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Deck Design 101 for Course Creators


Visuals, visuals, visuals. It’s what the new consumer insists upon, whether s/he is reading a piece of content on the web, on social media, accessing a website, or, yes, taking some type of education/training program. In fact, here are a couple of stats that should be of interest to anyone developing an education or training course.

  • Visuals are processed by the brain 60,000X faster than words.
  • 40% of people respond better to visual information than they do to text.

Fortunately for course creators, there are lots of slideshow and presentation tools that will give the learner a much more engaging experience. Also fortunately, these tools are easy to use – a novice can easily create a great slide deck.

While the tools are easy to use, the other obvious key elements in creating a deck are the actual content that you choose to include, the layout, the colors, etc.

Here are some tips to help you create an amazing deck for your course, whether it is delivered in person or digitally.

Design The Course Curriculum First

This should go without saying. Until you have your course objectives and an outline of the content/activities for your learners, you cannot begin to know how slides will fit in. This is the “content” step of creating your deck.

In general, you want to present and reinforce the key concepts with your slides. Once you have those key concepts, then you can make a list of the slides you will be producing. Sometimes, developing a type of storyboard helps – it gives you a visual to work from, as well as the sequence for your deck.


This can be the hardest part of developing a deck. Text must be kept to a minimum on each slide. Learners do not want to log through a textbook here. They want a small amount of text that is easy to read. Better to have more slides than to try to cram to much text in one. If you have to put more text, then at least use bullet points.

If you have a narrative that goes along with your slides, then don’t repeat a lot of it on slides – stick to just the key points that are absolutely critical for the learner to remember.

Go for Top Quality Images

Using stock photos is a big “no-no.” They are boring, tired, and over-used. Here are the important keys to image use:

  • Any image you choose must directly relate to the key concept of the slide.
  • Use a good tool to create graphics.
  • Be certain that, if you use copyrighted images, you have permission. Otherwise find royalty-free images
  • If you struggle with ideas for images or just with the process of selecting the right mages, there are informative articles on the subject – do some research

Consistency – Theme, Color, Design

What you don’t want is a slide deck that is a hodge-podge of color, design, font, etc. It makes the presentation look dis-jointed and just thrown together. If, for example, you have an animated figure or other elements (e.g., arrows) to point to key ideas, then use that consistently throughout the deck. Colors and fonts should be consistent throughout.

One of the best tips is to get a theme for your entire deck. There are, for example, PowerPoint themes that will provide consistent templates for virtually any type of text and visuals you will want to incorporate. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. It has been done for you – your task is to select a theme that is consistent with your content and use it throughout the entire deck.

Audio and Video

These are more recent additions to slide deck creation. Having narration, music, and even video imbedded in your deck can be wonderfully engaging. There are great online tutorials for doing this, and your audience will thank you. These are the things that can make slide decks much more compelling.

Add Links to Resources

There will be instances in which you want your learner to access additional resources to expand or complement what you are delivering. Provide these on relevant slides. This will serve to direct your learner to the right resources rather than to force him/her to go looking on his own.

Provide Relevant Examples

If your training program relates to performance or skills that must be translated and utilized on the job, then provide some actual examples that model these skills in actual use. This is key, if you want to provide relevance to your learners. When they can see that the skill is actually valuable and how it is actually used, they will be far more engaged.

Keep it Moving

Sitting on one slide for a long time, while narration drags on, is not going to keep learners engaged. If you find, as you practice the presentation with the slides, that you are in a “holding pattern” on a slide for more than 30 seconds, it’s time to revise. Take the content and divide it up, creating two or more slides to add. No slide should sit there for more than 30 seconds. If you try to get too much information imbedded in a single slide, your learners will experience “information overload” and will not focus on the key concept.

Provide For Periodic Re-Caps

Based upon your course objectives and the key concepts you are delivering, there will be logical break points. Stop the content delivery at these break points and present a slide that re-caps what has just been presented. This gives the learner “security” and a sense of completion before moving on.

Add a Self-Assessment

This relates to the previous tip for re-caps. Let the learner “test” himself by presenting slides that ask key questions about the concepts that were presented. Going through this activity will “cement” the learning for the student. You can have formative assessments along the way and then a summative assessment at the end.

Responsive design

You have to assume, especially if your course will be delivered digitally and accessed by learners on their own time schedules, that a variety of devices will be used – PC’s, laptops, tablets and even phones. This is especially true for micro-learning courses. It is your responsibility to ensure that your slide deck is compatible with all devices, and that is only accomplished by your own testing. If there are issues, get with a tech consultant immediately. Nothing will “kill” your course faster than frustrated learners who cannot access on a variety of devices.

Refine and Revise

Choosing the right slide deck presentation tool is certainly important. You will need to spend time looking at all of your options before you choose the one that best fits what you want to deliver and that you can easily use. Fortunately, the tools that are available today make it easy for you to design an amazing slide deck. Your job is to make smart decisions about the content of those slides, choose a theme that “works,” imbed as many visuals and multimedia as possible, and ensure that your course and slide deck is compatible with all devices. This is no small feat, but the tools and expertise are out there to help.

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