlier before your meeting or before your talk. Here is a slide example with the same information. They both start with the same information, but they've been edited and designed for the different use cases. The top one here is more dense. This is meant to be read without a person presenting to it.

This is gonna be sent ahead or left behind after a meeting. The lower one is going to be presented to, it has less of the contacts on the slide, and so we can focus more on the visual design and just making it appealing to look at. Speaking of how the slides looks, the third step to a good presentation is visual design with visual design.

For slides, there's a couple things that I like to keep top of mind. One is consistency. Here's an example of slides where the left side of the page. Is the same on every slide. Everything is left aligned to the same point. All the slide titles are in the exact same place. Now, the reason we want consistency is actually because the lack of consistency is what can be distracting to our audience.

If you go from one slide to the next in an object is in a slightly different place than it just was, sometimes that becomes noticeable. The slide title starts to shift around. Sometimes that can distract your audience. They might notice that they're not noticing the consistency necessarily. It's the the distraction that we don't want.

We want them focusing on your content, your speech, rather than, oh, something moved weirdly out of the corner of the eye that's distracting to the human brain. The other thing that we wanna focus on is simplicity. Now this is very related to that information density that we were talking about earlier, but this goes a little step further.

This slide was originally a spreadsheet. It was a spreadsheet on a slide of numbers. There's a couple ways to deal with that. Sometimes that's what we're doing if we're going to, you know, do a PDF leave behind. But this slide needed to be presented and it needed to get right to the point. So you can take numbers and visualize them, or you could pull out the numbers that are most important, or highlight the Rowe or column or even the cell that has the most important information that that slide needs to talk about.

So here we've moved to a simple visualization of that information and rather than the dense information, Another visual design element to think about is how glanceable something is, or the visual hierarchy. When I worked at a museum, my first job was at the Corning Museum of Glass. Um, I learned that the average piece of art in a museum gets looked at for about four seconds.

I thought that was pretty short, but as. We hear from companies like DocSend that do analytics on slides. That's typical for most presentation slides too, when someone's clicking through them and viewing the PDF of them. So what we wanna do is take our most important information on the slide and make it the first thing people see.

Imagine someone just glancing at your slide. What's the takeaway on this slide? What we've done is we've amplified the numbers, we've used color and size, and also visual simplicity. Again, removed some information density to call out the most important information. Bring in the viewer, make them more interested in what that slide is saying.

So think about your slide in a hierarchical way. What's the most important thing, then the second most important thing, then the third most important thing, et cetera. And then rank them visually that way too. And then the other thing to remember with visual design is starting with the content, with the content first, and then designing the content.

Your designs are gonna look intentional. They're gonna be custom to that specific thing that your slide's trying to say. The alternative is starting with the visual design and then trying to shoehorn the content in. Maybe it's a template you really like or a layout that you had in mind before the content was written.

And sometimes what that does is it deprioritizes the important content. So as we're thinking of that visual hierarchy, we're thinking of the most important thing. You wanna make sure that the design is based on that. Okay, so you start with the story. You've considered information density, and then you've done your visual design.

Now you've got a good presentation. Congratulations, bull. We want our presentation to be persuasive, so there's three more steps for a persuasive presentation. Now a persuasive presentation also is a good one. So this is actually cheating. There's actually six steps, the three you just learned in good, good presentations.

Then we're gonna add three more to make them more persuasive. The first is audience. You wanna understand your audience and what their goals are. So let's come back to those two examples from the beginning. There's a feature or idea that you're trying to get buy-in from the other side of your company.

Maybe it's a team you don't work with often. You wanna find out what their goals are. Maybe their company OKRs are posted somewhere. Or you can intuit by their job role. Maybe they're a marketer. Marketers trying to get signups increased, and you are trying to pitch an idea to redesign the signup flow. So what you may have thought is, I wanna redesign the Senate flow because it's clunky, it's off brand, it doesn't match our brand identity.

Stuff like that. What you wanna change your presentation to is their goals. We're gonna redesign the signup flow, and it's gonna increase signups and reduce churn of people leaving the signup flow. Now you're focused on their goals and what you're trying to get buy-in from someone. What's gonna happen is if you are gonna make their job easier or make their goals easier to solve or achieve, they're gonna want you to succeed as well.

Now the job hiring example, if you are applying for a job and you're putting together a design portfolio and you're gonna pitch that to a room of, uh, maybe it's a panel, maybe it's the hiring manager themselves, you wanna think about what's the problem that they're trying to solve with this job role?

Think about why did this job role open up? Other than, Hey, someone left the team, or the team is growing and they need another person, you wanna consider like, what are the problems they're trying to solve? You can also think about like, what's the company's goals? Now what I really like is most companies have a mission page or a values page on their website.

You can start thinking about those goals, those values, what problems they're trying to solve with this job role, and look at your design and portfolio through that lens. If you have work in your portfolio that solves a similar problem, you're gonna wanna highlight that work. The second step to a persuasive presentation is making your presentation more memorable.

You wanna be remembered because if in that example of a design portfolio that you're presenting for a job, they might be interviewing other candidates after you and in a week or two weeks, when they're deciding on who to hire, you wanna stand out in their memory. Or in the example of the signup flow redesign project that you're proposing, when it comes time for budget and you're not in the room for that conversation, they're gonna remember you and go, oh, we need some budget over here for the signup flow.

Right? So some strategies to make your presentation more memorable. One is to have an emotionally intense moment. Now, I'm not talking about a jump scare, uh, that's gonna happen to make your audience have a fair response so that they remember your presentation. I think telling a relatable story can be emotionally intense for them, and that goes back to our last point of understanding our audience.

If you understand them, you can relate to them better, or you could have a unique visual if this is your design portfolio. Hopefully your visuals are unique and that stands out on its own. But any kind of presentation, a unique visual can stand out in the memory. Another thing that you can do is repetition.

Now, at the end of the good presentation section of this video, I recapped the three steps. At the end of the whole video, we're gonna talk about all six steps. Again, repetition could be really helpful for memory. And speaking of the end of the presentation, I like to have a call to action, uh, ask something for my audience to specifically do.

I love that a lot of presentations end with a thank you slide, but I think that slide should have an action on it as well. Oftentimes, you'll see a social media handle or an email address. Um, those are CTAs in a form, but I like to be more explicit. Um, it could say, hire me. It could say, uh, please approve my project.

Um, any kind of CTA that you're asking your audience to do something can be really helpful and memorable. I'll have a CTA at the end of this presentation. And the third step to a persuasive presentation is confidence, and this is your confidence. And, uh, another way to talk about this is comfort. Um, when you're more comfortable, your audience is gonna feel more comfortable, and that's gonna let them be in a place where they can be persuaded, where they're going to enjoy your presentation or do that CTA that you want at the end.

So a couple ways to be more confident. One is to rehearse. This is just like if you were gonna run a race or take a test. These are other high pressure moments. Um, you don't just cram the night before a test and then take it. You study. Um, for a race you might practice, right, you might, um, practice four months even.

Um, for a presentation, I recommend rehearsing. I like to rehearse with a video recording. Um, what a video recording does is it allows you to add a couple feedback loops into your presentation, allows you to iterate if you. Watch the video. You can say, oh, I need to change the script here. Or, oh, the visual design isn't consistent here.

It gives you an opportunity to make your presentation better. You can also rehearse with a trusted friend or coworker, get their feedback, integrate that. Now what we've done is we're not just practicing our presentation, we're also improving it as we go along. This gives us a lot of opportunities to reassert all of the good presentation and persuasive presentation steps so far is we can look at it, we can get feedback, and we can keep iterating on this presentation.

Design is very iterative. Now another aspect of presenting is public speaking. And lots of people, including myself, don't like public speaking, and that's the part that makes them nervous, that makes it feel like a test or a race. And so, um, I've collected some public speaking tips over the years. I, I don't claim to be an expert, but here's some tips that I think are really helpful.

Um, planting a friend in the audience. So maybe that trusted coworker or friend that you rehearsed with, put them in the room so that if you're up on stage and you get nervous at, you know, people looking at you or, or the important person you're trying to convince of your idea, you have a friendly face to look at.

The other thing to do is just to know yourself. So, um, I know that I get nervous for presentations and that leads to me not sleeping a ton the night before, which then I compensate with by drinking a bunch of caffeine. And then I'm still nervous. So I skip lunch and all of a sudden it's time for my presentation and all of that caffeine in my body with no food to absorb it.

Do you know what I'm doing? I'm talking super fast, so, um, I know myself and so what I do is I remember to talk a little bit slower during a presentation or have like decaf cup in the middle of the day rather than another coffee. Um, other things that you might know about yourself to make yourself more comfortable, um, wear are your favorite clothes.

I have a favorite pair of socks that I wear for my presentation. Um, I also know that when I'm nervous, I just over and over in my head think about it, and that's why I'm not sleeping so well the night before. So I distract myself. I might go for a walk and listen to music or a podcast the day of my presentation.

And the other thing to make yourself more comfortable is to prepare for things to go wrong. And what I mean by this specifically is technology. The technology we work with every day, it has problems. I think we are all familiar with the tech issue that we didn't expect to show up and ruin our workflow or destroy a project or whatever it is.

So preparing for technology issues that could happen during a presentation can be really helpful. If you are speaking in a space that's unfamiliar to you, maybe it's at a conference, try to get one of those rehearsals in the space. This is gonna give you a lot of tips on what the technology and space issues could be.

Maybe it's not your computer that the presentation is gonna be on, it's gonna be on another computer. Well, is that computer using the same software? Is it the same operating system? What is that setup like? Or maybe the space has an old projector and the colors just aren't as bright as they used to be.

Or there's a window and a projector and the projector's not that bright, and now you know you need to increase the contrast on your slide. So that can be really helpful to take care of an advance that will make you feel more comfortable and prepared as well. Maybe you're presenting over Zoom or a video chat platform and, um, you know, the internet could go out.

What I like to do, if the presentation's high impact, maybe it's a fundraising presentation or a, a job interview, for example, is I will take my presentation and I will download a PDF of it. I will attach it to the body of an email, a draft email, and in the two line I'll put everyone that is going to be, uh, in the meeting and I will write an email as if the WiFi's already gone out, and I will draft that.

I will say, Hey, Sorry, we got disconnected. I've attached the PDF for you to review. In the meantime, I'm trying to rectify the issue and if we can't resolve this and then rest of the time of the meeting, I will send alternative times for us to meet again and I'll just have that ready and drafted. So if inevitably the, the Zoom crashes or the wifi cuts out, I can go to my phone and I can hit send on that.

And then I can worry about fixing and diagnosing my issue with my computer, or maybe it's their end, and then I don't have to worry about it. I'm not also thinking, oh, what are they thinking about me? Because of this, I can just focus on the technological issue. Another thing that you can do to prevent technology issues is just update all of your software before your presentation.

Restart your computer and make sure all of the other things are closed. But do not disturb on and mute your sound unless you have sound in your presentation. Just think through the things that could happen so that you can be prepared for them and maybe even mitigate them completely. And I know it's cliche advice, but I would like to end on a very important point to make yourself feel more confident is have fun.

Try to inject a little bit of humor, tell a joke. Anything that you can do to enjoy yourself a little bit more in these moments of, of stress or pressure or public speaking that is uncomfortable can be really helpful. So, I would like to end my presentation with repetition and a cta. So we wanna make a good persuasive presentation.

That means starting with the story, considering information density. Than doing our visual design. Now we've got our good presentation to make it more persuasive. We're gonna consider our audience, we're gonna make it more memorable, and we're gonna increase our confidence. I wish you the best and hope you have a great presentation, and my call to action is I would love to hear from you.

I would love feedback on this video. Help me iterate it as well, and I would really love to know which of these six steps you would like to learn the most about. Thanks.

About Zach

Zach Grosser is the owner and managing director of Zacht Studios, a presentation design agency focused on company storytelling and fundraising—working with the most ambitious teams in the world across nearly every industry.

Formerly, Zach was Communications Design Lead at Square and Design Education Manager & European Community Advocate at Figma. He’s originally from Corning, New York, lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is now based in Amsterdam.

Zach also co-hosts the creative interview podcast, Bézier.