If you want to take diversity and inclusion seriously in your organisation, it needs to be part of everything you do. And that includes embedding diversity in your PowerPoint presentations.
To be clear, I’m not just talking about presentations on the subject of diversity and inclusion. I’m talking about every presentation you give, whether it’s a sales presentation to clients, an internal strategic update, or anything else.
The problem is that many business presentations unintentionally exclude large segments of their intended audience through their use of imagery, language, and so on. By making your presentations more inclusive, you can engage a much broader range of people.
So in today’s article, we’ll look at how to be diverse and inclusive in your PowerPoint presentations. We’ll start by looking in more detail at why diversity matters in presentations, and then we’ll go through the nuts and bolts of how to add diverse imagery, how to make your presentation accessible, and how to use inclusive language. We’ll finish by looking at some useful resources for diversity in PowerPoint presentations.
While we’ll be focusing on PowerPoint, most of these techniques will also work in other software like Keynote. So if you’re ready to include more equality and diversity in your presentations, keep reading.
1. Why Diversity Matters in Presentations
When you give a presentation, you’re not just conveying information—you’re also representing yourself and your business to your audience. And if you don’t keep diversity and inclusion in mind when you’re designing and delivering the presentation, you may unwittingly send out the wrong messages.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to make this clearer.
Scenario 1: Misrepresenting Your Employees
In this first scenario, let’s imagine that you’re giving an end-of-year presentation to your employees, updating them on how the company performed.
You decide to include some comments from managers in different parts of the company, along with their photos. As the slides roll by, it becomes clear that every face on screen is a white man, even though your managerial pool is actually quite diverse.
What kind of message does that send to your employees? They may conclude that it’s impossible for women or people of colour to progress at your organisation, or they may believe that even when they make it to senior positions, their contributions aren't taken seriously.
It’s important to understand that your intention is irrelevant. Even if you didn’t deliberately set out to exclude certain groups, large numbers of people in your audience will probably perceive it that way. They don’t know your intent, so they've got to infer it based on the evidence in front of them: the words and imagery in your presentation.
Scenario 2: Limiting Your Potential Customer Base
Here’s another example. You’re giving a sales presentation this time, and you include mockups of people using your product.
But these mockups are all based on stock imagery of young people, even though your product can be used by people of any age. By your choice of imagery, you risk sending the message that your product is designed for a certain type of person, and millions of older people may conclude that it’s not for them. The same lesson applies with other dimensions of diversity too.
Take your cues from the advertising industry. Historically, there has been a lack of diversity in the way brands are represented, but that’s starting to change as companies recognise the huge potential of markets they've neglected. The spending power of African Americans is projected to reach $1.8 trillion by 2024 (AspireIQ), for example, and the buying power of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide is $3.7 trillion. Fail to speak to these large groups, and you’re missing out on lots of potential customers and revenue.
These are just a couple of examples of the importance of diversity in presentations. For more on this topic, see the following tutorial:
2. How to Add Diversity to Your Presentation's Imagery
When making your presentation’s imagery more diverse and inclusive, keep in mind that it’s about illustrating the full diversity of your company’s employees or customers or the market in general, not about representing particular groups as different from others.
For example, think of the last time you saw an image of a disabled person. It was probably in an article or campaign specifically about disabilities. But when you see images representing a generic “customer” or “worker,” they’re usually not disabled people.
So, if you want to be truly diverse and inclusive, why not use an image like the following to illustrate workers collaborating on a document?
The man’s disability isn't the focus, but his presence simply reflects the fact that disabled people are a significant part of the workforce.
Go through the dimensions of diversity and apply a similar rationale to each of them. Try to include a mix of ages, a mix of men and women, people of different sexual orientations and gender identities, etc.
Do you have to include all of these categories in every single PowerPoint presentation or every single image? Of course not. It’s more about looking at the overall composition of the images you choose and aiming to reflect the diversity of the world around you.
What If My Company Is Not Diverse?
So far, we’ve been talking about stock imagery. But what about the other scenario we talked about, in which you were including images of employees? What if your company just doesn’t have much diversity?
- DiversityHow to Ensure Diversity in Your Recruiting and Hiring PracticesAndrew Blackman
- DiversityHow to Build a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion in Your WorkplaceAndrew Blackman
But, in the short term, of course you've got to reflect the current reality. A French art school hit the headlines a few years ago for digitally manipulating an image of white students (The Local) to make it appear as if the school had more diversity than it really did. Don’t ever do that!
Keep in mind, though, that you may have other chances to include diversity in your presentations. Even if your company isn't diverse, your customer base certainly is. So maybe you can include quotes and images from your customers, or alternatively you can use diverse stock imagery to balance out the employee shots.
3. How to Make Your Presentation Accessible to Everyone
A key part of being inclusive is ensuring that everyone can view your presentation easily. In this section, we’ll go through three accessibility tips for PowerPoint presentations.
1. Visual Clarity
PowerPoint has some specific accessibility features, which we’ll look at in a minute, but first, there are some basic things you can do to help people with visual impairment.
For a start, design your slides with large text in a simple, clear, easily legible font like Arial or Verdana. Don’t be tempted to clutter up your slides with masses of text—instead, move the details to your notes or attach them in an appendix.
Keep the slides simple and easy to read, with just a few key messages. You can find charts to help you calculate the right font size in this guide from Think Outside the Slide. Using a professional PowerPoint template and sticking to the suggested formatting will also help you create presentations that are clear and easy to read.
The bonus is that as well as helping people with visual impairment, these techniques are also good practice for all your viewers!
2. Design for Colour Blindness
Did you know that colour blindness (Colour Blind Awareness site) affects about 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women? There’s a good chance that someone in your audience will struggle to read your slides if you don’t use the right colour contrast.
The best way to accommodate people with colour blindness is to use strongly contrasting colours and to avoid certain combinations, like red on green or blue on yellow, that are hard for many people to differentiate. Keep in mind, though, that there are quite a few different variations of colour blindness to be aware of.
If you want to see how this works in practice, check the Coblis simulator online. You can upload images of your slides to see how people with various types of colour blindness will view them.
3. Use PowerPoint’s Accessibility Features
Finally, PowerPoint has some great accessibility features built in. You can use these to help people who'll be using a screen reader to view your presentation.
For example, you can add alt text to images and shapes to explain what they are, and you can specify the order in which elements on the slide should be read. And there’s an Accessibility Checker that you can use to check your presentation and suggest improvements. Simply go to the Review tab and choose Check Accessibility.
You can find more details on PowerPoint’s accessibility features in this useful tutorial by Andrew Childress:
4. How to Use Inclusive Language
OK, so you’ve designed a presentation that uses diverse and inclusive imagery and is fully accessible. What next?
Now you've got to focus on the content of your presentation, which takes two parts:
- the text you show on your slides
- what you actually say when you’re delivering the presentation
The first part is easier. When you’re designing your presentation, you can take the time to look up the right language to use. There are plenty of guides available online, such as these inclusive language guidelines from OHSU.
Pay attention not only to the way in which you refer to particular groups of people, but also to uses of language that may reinforce gender stereotypes, heteronormative assumptions, stigmas against disabled people, and so on. For example, the English language is full of male-centred language like “manpower,” “workmen,” etc. Look through your presentations and make sure you’re not sending out the wrong messages.
The second part is likely to be more difficult. When you speak, you may find yourself using non-inclusive terms out of habit, and you'll have to make a conscious effort to change.
For example, you might be talking about a user of your app and find yourself saying something like, “When the user clicks this button, he’ll get a notification in his inbox.” Without intending it, you’ve just sent out the message that your app’s intended users are men.
This kind of thing can be particularly damaging in areas where inequalities exist, such as with the imbalance of men and women in the technology industry. In an environment in which women may already feel excluded, careless use of language could reinforce that message.
There are many ways to avoid these traps and to use inclusive language. In the example above, you could simply say, “When you click this button, you’ll get a notification in your inbox.” This makes it more focused on the viewer anyway. In other situations, you could switch to a plural example and use the gender-neutral “they.”
People sometimes dismiss this kind of thing as unimportant or pedantic “political correctness.” But the truth is that language is incredibly important. The words we use create meanings, both intended and unintended. Paying attention to those words and trying to ensure that they're as accurate and inclusive as possible is a crucial part of successful communication.
For more on the topic of inclusive language, see Rachel McCollin’s excellent article:
5. Resources for Diversity in PowerPoint Presentations
We’ve already covered some of these throughout the tutorial, but here’s a quick roundup of some useful resources for diversity in PowerPoint presentations.
1. Stock Images
First, you can find diverse stock imagery on Envato Elements. For example, a search for “diversity in the workplace” reveals over 3,700 images.
You can also search for more specific images, of course, and you can specify portrait, landscape or square orientation to fit your layout. You can even filter for images with colours that match your presentation.
2. Language Guides
To make sure your language is inclusive and respectful, don’t forget to refer to the guide I mentioned earlier from OHSU.
In addition, you can find more detailed guides for particular areas you’re talking about. For example, the UK government has published a set of guidelines for writing about disability. And for LGBTQ people, the GLAAD Media Reference Guide is an excellent document to refer to.
And to learn more about diversity and inclusion in general, read our comprehensive guide.
3. PowerPoint Accessibility Resources
Also look for some professional PowerPoint templates to help you get off to the right start and use formatting that'll be easy to read.
For more ideas, see this post:
- Presentations29 Creative PowerPoint Templates: PPT Slides to Present Innovative Ideas (2021)Sean Hodge
In this article, you’ve learned about the importance of including diversity in your PowerPoint presentations. You’ve learned how to use more diverse images, how to make your presentation accessible, and how to use inclusive language. We’ve also looked at some useful resources for making your presentations more inclusive.
So why not start putting all of this into practice in your next presentation? And stay tuned for more articles in our diversity and inclusion series.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2018. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.
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