by Tom Isler | October 01, 2008

On point: Slides from Jeff Brenman's winning presentation, "Thirst."
"If bullet points of text were an effective way to inform or persuade, McDonald's commercials would be full of them," argues Chris Landry, who creates slide presentations for businesses and nonprofits ( But commercials aren't data-packed, and neither are Landry's presentations. The best slide shows, he maintains, focus on big ideas and foster an emotional connection to the subject; they don't bombard with details.

Last year, a Landry slide show for the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vt., placed among winners of the first World's Best Presentation Contest run by, founded to reward creative use of the medium and educate novices. This year's winner, "Thirst," by Jeff Brenman of Raleigh, N.C.-based Apollo Ideas, bested 2,400 entries.

A review of the top-rated slide shows on is a master class on presentation design. The best use text sparingly, breaking thoughts into bite-size pieces across multiple slides to generate the right cadence. Graphs are used to make points visually, not to communicate spreadsheets of stats. Photos reinforce what's being said, without being too literal. Most importantly, great slide shows don't tell the whole story; they convince listeners that the whole story is worth learning.

Bert Decker, CEO of San Francisco-based Decker Communications and one of the contest's judges, believes effective slide shows have a strong point of view. "Don't inform, influence," he advises. "If you want to persuade, present in person. If you want to inform, do it in writing. It's much faster, yet much less engaging."