Making presentations accessible – from design to delivery

Navy background with white text which reads making presentations accessible - design to delivery. A graphic illustration of three people involved in delivering and creating a presentation is to the right. It sits on an off-white circle.

Presenting is something almost all communications pros will likely need to do at some point in their career. From client pitches, to presenting data back to teams, to sharing best practice at industry events, it’s important that your slide deck, and how you deliver it, is accessible.

Things to ask before you start designing

Before you get to the actual creating part, it’s important to understand that there will be disabled and Neurodivergent people attending or watching your presentation. Accessibility and inclusion starts from way back here, that’s what we mean by accessibility as standard. Here’s what you need to consider and check at this stage:

Consider the content of slides

Yeah, I know, obviously you’re going to think about what’s going on your actual slides. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘as you can see on the chart here’, during a presentation. Or, just a slide with an image that’s never mentioned or described by the presenter. This happens because, like I said above, people generally don’t consider disability being present in their audience. This is reinforced by our assumptions that someone will tell you if they need alternative access, but there are many reasons that might not happen so it’s important we adopt responsibility for content accessibility.

This will feel weird at first. Describing the visuals on a slide is counterintuitive and you may feel self-conscious doing so. But imagine what it’s like to be the person watching a presentation and for once getting to understand and experience the same as other people.

To word or not to word

Everyone has different opinions on whether to put copy on slides, be it bullet points or just a few words. From an accessibility perspective, the bare minimum is to put the key takeaways from what you’re saying in a bullet list. From my lived experience of this there have been plenty of times I’ve not been able to hear the speaker (no mic, bad connection, turning away from the mic to look at a screen), but thanks to clear, succinct bullets on a slide I’ve got the gist and important info. One of the arguments I’ve seen against this is that your audience won’t be focusing on you, they’ll be reading the slides. It’s important to assume competence here. Both things are possible, one or another may be necessary depending on that individual’s needs. For example:

White text on a dark blue background reads Finding my content helpful? Buy me a ko-fi! There is a graphic of a cup of tea on a pale circular background on the right of the image.

Don’t wait for people to ask or hope that your presentation is inclusive. When you’re promoting it tell people the steps you’ve taken and the inclusive options available to them. From feedback, I know some people struggle with this, they don’t want people to access the slides and miss the presentation, or share the content across their network. That’s an understandable concern, but it denies disabled people their right to be included. Which is the more inclusive and ethical choice? Additionally when promoting your event make sure:

It’s all about you

At least your introduction should be. Remember earlier in this blog I talked about describing images, gifs and charts on slides? It’s also great inclusive practice to describe yourself. I admit, this is one I’m constantly working on and have to write a note to remind myself to do. This week I was speaking at a CIPR North East online event and remembered to let people know what I looked like. It went something like this:

Hi everyone, my name’s Sara Thornhurst, my pronouns are she/her. I’m wearing a grey jumper with black stars. I have glasses on and grey hair.

Let’s recap, or the tl:dr version

How to be an awesome inclusive and accessible presenter”

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