“Good design is as little design as possible. It's really about stripping away the non-essential information of your presentation just to focus on your core messages.”

Todd Reubold
Director of Communications for the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota

Building Better Presentations

IonE communications director Todd Reubold has been helping raise the quality of presentations at the University for years. Now you, too, can benefit from his insights and coaching. Learn presentation design and delivery best practices. Explore presenting to scientific and general audiences. Improve one of your own presentations.

Download the Curriculum


Time Frame: 3 hours
Suggested # of Participants: 20-24
Materials Needed: Participants will need laptops with preexisting presentations to work on
Room Setup: 3-4 tables of 5 each

Essential Questions

  • How do you define your audience and create a presentation that puts your audience first?
  • How do you craft a central message that’s compelling and “sticks” with your audience?
  • How do you think like a designer and create slides that use color well, minimal text and have emotional resonance?
  • What are the design principles to display data that’s accurate and highlights what’s important?

Workshop Outcomes

Facilitator Outcomes Participants will be able to:
Be able to create and present both positive and negative examples of each of the visual design principles.


Show Todd Reubold Video

Understand and to apply key elements of good visual design, both of individual slides and whole presentations.
Create and demonstrate how data can be transformed to communicate well in presentation format Translate and re-create charts and graphs to read quickly and easily and communicate the most important information.
Facilitate activity where participants practice taking their own topic or existing presentation and beginning the process of choosing main messages, supporting messages and elements, and plotting structure without a computer. Identify key takeaways of their presentations and map out their strategy for clearly communicating those takeaways.
Facilitate next step: Having participants answer key questions of how to engage the audience, create memorable takeaways, and tactics for maintaining interest. Recognize potential problems with audience engagement and develop tactics to keep audiences attentive.
Facilitate next step: Having participants answer key questions of how to engage the audience, create memorable takeaways, and tactics for maintaining interest. Practice their new skills in front of their peers, and make a short, compelling presentation to the group.
Facilitate an activity which allows participants to craft a short version of their presentation and practice some of their new skills within groups or whole group.   

Workshop Materials

Sample Agenda

1:00 – 1:30 Introductions & Icebreakers

  • Your name, major, brief pitch of presentation you’re working on
1:30 – 2:00 Facilitator Presentation on Good Design/ Todd Reubold Video
2:00 – 2:30 Participants Practice Planning / Strategizing

  • Identifying Big Ideas / Supporting Ideas
  • Mapping out overall story
  • STAR moments and engagement strategies
2:30-2:40 Break
2:40-3:15 Build Slides: Participants build opening 2-3 minutes of presentation
3:15-4:00 Practice Presentation: Students practice delivering and giving feedback in small groups.

Pre-Workshop Email
We recommend sending out the pre-workshop email one-week before and a short follow-up two days before the workshop. The primary requirement for this workshop is that participants have a presentation of some sort they are currently working on or hoping to improve. The presentation can be at any stage of development, as long as they have an idea and supporting material.  They should bring a laptop and be prepared to work on that material.

Here’s an example:

Dear Workshop Participants:

Thank you for signing up for the Building Better Presentations Workshop. The workshop will take place in the [Learning and Environmental Sciences Building on the St. Paul campus] from [time-time] in [room] on [Date].
[Insert description of workshop].

There is no pre-work required for, but we ask that you come with a laptop and an existing presentation or idea for a presentation which you can work on during the workshop.

We look forward to meeting with you soon,

[Your name]

A good idea is to follow up with students in a post survey to get feedback, using Google Forms or Survey Monkey. Some example of post-workshop questions:

Did you gain the skills you hope to gain from this workshop?


If not, what did you hope to learn that you would like to see in a future workshop?


What were the most valuable take-aways?


Do you feel like the presentation you brought with you was improved as a result of the workshop?


Overall, do you feel more confident about your ability to produce and deliver effective presentations?


Please use this space to offer any other feedback you feel would be useful for the facilitators and for future workshops.

Nouri, H., & Shahid, A. (2005). The effect of PowerPoint presentations on student learning and attitudes. Global Perspectives on Accounting Education2, 53.

Bartsch, R. A., & Cobern, K. M. (2003). Effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations in lectures. Computers & education41(1), 77-86.

Reynolds, Garr. (2011). Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition). Berkely, Ca: New Riders.

Reynolds, Garr. (2011). The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides. Berkely, Ca: New Riders.

Baron, Nancy. (2010).  Escape From The Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Recommended Videos

Use the videos as pre-workshop primers, or during the workshop itself

Garr Reynolds: Presentation Zen 1:11:47

Presentation designer and internationally acclaimed communications expert Garr Reynolds, creator of the most popular Web site on presentation design and delivery on the net – presentationzen.com – shares his experience in a provocative mix of illumination, inspiration, education, and guidance that will change the way you think about making presentations with PowerPoint or Keynote.

How Presentation Zen Fixed My Bad PowerPoints 8:04

A demonstration of how a professor revised one PowerPoint slide after reading Garr Reynolds’ book, Presentation Zen.

How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint 20:31

With a seldom seen depth of knowledge and passion for his subject, David Phillips has become the leading Swedish figurehead in the art of making presentations. He is the founder and owner of Sweden’s largest resource on the subject: Presentationsteknik.com. He is also author of the ground-breaking book “How To Avoid Death By PowerPoint” published in more than 30 countries.

What They’re Saying

“The design of my presentation ended up being better than I could have envisioned!”

Eve CrawfordPhD Student, McGill University

“My presentations are on a whole new level after taking this workshop.”

Aura BrooksDirector of Leadership Studies, Colorado State University

“My students end of the semester presentations were far better after taking this workshop.”

Zak ReidInstructor, Rutgers University

“Wish I would have taken this workshop much earlier in my career!”

Stacy GrahamCo Founder, Center for Leadership and Awesomeness