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July 17, 2019

Non-Designer’s Presentation Book Book Review


If you are at all familiar with the Robin Williams well known book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, then this book will have a familiar tone and structure. While compact, you will find nuggets of inspiration as well as clearly conveyed strategies and techniques for designing a slide deck and presentation.

Overview of the Book

Section One: Before You Design

This section focuses on what you need to do before even sitting down to a computer to design the presentation slides.

In Where to Begin? (Chapter 1) the reader is provided some considerations regarding the presentation itself such as considering the necessity of a slide deck, slide size (standard or wide screen), and software options.

Many people start the process in the software, but Williams recommends in Get yourself Organized (Chapter 2) to plan, organize, align, and write first. In the long run it will save you time. Organizing content can be done in multiple ways like sticky notes, mind mapping, or a standard outline.

“There are three things you must know if you want to create a decent digital presentation: 1) It takes time to design a good presentation; 2) You must learn your software; and 3) Everyone expects more from you these days.”

- Robin Williams -

Section Two: Optimize the Content

This section focuses on the four principles of presentation design: Clarity, Relevance, Animation, and Plot. Applying these principles to your content before you begin designing moves you one step closer to a great slide and presentation.

Clarity (Chapter 3) provides techniques and strategies to make sure you were communicating your message clearly. These include limiting text on the slide, using active voice, and spreading text across multiple slides.

As the title implies, Relevance (Chapter 4), focuses on ways to make sure the content on the slide is related to your overall message. Content not only includes text but backgrounds, illustrations, photos, and charts.

Most presentation experts will agree that using animation appropriately is imperative. Chapter 5, Animation, provides some reasons to use animation such as to create a focus, transition between major topics, to illustrate a point, or clarify a complex topic. The two caveats of animation is 1) Movement calls attention to itself and 2) It is possible to use it too much.

An essential component of every presentation is the story also known as the plot. In Chapter 6, Plot, gives techniques on how to develop your story - specifically with examples for creating a beginning, middle, and end.

“Keep in mind that no one in the audience is going to remember everything you say, and actually, the less you say, the more of it they will remember.”

- Robin Williams -

Section Three: Design the Slides

True to form Williams covers how to use the four basic design principles (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity) she covered in greater depth in her The Non-Designer’s Design Book. Unlike her Design Book this section focus specifically on a slide deck.

The chapter covering Contrast (Chapter 7) has examples of how to use contrast with the font, color, and images. The author emphasizes that contrast provides substance, focuses attention, and even helps you organize content.

Repetition (Chapter 8) focuses on how to create consistency throughout the slide deck without being overly repetitive. It includes examples with font, color, and images.

Chapter 9, Alignment, gives lots of examples on how to use alignment to clean up individual slides and the entire slide deck which helps you create unity throughout the slides and organization of the content and message.

Creating relationships between elements on each slide is an important component for conveying your message and helping the audience visually draw connections between concepts. Using Proximity (Chapter 10) is the best way to do this and this chapter provides examples on how to achieve it.

“The small stuff-from learning how to set the spacing between paragraphs in your software program to getting the lighting just right during your talk-can mightily impact your presentation.”

- Robin Williams -

Section Four: Beyond the Principles

This section focuses on presentation elements beyond of the slide deck such as handouts, key software functions to know, and debunking the prevalent myths or rules.

It is not uncommon for presenters to just print their slides and use that as a handout. In Chapter 11, Handouts, talks about the importance of handouts, when to use them, and strategies to connect them to the design of your slides.

Most people have a basic working knowledge of their presentation software, However, in Learn Your Software (Chapter 12) the author encourages readers to specifically learn key editing features like text alignment, line and paragraph spacing, and cropping images in both PowerPoint and Keynote.

It is not uncommon for presenters to talk about certain things that are forbidden when it comes to slide decks and presentations. Ignore These Rules (Chapter 13) is a list of rules or myths that should not be followed because they do not have any merit behind them. Examples of the “rules” that can be ignored are: never use serif font, animation, or more than one background.

The last two chapters Listen to Your Eyes (Chapter 14) and Resources (Chapter 15) include a short quiz to check what you’ve learned in the book, a checklist for both content and slides, and a short list of resources for fonts and images.


This is an excellent book for an overview of designing a slide deck. If you used Williams book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, you will enjoy the same tone and approach. The book succinctly addresses the elements and principles of creating a quality slide deck, supported by plenty of examples. Particularly useful are the chapters linking the design principles to creating a presentation. A definite purchase for anyone seeking a starter guide or wanting a quick refresher and slide deck design.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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