Presentation Design Styles to Boost Engagement & Retention

Think back to the last presentation you listened to. Perhaps it was in an office, at a conference or on a shared screen via GoToMeeting. How much do you remember?

Chances are, it’s very little. In fact, researchers once ran a test to measure just how much information we retain from a presentation. They found that straight after a 10 minute presentation, listeners only remembered 50% of what was said. This figure dropped to 25% the next day and a week later it they only remembered 10%.

It’s a common problem in any workspace: despite all your hard work putting together a presentation and choosing the content you think will resonate best with your audience, most of it goes through one ear and slips out the other.

Your goal is to transmit the most important pieces of information in a way that ensures it’s the 10% they remember.

Let’s take the Pareto Principle into consideration. In a normal distribution, 80% of the effects come from only 20% of the input. Now, let’s apply this frame of mind to the idea of a presentation. We have a bunch of inputs and a few desired effects. Our inputs consists of what’s seen and heard mixed with things like emotional reactions, humor, relevancy, and interests. In this case, our desired effect is the impact and retention of a message or series of information.

Regardless of how interesting your topic may be, how many anecdotes you include, or how much passion you put into it, the unforgiving fact is that most of what you’ve said is going to be forgotten..

Or is it?

If we can identify and optimize that critical 20% we can maximize the amount of information retained and the impact of your message.

Luckily, research tells us where to begin. Studies show that humans are far more receptive to what we see vs. what we hear. So in our quest to present the perfect presentation, one of the most valuable components is awesome presentation design.

According to California State University data, if information if reinforced with good visual content, the immediate impact is much higher. But what’s more impressive is after three days, 60% of listeners can remember visually enhanced content, compared with only 10% remembering exclusively verbal presentations.

So it’s settled – once you’ve mastered PowerPoint presentation design, you’re on track for a high impact, engaged presentation.

Note: The following is a guide on three major PowerPoint presentation styles that comes from the accumulation of tips from dozens of professional powerpoint designers over at 24Slides. They design PowerPoints for a living and they definitely know what they’re talking about (I know – I work with them!).  

It All Begins With Style

The overall style is one of the most fundamental components of your PowerPoint! It determines what design choices you should make when considering structure, font, colors and animation. It is an ongoing brand guideline that should be consistent throughout your presentation. It helps the audience immediately grasp the tone before they even take a look at the content. Having a clear style is also a great way of demonstrating your commitment to providing the audience with an interesting, visually appealing presentation. It secures their attention from the get go as well as setting yourself apart from all the painfully boring presentations they may be used to.

Let’s take a quick look at three example styles you could adopt in your presentations to really bring them to life.

Scandinavian Style Presentation Design

If you’re looking for a evidence of Scandinavian design in a corporate setting, look no further than IKEA. They have created a business empire on the idea of making things simple yet elegant – the foundation of Scandinavian design. This school of design focuses on simple and clean lines with a combination of smooth and contrasting color. It’s great for focusing on conveying a message in a powerful way: the audience has little to be distracted by.

designing a powerpoint presentation

To achieve this, light color shades such as cream, cool grey, sky blue and white are used throughout. Scandinavian color palettes are supposed to be neutral and serene, a comfortable setting for a corporate presentation and a great space for presenting valuable pieces of information.

powerpoint design

To complement a minimalist color palette, simple fonts should be used here. This is easy to achieve by using fonts such as sans serif. It maintains the serenity and lively appearance of the text. It’s important to keep consistency between the headings and paragraphs, otherwise this can look too chaotic. We suggest a range of font families such as Storms Serif, Berling Nova Sans or Berndal. These are distinctive yet clean and modern. It portrays the message clearly, maximizing retention.

presentation design

A core part of Scandinavian design is to organize the content in a very simple, intuitive way. Don’t look for entertaining or state-of-the-art animations to include. Here, we focus on simplicity and minimalism. Muted lines, simple boxes and large spacing between text is important here. Don’t cram a lot of content in here. Stick to only the main trigger words you want people to remember. Your wording should focus on thematic headings, small comments or easy-to-remember associations to the content of your speech.


One reason Scandinavian design is so popular is because it is rooted in natural design and textures. It incorporates natural elements into it while introducing stark contrasts. Nature can be abrasive but at the same time very systematic and organised. Patterns are predictable and everything tells a story – whether that may be the smooth contours of a desert dune reacting to the flow of the wind, or sharp prickles on the stem of a rose designed to violently discourage hungry predators. What is the story you’re trying to convey? Incorporate this when thinking about your choice of pattern and lines.

The Watercolor Look

In contrast to the Scandinavian look, the watercolor direction is vibrant, fresh and adventurous. It may not be for everyone. The visual aesthetics work in tandem with the content to amplify your brand’s message. It can definitely help transmit your message in an adventurous way. If you’re ready to break the rules and experiment a little, this is a design style for you.

powerpoint theme

The watercolor look can be simplistic. It enables you to create a less form image of your brand while still retaining elements of a minimalist school. The combination allows you to amplify your brand values while propelling a ‘everything is possible’ attitude. It’s fun, creative and free.

You can find watercolor backgrounds with a simple Google search. Alternatively you can create them yourself if you have access to Photoshop. You may want to experiment around using hard and soft brushes interchangeably.

presentations style

Using a bold font may help build some contrast with the background. However, if you have lighter colors in the you may get away with a simple font type. Using more hand-written styles are also a great way to further the adventurous side to your presentation and overall brand. It works well with the free spirited theme and if applied correctly, and is generally quite easy to read.

presentation theme

If you incorporate a minimalist and clean layout, it creates a balance between the dynamic and youthful vibe and the professional setting you are presenting in. It’s important to make sure that the watercolor elements are secondary to the data or content you’re presenting in the PowerPoint. Applying color is also a great way to help people remember the information as they can make associations between it. A good idea would be to stick to similar color choices for similar pieces of information. For instance, you could use green for data relating to growth and red colors to relate to depreciations. It’s a great way to appeal to the way the human mind memorizes information.

powerpoints style

Custom watercolor strokes are also a great way to aid the audience’s line of sight into the important pieces of information. The strokes of the watercolor background can help glide the viewer through certain pieces of information, making the entire presentation much more streamlined and comfortable to view. This may be particularly helpful when presenting confusing pieces of information or content that may be boring but necessary for the viewer.

Watercolor is a great way to add vibrancy to an otherwise boring presentation. It brings to life content that may otherwise go unnoticed and is a great way of maximizing retention.


Photos are proven to perform better when trying to invoke an emotional reaction in your presentation. They’re a great way to connect with your audience in a personable and relatable manner. The downside is that the photos you want to use often have very different color schemes which may damage the consistency of your presentation. Duotones allow you to take control of this and boost the creativity of your presentation. It’s a great way to revitalize old photos used in other presentations, too.

powerpoint style

It is often the case that a minimalistic style is combined with duotone. The background role is to create powerful supporting imagery and invoke emotion. This allows the audience to be drawn into the content.

duotone presentation style

The great thing about duotone is you have complete freedom to choose the colors, regardless of the photo. So this ensures you have complete control over the tone of the presentation.

In the above example a normal color photo has been adapted with duotone elements to represent energy, power, and excitement. The red coloring reinforces the feeling of energy, strength, power as well as passion and desire. It create an intense emotional response complementing the photographs. The contrast to the bold fonts ensure they are the centre of focus.

presentation styles

In terms of data visualization, duotones also help create the desired response from the audience to the data. For instance here, yellow reinforces the feeling of joy, happiness and energy. Additionally, it creates a warming effect, stimulating mental activity. It brings legitimacy to the data in a subtle but powerful way.

Duotone is a lot easier to achieve than you think. It’s a fantastic way to use stock photography in a more consistent way while empowering you to control the emotional response of your audience.


By adopting one of these three style guides, the information retained by your audience will grow dramatically. It will also greatly improve your audience’s engagement during the presentation itself. If you’re skeptical, there’s no harm giving it a go and letting us know in the comments!

Jonathan works as head of growth for 24Slides while leading a number of other projects in his spare time. He’s interested in marketing, entrepreneurship, politics, and techno. He’s based in Copenhagen but originally from Australia. Find him on Twitter @JonathanJeffery.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s