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Online Course Slides – If They Were Easy We'd Have Done Them By Now

Creating online training is easy. But creating good online training is tricky. In the spirit of total transparency, I’ve just had a look at my own courses, and even with over ten years experience as one of the UK’s leading live trainers my the completion rates for my online courses is below 60%. (If you want to know more about live presentation training, see here!)

There are lots of possible reasons, but one of them is that online course slides are, to be frank, difficult. The good news is, that by the end of this post your online course slides will be infinitely better than your competitors.

You can’t just whip up a crap set of slides, record a narration, upload it, and pretend it’s any good.

And being a reasonable presenter doesn’t necessarily help, either. Here’s one of the most effective ones I use, live – but imagine if that was all you had to look at for the eight minutes I often use it for!

Slides you use in the same room as your audience are different from sides you use online.

Live, your audience has you and your glorious personality to keep them engaged – that's not so true online. The good news is that there are a number of fairly simple guidelines that will help you, though, so don't panic.  All you need to do is stick to them and you're be fine. The even better news is that the guidelines are pretty clear, without much fuzz around the edges…

… but remember, they’re guidelines, not rules.  You won’t get arrested for trying something different, particularly once you’ve got some experience!

Titles vs. Images vs. Headlines for Your Slides

Additionally, of course, you’re competing with a whole bunch of other things competing for the attention of your students. (You heard your Facebook Messenger notification pinging recently? 🙂 )

So what can you do to make your slides less ignorable? Let’s start by breaking a live-presentation-rule because online a simple guideline is to have enough text on the screen at the start to make a newspaper headline.

Think more like The Daily Mail than The Sun (have a bit of class!)  😉 (Please don't infer anything about my personal politics from those examples!)

The idea is that your audience can get the Big Idea of your slide in one go – not the content though!

The idea is that the headline gets them interested and makes them pay attention.

Don’t be shy about being provocative. How interesting would this Daily Mail page be if it gave a more balanced, nuanced and complicated presentation of the facts? Use the headline to replace your slide’s title. Old-school titles are a death-knell for slides.

Once you’ve got their attention, what you do next is provide the information by adding content to the slide.

At that point, it's up to you to provide the details they (now!) want. A typical pattern would be to have a headline that makes a promise or asks a question or a challenging statistic – the rest of the slide then provides more context for that headline.

I might even forgive bullet-points


Bullet points rarely work in the real world. As a design standard, they’re pretty much responsible for the bad reputation PowerPoint has got amongst audiences. (PowerPoint’s got a bad reputation amongst presenters too, but for different reasons,) Fortunately, online courses aren’t the real world and for online slides, they’re much less unforgivable.

The bullet points should be in response to the headline on your slide. A simple, logical talk-through is best.  Don’t be fancy. Don’t be clever. Just respond to your headline.

Once you’ve got experience under your belt you can mess about more but for now let’s just go through things one at a time, sequentially, with bullet points appearing one at a time.

That last bit is cruciall. If all your content appears at once your audience will

  • read ahead faster than you can talk
  • get to the end of the slide
  • get bored and
  • flip onto the tab on their browser they have open specially to look at cute cat pics.

Remember, online is a world where you’re competing with cute cats and Tina Turner, you’ve got to be visual and make things happen.

…but there are alternatives to bullet-points for online slides

Although I’ve used bullet points in the conversation above, for the sake of simplicity, it doesn’t have to be like that. Images work too, so long as they follow some basic rules:

  1. Isolated onto the background colour of the slide. I talk about this a little more here.
  2. Legal – you need to pay for them or at least get them from a free supply site and keep a note of the source.
  3. Relevant and informative, not just there to make the slide look pretty. It helps if they’re pretty, obviously but audiences usually aren’t stupid.

You’d be surprised how much more engaging it is to have a set of post-it notes appear on your slide compared to simple text. It doesn’t take much imagination to make even the most simple of slides a little more interesting.

For example, here’s an example of the most simple of slides.

It appears as part of a montage of famous (famous-ish) people who served others.

Imagine a series of slides that just listed “who and what”. You'd be snoozing if it was just a list on your slides.

I’ve made it more interesting by:

  • Having the photograph 
  • Cropping it to make an interesting shape and to filter out some of the extraneous detail
  • Inserting it as though it’s in a photograph album – using a frame, tilting it, and adding a shadow.

It took no more than three minutes to do all that work, although it might take you a little longer in PowerPoint, particularly if you’re not used to it.

Importantly, as part of an online course, it doesn’t appear all at once. After experimenting, I finally decided on bringing the image, level, then as it dropped on the right I brought in the name at the top. Finally, the text arrives at the bottom. And all this time I’m giving background statistics about what happens to people who oppose the Nazi party and how many tried and died etc

Timing Your Slides

So far so good, of course, but there’s the tricky question of how often things should happen. Should you bring in a bullet point point, for example, every three seconds? Every 32 seconds? Is there even a rule?

Here's a simple trick – think of how often you’ve watched an online presentation of some kind and you’ve put you onto another tab of their browser to do you emails (let's pretend I've never done this!). How often would the presenter have had to say something like “as you can see”  to mean that you have to keep coming back to their presentation?

As a side note, the phrase “As you can see” is crazy-useful! If you can’t say it about your slides your visual design isn’t good enough and as a way of forcing your audience to come back and pay attention it’s very handy!

It’s different for different people, of course, but as a rough-rule-of-thumb-target, aiming for something to happen every five to ten seconds works nicely.  You won’t manage it all the time, obviously, but …

If you’re not convinced by the idea of “things happening” try going back to Tina Turner and ask yourself why this video has got about 15 million views: https://youtu.be/T2T5_seDNZE – for the rock, skip to 4:20 in and crank up the volume.(Headphones please!).

Include Yourself

Of course, one way around all of this need for extra work in your slides is to include yourself on them. If you’re visible, your audience gets a bit more life, energy and movement – not to mention a lot more of your personality.  I'm talking here as including yourself as a ‘talking head' or ‘picture in picture'.

Take a moment to consider these two examples: which is more likely to keep your attention if the slide is up for a little while?


The first slide shows a perfectly solid design of slide and it obeys the rules I’ve outlined above, because the three circles and their labels come in separately etc (there was a title, but I faded it out to give myself more space on the slide). It’s fine and it works… but…

… but compare it to a slightly more sophisticated version starring me peeping in on the side every now and again. It’s particularly handy when the slides have otherwise a flat period and you can’t make the visuals change as often as you might hope to. If nothing is going to change on the side for a little while I fade in to give people something to look at.

(There’s a more sophisticated version where my grinning face appears inside the circle I’m talking about but that’s overkill!)

In other words, my face isn’t there all the time, just when I need it to be. If you’re not convinced, try watching this pretty cool video from the pretty cool Pat Flynn: https://youtu.be/6bSOAl1i8bw  It’s not a bad video, really but ask yourself this question. How much better would it have been with a talking Pat Flynn appearing every now and then?!

The good news is that it's not as difficult as it sounds, technically.

If you're using a Mac computer, I recommend using Ecamm Live . Why? Because that’s how I do it! Note, this is an affiliate link and I get a tiny(!) bit of money if you buy from them using that link but I recommend it because I like/use it, not because I get paid for it  🙂

If you're using a Windows machine, have a look at https://belive.tv. People I know and trust recommend it but I haven’t used it myself. Or try https://streamlabs.com/ and https://streamyard.com/. My video-guru Mark Orr uses them and I rate Mark’s experience! [Note from Sarah, we also use Belive.TV)

But What Should I Put on The Slides?

So far all I’ve done is talk about the design of individual slides. But what about the structure of the slide-deck itself? What should you put on the slides, and in what order?

Honestly, I can’t tell you what to put on them – it depends on what you’re trying to teach, obviously. What I can do, however, is share you a few things to avoid!

One Thing to Avoid on Your Online Course Slides

Your history – or your company’s – has to go. Why? No one cares. Any slides that say anything like “XXX was founded in YYY” or includes anything even remotely resembling the phrase “my journey” has to go. Along with “A little bit of background”.

People include them to try and establish credibility. Great. But does your doctor tell you all about the thousands of hours of training and continuous cycle of exams they have to take every time he or she comes to your bedside in hospital? Nope, they’ve got other ways of establishing authority and if you try to include all that padding at the start of your online slides, all that happens is that your audience:

  • Skip to another tab until you’ve finished undermining their interest in you and your authority
  • Fast forward until you’ve finished undermining their interest in your and your authority
  • Both

Admit it, you’ve done it yourself. The solution is to assume that people trust your authority and get on with things. It really is as simple as that – you establish your credibility before they’re looking at your online slides.

Replace with all that with something called a Credibility Statement – the rules are pretty simple. A credibility statement should:

  1. Be very(!) short – no more than a few sentences
  2. Be unarguable – best done by something quantitative and factual rather than an opinion
  3. Be overwhelming – it should give a knock-down-and-glory reason for you to be who gets listened to

An example or two might make this easier. A friend of mine called Mike Lever does sales training and he’s very, verrrrry good at it.

His Credibility Statement could be “My name’s Mike and I’m probably the best sales trainer in the country” – it could be but it fails point two because it’s a matter of opinion.

So let’s update it to “My name’s Mike and I’ve been voted the best sales trainer in the country”. Now you can’t argue with it – it’s just a simple statement of fact.

You can soften it up a little if you need to, but not too much. For example one of mine could be “My name’s Simon and I’m a nationally recognised expert in the science of what makes better presentations – my last book landed in the high street best sellers list at number six!”

It should go without saying that your credibility statement should be both relevant to the message and audience and be true!

That’s your first slide. Deal with the need to talk for longer and move on! Anything else you need to say for the first slide is either your own ego/anxiety talking or padding. Suck it up and move on to the content.

The first slide, the one with your credibility statement should take 30 seconds or so. Done!

Would you like a little more?

You can join me here, live and in the room on the 7th of March https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-presentation-genius-afternoon-tickets-49901577963

Use the coupon code PresentingIsPowerful when you book your place and get £75 off the price.