Nine tips for a great networking presentation

Nine tips for a great networking presentation

If you're in business for yourself, it will probably happen at some point. You'll be invited to, or required to present to a group of people. Many of you, like me, will be slightly to extremely uncomfortable with that. Sorry. This post will not help you with that (but Toastmasters will).

This post is intended to help you develop your slide presentation for the most impact, so the discomfort isn't wasted on an illegible or incoherent set of slides. Even if you're not confident in your speaking, you'll have some solid backup.

Virtual and in-person presenations

Below are our tips for helping with presentation visibility and legibility whether you're in a large, sunny room, or in a laptop-sized zoom meeting.

When this post was first written, I was presenting every three months in a large meeting space. Many audience members were 30 or 40 feet away from the screen. And on top of that, the East wall was floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding the room with light from the sunrise for part of the year. These days, most of our presentations are on zoom, where we can't control the screen size or audience environment.

All of these factors present challenges. Planning for the challenges means you'll be ready.

Below are our best practices for maintaining legibility and visibility in a presentation. There are other ways to go about this, but these work well for me.

1. High contrast is important. 

We have an excellent projector, but in a bright room it can only do so much. I used a dark background and heavy white type for my 10 words or less, which seems about as legible as we'll get in the sunshine. A light background with heavy dark type will work just as well.

2. Slides should be light on words.

Remember that your presentation is a visual aid, not a script. Aim for 10 words or fewer on any slide, and make them as big as you can. This should be a headline or supporting phrase.

In person, we don't, won't, and can't read your sentences, bullet points, or photo captions—especially those of us on the far side of the room. Use the slide as a headline, and use your voice for the rest. If we're trying to read while you're reading to us, our attention is split and we don't capture as much. Example: Split a long quote that is intended for audience reading between two slides so it will be large enough for them to read. 

This is especially important in zoom meetings. Always assume your audience WILL NOT be watching you at full screen. Assume you'll be competing with their email inbox, meeting notes, and that spreadsheet they're working on.

3. Photos need to be big.

From the back of the room or when shrunk down to a quarter of the screen real estate, your presentation is a bit like a slightly blurred smart phone screen (even when everyone remembered their glasses). If you have lots of photos to share, present them as big as you can, even if it means more slides. We don't need a lot of white space around photos, and packing too many on one slide means we can't see any of them. Example: I typically used full-screen images for most of my visuals, with two to a slide for things like logo examples.

4. Photos need to be bright. 

Choose high-quality photos that are more bright than dark. If you're not sure if something will work, stand far away and squint. If it's hard to make out what's happening in the photo, don't use it. Example: We often see poorly lit interior photographs in presentations. These might be easy enough to see in the darker winter months (or in a darker room), but in the sunshine or a bright room it will look like a dark, blobby rectangle.

5. Test it.

You may not have a projector to test your presentation, but you can run through your slides on your computer from 20 feet away. Better yet, have someone who doesn't already know what the slides say run through your slides from 20 feet away. If you/they can't clearly read or perceive something, it may be too small, too thin, or too low in contrast. And note that some of us may have less focused vision than your test subjects. Using the slide sorter (which presents small thumbnails images of your slides) is another good way to test their legibility and effectiveness from a distance.

6. Be prepared for technical A/V failure.

If you have presented slides on Zoom or used a projector more than a few times, you've likely experienced technical difficulties. I sure have, and it's not fun when your audience is sitting, staring, and waiting. Sometimes it's a 30-second fix. Sometimes it's a 2-minute restart. And sometimes it's a power outage.

Be prepared for the power outage. If your slides disappear, will what you say still make sense? Will you still know what to say if the slides aren't behind you? You'd better, because you will be without your slides at some point. 

7. Read a second opinion.

Don't take my word for it. Take Harvard's:

8. Find the right tools.

If you're a Mac user, Keynote may work better for you. I find it to be more intuitive than Powerpoint, and it doesn't have quite as many useless features. So give it a spin. Prezi is another interesting option. It brings more complex motion into the presentation, which can mean a steeper learning curve for you.

9. Brand it.

Your credibility will increase if the presentation matches the branding you use elsewhere—on your website, your business card, your virtual background, and so on. If you do this a lot, if you're a larger organization, or if you just like things to look right a custom, branded presentation template that reinforces your brand identity is the right move.

If you're doing this as a one-off, and can't invest much, then find a template that 'feels' like it can sit alongside your brand, and adjust color, logo, and fonts to match. It will go a long way.


An example

In case it's helpful, here an old slide deck of ours as an example. It may not make much sense without me talking alongside it—but remember: that's because it's just the headlines, not a script.


  1. Wow, this is an awesome list! I’ve never thought about how a rooms lighting could affect the readability of a presentation.

  2. I hadn’t thought about the simple things like sunlight and how they could mess up a presentation. These are really great tips. Thanks!

  3. This is a great presentation! Thank you for including the example, I’ve never thought about how much should and shouldn’t go into a single slide

  4. High contrast is so important! It can hurt the eyes sometimes if a presentation has too much going on at once. Great article!!

  5. This is a extremely helpful list to any novice. I love the presentation and it’s pretty self-explanatory in my opinion. Great work!

  6. These are good tips for school as well as the workplace. Your slides should definitely be engaging to your audience or else they will loose interest in everything you’re saying!

  7. I loved that you included an example slide. I am a visual learner so it’s great to see all your tips and tricks implemented! Great work!

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