PowerPoint Design Tips

PowerPoint slides have the distinct position of being produced by the millions each year, yet most of them are not engaging to the viewer.  Many of those are both difficult to read and challenging to understand.

As with a lot of things in life, a few minor modifications can elevate our presentations to grand new levels.

Some of these changes will almost seem common sense once highlighted, but for most people, they seem like strokes of genius.

Let’s see some of these genius strokes in action.

#1 – Visualize Your Data

Presenting numbers in slide format can be a challenge.  Unless you are some form of mathematicaphile (I think that’s a made-up word) you probably don’t get much of a charge at looking at slides full of numbers.

Another drawback to filling a slide with data is that your audience is no longer paying attention to you; they are busy reading all the not-so-interesting bits of data on the slide.

Your audience didn’t come to see your slides, they cam to hear your interpretation of the slides.  If you just want them to read the slides, you can just email them a copy of your slideshow and cancel the meeting.

Let’s look at an example.

Not only is your audience reading the data (and not listening to you) but they are trying to make sense of the data.  This is a roll of the mental dice because they may come to a different, possible incorrect conclusion as opposed to your intent.

Suppose we presented the same data in the following manner.

From just the title of the slide, your audience is made aware of the most critical point about the data.

The supporting chart makes it easier to understand the performance hierarchy due to the color coding and sorted order of the chart.

The important facet of this design is that you guide the viewer’s eyes to the most important topic.

Notice the obvious interpretive difference between the next two slides.


#2 – Use White Space & Don’t Clutter

White Space refers to the empty portions of a slide.  In the below example, it’s the gray area.

People tend to want to pack as much information onto a slide as they can fit.

The slide becomes unattractive, difficult to read, and loses focus.  The viewer doesn’t know where to look for important information or how to prioritize the data.

This leads to a frustrated viewer and one who is likely to tune out of your presentation.

White space provides separation between points being made as well as makes text easier to read.  It creates a calming atmosphere that allows the viewer time to breathe.

White space doesn’t have to be white; it can be any color or even a blurred background.

Apple is an industry leader when it comes to the effective use of white space.

Don’t create slides that induce visual and information overload for the viewer.

By implementing a few key rules, you can turn your slides into a luxury item.

  • Keep the slide background clean. Corporate logos and identity elements don’t have to appear on every slide.

  • Use a font size that’s large enough to be read by those in the back of the room, while allowing for generous spaces between ideas. A good rule of thumb is “If you can’t fit all the text on the slide, it’s probably too much text.”

  • Less is More. Allow the viewer’s eyes to find and focus on the main message.  This will give your ideas ample space to flourish while bringing a greater impact to the slide.

#3 – Apply Instant Design Ideas

Design Ideas is a new feature available to Office 365 subscribers that are powered by Microsoft’s Office Intelligent Services.  This feature is ideal for those that are either in a hurry or just don’t have the artistic flair necessary to create visually interesting works.

The Design Ideas feature is located at the far right end of the Home ribbon.

The purpose of Design Ideas is to take boring slides and make them better based on millions of hours of analyzing good vs. poor slide design.

We can take something like this…

… and turn it into something like the following with a click of a button.

The Design Ideas button presents us with several options to choose from.

How about going from this…

… to this.

And all it takes is a single click of the mouse (or tap of the screen.)

#4 – Use Scalable Vector Graphics

Images come in several stored types.  Two popular types are raster images and vector images.

Raster images are those that are comprised of pixels of information, such as JPG, GIF, and PNG.

Vector images are created using mathematical calculations which results in much smaller file size.  A popular format is SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

These formats have both advantages and disadvantages.  One of the disadvantages to raster images is that they typically don’t scale up (increase in size) without losing quality.

For example, an Excel logo that was saved as a small size loses its quality quicky when enlarged.

SVG images do not lose their quality regardless of the increase in size.

Another advantage to SVG files is that they can be easily converted to shapes that can be colored or altered in a variety of other manners.

Office 365 applications contain a vast library of SVG images located on the Insert ribbon – Icons button.

#5 – Apply the Rule of Thirds

In photography and cinematography, there is a general guideline about how a shot should be composed.

This is known as the Rule of Thirds.  This rule also applies to PowerPoint slides.

The idea behind the Rule of Thirds is to divide an image down into thirds in both the horizontal and vertical directions.  This results in a grid with 9 segments.  These intersections are conveniently known as powerpoints.

The intersection points become key areas where the main subject should be placed.  In photography, this is a prime location for the eyes of a person in the image to be placed.

If your image is not of faces, placing the subject along any horizontal or vertical line tends to be most visually appealing to our brains.

An easy way to apply the rule is to use the guidelines in PowerPoint.  The guides can be added to a slide by selecting View (tab) -> Show (group) -> Guides.

When displayed, you can right-click an existing guide to add, delete, or color as many guides as you wish.

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