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How to Pick a Killer Theme for Your Presentation in 5 Easy Steps

by Adam Noar

PowerPoint Tips - Presentation Design Tips - How to Create an Awesome Theme

You do not normally give it much thought, but pretty much every app you use, every restaurant you walk into, and even every presentation slideshow you put together is designed around a central theme.

At least, every good presentation is. Like many aesthetic features, a presentation theme is something that you should be able to know is intuitively right or wrong just by looking at it. A business presentation about mutual funds should probably have an understated theme with neutral colors and no-nonsense designs, and (hopefully) you don’t need me to tell you that. Likewise, if you’re creating a presentation about a more light-hearted topic such as the top ten summer travel destinations in the USA, you can afford to have a more whimsical theme.

What exactly is a theme, though, and why is it so important? A theme encompasses everything from font, images, colors, layout, formatting, and even to a certain extent the content that you put on display in a presentation. It might seem simple on paper to pick a theme, but in practice a lot of thought goes into the process.

Once you have landed on a theme to use in your presentation, making decisions on how to design your slides becomes much easier. All you have to do is ask yourself “does this aspect of my theme {such as font or color) fit into the broader whole?” If yes, then you should incorporate it—if not, then toss it out.

While some people have the supernatural ability to wing it and come up with tastefully curated themes where everything from the header font to the hyperlink color is in harmony, most of us can use a little help. We need structure, we need influences, and we need a map to guide us. Luckily there are tons of tools out there to help make choosing a good theme for your presentation easy. Whether you are creating a presentation, a website, a painting, a blueprint for an architect, a book cover, or anything else visual, it is fundamental to have a central theme at the heart of your plans. This is where the concept of creating a theme comes in handy, and this is what you’ll learn about today!

Step #1: Brainstorm Creative Ideas

Presentation Design Tips - How to build a theme - Brainstorm

The first step to creating a beautiful, cohesive theme is to brainstorm anything and everything that comes to mind. Writing down creative ideas that express the concept you are trying to present will allow you to open up a stream of all sorts of themes to utilize in your work. So grab a piece of paper or a tablet or a whiteboard marker—whatever it is that you use to record the thoughts in your head—and start brainstorming.

Occasionally people make the mistake of assuming that when they brainstorm ideas they should come up with lots of fancy, near-perfect concepts. This is a mistake! When you are in the initial phase of creating ideas you should pretty much be writing whatever comes to mind—it can seem completely ridiculous and maybe it is, but it is a great way for your brain to warm up and start visualizing the A+ material you will use when designing your own them.

It’s normal to have a lot of lackluster ideas when you’re in the brainstorming phase, but even if you have some pretty weird ideas that seem useless, they might lead to the right idea in the end.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind during the brainstorming phase:

  • Don’t spend too much time stuck inside. Going out for a walk, or just to get a breath of fresh air, really can make a difference. Bring a notepad or your phone with you to jot down any ideas that come to your head while you’re putting extra oxygen into your head.
  • Get some exercise! Do a few pushups or a few basic stretches to get the blood moving. If I’m hitting a creative wall I’ll strike up a few yoga poses in my office before designing slides for clients
  • Consider changing environments. Richard Branson suggests brainstorming in creative environments that energize you and make you think differently. Depending on the kind of person you are, that might mean going down to your local beach or river and taking a seat, or it might mean finding a spacious café with lots of natural light and an excellent cup of espresso.

You should not have any trouble brainstorming some great themes if you keep these ideas in mind.

Step #2: Create a Design Mood Board

PowerPoint Design Tips - Mood Board Example

After you have brainstormed to your heart’s content it is finally time to create a mood board. Think of a mood board as a collage of different design inspirations that reflect your brainstorming ideas. It does not have to be organized in a certain way or have a completely fluid set of themes—maybe in one corner you will have a cluster of fonts that you like for the body of the slide, but immediately adjacent to them you have a few choice filtered images that will make for a beautiful cover page and set the tone and theme for your presentation. A mood board will let you know what the look, feel, and tone of your project’s theme will be, in a more tangible form. It should basically look like a stream of your thoughts, put together in front of you. Inspiration for your mood board can come from anywhere; think of it as a roadmap that shows where your project will end up.

Finding inspiration for your mood board is pretty easy. You can start out by looking at some of the ideas you have brainstormed and then go looking for images, designs, font styles, and more online. Some great resources for inspiration are Dribble, Note and Point, Design Inspiration, and SlideShare, which I personally use all the time when curating presentation images. Of course, it can never hurt to check out images on sites such as Flickr, Google Images, and even stock image sites and Getty Images; you never know what might strike a bulb inside your head.

Presentation Design Tips - Free Resource - GoToMoodBoard.com

To create a mood board, some people might prefer to use Pinterest, while others may prefer to use a professional mood board tool such as GoMoodBoard. There are tons and tons of great mood board websites out there and if you want to have access to as many of them as possible, here are sixteen great tools for creating the perfect mood board.

If you do not really feel like creating a fancy mood board (I don’t see why this would be a problem, but it’s your mood board, not mine) then you can simply use a screenshot tool such as Skitch (remember Skitch? We talked about it recently) and take quick screenshots of whatever catches your eye, then create a blank slide in PowerPoint or Microsoft Paint to paste your screen grabs and keep them handy.

What sort of content should you include in your mood board? Pretty much whatever you want, as long as it inspires you to find or create the perfect theme for your slides. Some basic features you should add to your mood board include fonts, colors, textures, photographs, patterns, GIFs, and other shiny things. Just like when you brainstorm, do not hold back with your mood board—make it open to all sorts of creative designs and themes and slowly but surely a more coherent single theme will begin to emerge.

PowerPoint Tips - What To include in your Mood Board - Presentation Tips

Step #3: Take Your Theme Out for a Test Drive

The next step after creating your mood board is to start placing the various features of your mood board in situ on your slides to see how they will look for your presentation. Once you have your mood board and color scheme created it is time to start playing around with the design of your slides.

Start out by creating a few slides and then take a pause to see if those slides reflect the direction that you want to go for your theme. Try starting out with the title page—probably the single most important place to start, since it sets the tone for the rest of your presentation—and build on from there. Also, put together one or two of your principal slides and see how they complement or play off of the title page. Switch around primary colors, try each of the fonts on your shortlist, see if the words you use look better in boldface, italics, or with standard weight. Decide if you are going to alternate your colors between slides or make them uniform. Depending on the kind of audience you are presenting to, you might also want to consider how your theme conforms to the topic at hand—if it’s a rather formal topic, think twice before you choose a font with curlicues or with jagged thorns covering each letter. If you are at a loss for what to choose, it probably means that the themes you have in front of you are not distinct enough from each other—there should be enough difference to distinguish one from another and get a clearer picture of what will look good and what will not.

Step#4: Get Feedback Early

Presentation Tips - Get Feedback on Your Theme Early

You might want to share these first couple slides with your team, your boss, etc. to get feedback. There is no point going further in the design process if your team isn’t digging your initial slides. And there is definitely nothing wrong with going back to the drawing board and making sure that your theme makes everyone happy.

Step #5: Build Your Slides

Presentation Design Tips - Consistency is Key

Once you have the green light from your fellow presentation collaborators it is time to put everything else in its place.

When you design your slides you need to be relentless in obeying your theme guidelines. If you have decided on Font X with a light blue background, do not compromise your theme for any reason and all of a sudden have a different font on a white background instead. Doing this will do nothing other than make your presentation look really bad and probably confuse your audience in the process.

As long as you remain consistent and keep steady to your theme your presentation will look fantastic. And if you do get stuck, you can always refer back to your mood board for more ideas. You should also not hesitate to consult with your fellow designers, boss, or whoever else has something at stake in your project.


Presentation Tips - Summary of How to Build a Killer Theme

Theme development is a challenging but ultimately enjoyable task; there is no reason not to have a great time flexing your creative muscles through the process of brainstorming ideas, curating a beautiful mood board that sets the tone for your slide, designing initial slides with feedback from your peers, and finally designing a beautiful, coherent slideshow that totally rocks.

If you have followed these five steps I am confident that your presentation’s theme will compliment what is sure to be a great presentation and make it look spectacular. If you have any doubts you can always double check and review these steps, and also consult some of our other articles here on Presentation Panda to make sure that you have the best presentation possible.

So, here’s my question for you:

Are there any other methods you use for creating a great presentation theme? Any other websites you use to come up with the perfect mood board that I missed? Let me know what you think below and please try to be as specific as possible. Sound off in the comments below!

Lastly, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these presentation design tips? If so, email them the link to this post.

Thanks for sharing and be sure to post this article on Twitter of Facebook as well (by using the sharing buttons to the left).

Hungry for more information on presentation design trends? Here are some suggested articles:

5 Presentation Tools That Will Make Your Slides Stand Out

7 Presentation Design Trends You Need To Know About

10 Professional Presentation Templates That Don’t Suck

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