Posted 11 May 2023

A guide to creating great decks and presentations

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At some point in your creative career, chances are, you’ll have to make some kind of deck. Used as a key communication tool in many creative roles, decks convey ideas through a carefully selected sequence of words and images. A great deck can help you explain a brilliant idea, tell a powerful story, or sell your skills and experience in one neat little package. While it can seem like a lot to balance, the process of putting one together needn’t be tricky. We take you through all the steps to create a fail-proof one.

What’s the difference between a deck and presentation?

A deck is simply a set of digital slides containing images and words, used to get across an idea. You’ll often need to make a deck when you want to persuade someone to think about something in a certain way.

A presentation is a form of communication that tells a story or expresses an idea. A presentation can include a deck, but it can also be delivered as a video, audio file, or as a speech.

You can give a presentation without a deck (for example, a Ted Talk with no visuals) and you can send a deck without having to present it (for example, sending a PDF update of a project with written notes).

Typically, a deck is:

  • The visual component of a presentation, without any spoken dialogue

  • A digital file made using the software of your choice

  • Presented in landscape format

Decks can be designed for the following purposes:

  • To be presented in person, as part of a meeting – via a laptop or TV screen

  • To be presented virtually, for example via Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams

  • To be viewed in the form of a PDF sent over email, as a live link or a downloaded file

When will you need to make one?

Depending on where you’re at in your career, you might need to make decks for different purposes. These could include:

  • Creating a presentation as part of a job interview task

  • Pitching and presenting ideas in response to a brief

  • Creating briefs, treatments or presenting research

  • Informal purposes, such as to introduce yourself at a new job

What does a deck look like?

The work of deck-making is often done behind the scenes in a studio, and for copyright or competition-related reasons, creative development decks are often kept under lock and key. 🚨 This means that great examples of decks are not easy to find online!

That being said, as soon as you start working alongside other creative people on projects, you’ll likely have a chance to check out their approach. If you’re part of a studio, you can usually check out their previous decks. And if you’re a freelancer, you could ask more established freelancers to talk you through some of their decks – it never hurts to ask!

Ultimately, the look and feel of a deck will differ depending on what it’ll be used for. You can see great examples of presentations and decks during online or in-person talks; some good examples are Nicer Tuesdays or the First Round conference, in which creative leaders talk through their work-in-progress visual identity decks.

What goes into a deck?

The slides needed for a deck will differ depending on what it’ll be used for; you might need less for a short introductory talk about yourself, and more for an in-depth pitch to a client.

Generally speaking, most decks will include a combination of some (or all) of the following slides:

  • Cover page

  • Contents page

  • Title pages to signpost different sections

  • Project slides to support different combinations of images, text or moving image

  • Conclusion page to detail any next steps

  • Final page with contact details

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What makes a great deck?

In a nutshell, a great deck should be:

  • Clear, concise and cohesive

  • Specific to and engaging for your audience or reader

  • Supporting the story you want to tell

  • Carefully checked for accuracy, spelling and image quality

A lot of the things that make a deck successful also apply to making great portfolios. You can find all sorts of transferable learnings and relevant advice in our guide to creating your PDF portfolio.

Before you begin: Planning your presentation

Before you start choosing colour palettes and flicking through font choices, there are some essential considerations to keep in mind:

🤔 Who is your audience? What do they need to know?

Are you pitching new ideas to a client, or updating your co-workers on a project’s process? Knowing the purpose of your deck will inform your structure, design and layout. For example, a client pitch will require you to strike a different visual tone to a catch-up with your team.

Think about the size and location of your audience. How might your approach differ for a big or small group, or whether you’ll be presenting it online or IRL?

⏰ How long will you have to present?

Knowing your exact timeframe will help you gauge the scale of your deck, how many slides you might need and how in-depth you can go with the details. While informal presentations to your co-workers may be more relaxed, running over with clients is not always an option, so be strict.

If you have a short amount of time, prioritise need-to-know info and get quickly into what you want feedback or input on. If you have more time, you can build your story gradually.

🤝 Are you working collaboratively or alone?

If you’re working on a deck as part of a team, you may want to delegate tasks. For example, one person could prepare the images while another writes the text. But remember: the text will always need to relate to the images (and vice versa) so make sure both collaborators cross-reference regularly.

If you’re presenting as a team, are you taking turns to speak? You’ll need to agree on who will be presenting each section. You can find more tips and tricks on preparing for presentations in our guide to public speaking.

How to create a structure that tells a story

Your deck needs to tell a story – whether that‘s guiding someone through different creative ideas, or taking a viewer on a journey from one point to another.

It’s vital to work out how you will explain and unpack your idea or project through your deck, as the right structure will ultimately determine how successfully your story comes across.

🕸️ Join the dots between your points

To start, write down everything you need to cover during the presentation. Create a list of talking points before beginning to build the slides or delving into image research.

Once you’ve worked out the key content to include, think about the best order in which to communicate this. Think of it as a linear process: you need to get from A to B in the clearest, most logical way.

🏁 Start and end well

The first slide of your deck should be as strong as the last. If you’re sending the deck by itself, ensure you summarise the contents at the start, and if you’re presenting, remind everyone of the purpose of the meeting so that your audience understands what you’re going to cover and what is being asked of them.

You might want to end the main section of your presentation with a memorable image, some well-chosen closing words, or a call to action inviting your audience to do something like approve a project budget, or select a creative idea for further development.

The final slides in your deck should include a short summary of what’s been covered and an outline of next steps. Don’t forget to include contact details in case the deck gets passed around.

Presenting a solution to a creative brief? This is one way of laying it out:

  • Title slide

  • Contents page: be sure to match your section titles to this

  • The brief or challenge: what is the specific request you’ve been asked to respond to, or what you were hoping to solve?

  • Starting points or initial inspiration

  • Your final idea(s), solutions or offerings: this can also include any alternatives

  • Timelines or additional information: this could include information regarding other collaborators or budgets

  • Conclusion or summary: a chance to reiterate the main points covered

  • Next steps or milestones in the process

  • Final page with contact details

If you’re attending a job interview or have been asked to prepare an introduction to your work – your deck structure might look like this:

  • Title slide: this can include your name and role, along with a personalised greeting or message for your audience, like “Hi [name of studio], nice to meet you!”
  • Contents page: you may want to skip this if you only have a few sections.
  • Your background in a nutshell: this can be a short, personal statement that highlights your specific skills and interests. Don’t forget to inject some personality — this deck is meant to be about you, after all!
  • Your work: only include projects that feel relevant to your audience. You might want to divide this section into several mini-sections if you have different types of work to showcase.
  • Final page with contact details: let people know where they can reach you, whether that’s via email or on a social media platform.

How should you design a deck?

The way in which you combine visuals and text on slides can play a major role in how successfully you communicate your story. Remember, every image and word needs to earn the right to be included.

It can be useful to start by sketching out your rough layouts for your slides to visualise the main elements you need to cover.

🏡 Try out templates, or create your own

If you’re working in-house, there’ll likely already be set templates to follow or use as a starting point. Ask your colleagues to share different types of presentations, and familiarise yourself with the house style.

If you’re a freelancer, it may be worth setting up a template using the same typefaces, layouts and colour palettes so that you can create some consistency across your decks. It will save you time in the future and bring a level of professionalism to your presentations.

Remember that a template should help you, not constrain you. Use one as an overall guide, but adjust according to the specific content you want to include — and give yourself room to play.

🔁 Consistency is key

Whether you’re following a preexisting template or setting up your own, consistency is key to putting together a cohesive deck. This is an opportunity to create system of rules that will provide you with a reliable and flexible structure, regardless of the kind of deck you need to put together.

Establishing a consistent visual language allows you to focus on telling the story at hand, rather than having to re-design your slides every time – and also helps an audience or viewer to follow your thought process. All your slides should feel like they belong to the same visual world. Here are a few key elements to consider:

  • Grid, layout and treatment of images
  • Colour palette
  • Typefaces and treatment of text (choose one size for section headers, one for headlines, one for body copy or bullet points

💥 Create impact with your images

How might you create visual impact with your images? For example if there is a particularly strong visual that helps support the narrative of your presentation, why not make it full bleed to grab your viewer’s attention?

Or if you have a selection of images to share, think about what layout will help convey a variety of options without looking too cluttered. Remember that images should be captioned where necessary – describing to viewers what they’re seeing – without over-explaining.

Ensure your images have a high enough resolution that they look sharp, but not so large that they take ages to load! Exporting images as PNG files can be more reliable than JPEGs in terms of consistent quality.

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👾 Know where it’s relevant to use GIFs

Videos or GIFs can be a great addition to a deck. If you have a shorter amount of time to present, a piece of moving image can quickly set the tone – whether poignant or humorous. They usually require less explanation than a still image, and the audience can watch clips and GIFs while the presenter is speaking.

In a longer presentation, you may be able to include a full-length video that will form a distinct chapter in the deck.

🔠 Be selective about how much text you include

The amount of text you use will depend on whether you’ll be talking through the deck, or sending it as a link or attachment for your audience to read in their own time. Think: how are you presenting?

As part of a meeting
You may want to use less text in your slides (no one can read and listen at the same time). The fewer words on screen, the stronger the visual effect and overall impact.

Remember that if you’re presenting your deck to an audience, depending on the platform you use, you could always use speaker notes (additional details that no one else will see on screen) with additional information to elaborate on certain points or offer additional detail. This can also be a great tool to help you remember your cues.

Sending via email
You might want to include more text on your slides so that the reader has all the information they need to understand the story without you there.

With all that said, be wary of where you place your text – avoid adding your copy over busy images or backgrounds to ensure everything is easily legible and to create maximum impact.

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🌍 Opt for accessible typefaces

Choose a typeface that’s easy to read, and easily accessible – regardless of whether you’re presenting it from your laptop or sending it over email. You don’t want to spend hours designing your slides only for your text to appear in a default typeface later on. Have a look at our article to find a range of free fonts and typefaces for inspiration.

Once you’ve made your selection(s), ensure your text is large enough for people to read on a screen – whether in person or online.

🔺 Consider information hierarchy

A list may be easier to digest than a paragraph. Using a combination of the below can help make your content more digestible:

  • Headings
  • Subheadings
  • Bullet points
  • Image captions

🚪 Use page furniture

This is information that consistently sits at the top or bottom of a slide. It can be a useful way of presenting information such as the date, project title, slide number and section title.

What can you use to actually build a deck?

How you make your deck depends on how your audience is going to receive it. Will you be presenting in person or online? Or do you need to send it via email?

There are a wide variety of deck-building platforms to choose from. Below are some of the main players. You can find more in our article on platforms and programs to make decks on.

You could also use a mixture of these. If you’re creating your deck as a team effort, Google Slides or Pitch allows for seamless collaborative working and is easy to share as a link to a live file. Or you could use InDesign and then export the slides as a PDF, or individual jpegs to be dropped into another program.

What next?

You now have everything you need to go out and make amazing decks. Creating these takes practice, so don’t worry if you don’t nail it the first time. As you develop your deck-making skills, you’ll find a style you gravitate towards. Now go out there and dazzle the room with your sparkling slides!


With special thanks to Philippa Leguen de Lacroix, Director, Presented

Written by Creative Lives in Progress