What to say to clients who want a powerpoint presentation designed

Yep, we’ve all been there. I’d like to say it’s a right of passage designing client powerpoint presentations but it’s not. A right of passage is something done once to earn our dues. Clients wanting their presentations designed – or let’s use a more accurate term – built – crop up at all stages in our career.

This short, sharp post shares a fact to remember and share …

Most clients who need a presentation (incorporating images, graphics and diagrams) actually want a teleprompter and while designers know a presentation is a speaking aid and not a script, getting that message across is difficult.

Remember the How to help clients make decisions post?
Sometimes knowledge, instincts and design aesthetics aren’t enough to persuade – sometimes you need scientific facts backed by research.

Research fact #1

Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) is an instructional design theory that deals with how the human brain processes and stores information.

In 1988, John Sweller (University of New South Wales, Faculty of Education) researched the psychology of learning and cognitive load. The research was ground-breaking and is still often quoted.

Sweller’s research into CLT found it is difficult to absorb information when it’s coming to you from a written and verbal form at the same time.

That is, reading a slide while listening to it being read to you at the same time puts too much load on the mind and decreases our ability to understand. On the other hand, speaking about a visual works because it is presenting information in a different way.

Explaining this research to clients may help persuade them to include more visual prompts and less words.

Research fact #2

This one is not so much fact, but still interesting and logical, and the subhead works…

Peter Coughter said in the The Art of the Pitch:

Presenters want people to believe them.
It’s much easier for the audience to believe someone they like.
To like the presenter, the audience needs to make a connection.
Problem is, it’s harder to make a connection without looking at a face.
They can’t look at your face if both the presenter and audience are reading the screen at the same time.

That’s why presentations using images, graphics and diagrams are far more effective than those just using bullet points. Especially if those words are read as a script.

I think most clients would understand and grasp both these points.

One more thing

Please don’t read this as me being disparaging about designing client presentations.

Quite the opposite.

Designing internal stakeholder presentations is a great way of gaining intel before it’s made public. Upcoming company initiatives, marketing plans and the insights of a new director/manager are often shared internally before being made public. The knowledge gives you the inside running to prepare proactive pitches showing how design could add value.


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Carol Mackay

Design Business Council : business advice for creatives.
We help designers build better, stronger, more sustainable, businesses.

Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

Want more?

These articles talk about the psychology of design:

      1. Read more about cognitive load theory and the psychology of learning
      2. What clients want to hear in a pitch
      3. Another way of explaining design

About Carol

After 30+ years running a design studio, I accumulated a pretty special network of fellow designers. One thing most have in common: a need for more information about the ‘business’ side of design. Most are impatient with any task competing for time spent doing what they love – designing so they wanted more info about how to work more efficiently and effectively.

Not me. I love that intersection between design and business. I built a career working with Ombudsman schemes, the Emergency Services sector and the Courts. My special power has always been an ability to use design to translate the difficult to understand or the unpalatable message.

I now use exactly the same skills with creative business owners. I translate the indigestible into bite-sized chunks of information. I share insights, introduce tools and embed processes to help others build confidence business decision-making skills. More confidence makes it easier to grasp opportunities. More confidence makes it easier to recognise a good client from the bad.

Outside DBC I have mentored with Womentor, AGDA and most recently with The Aunties.
And I’m a proud board member of Never Not Creative. Ask me about internships 😉

Always happy to chat, I can be contacted here.


For a short while, an archive of my design work at mbdesign.com.au.
My current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.

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