Slide Design

May 3, 2011

For main busy executives, the idea of taking time out to plan the design of their presentation slides is a foreign concept. But a little bit of thought and consistency can go a long way.

If you are one of the many who picks a PowerPoint background at random then it is time to thing again. All the backgrounds provided by Microsoft have been used time and time again. As soon as someone sees that perennial blue fade background with the wavy lines across the top, they instantly remember the last boring presentation they sat through and assume yours will be the same.

To create an original looking background to your presentation, try using a relevant photograph. The only problem is that most photographs have a combination of light and dark, which can make any text laid on top difficult to read. By making the background image a “watermark” or giving it a high level of transparency, you can create a unique a relevant background without interfering with the legibility of the slides.

Another option is to add the text in a text box and then fill the text box with a pale colour and set the transparency level to about 50%. This makes the text more readable but the underlying picture still shows through.

One thing that I approve of in the later release of PowerPoint is the concept of themes, which include a range of colours, and fonts for each theme. To the design illiterate like me, it means that at least I can be confident that the various standard colours I use through the presentation match, and that there is a consistent use of fonts on every slide.

As for individual slides, the smallest font you should ever use is 24pt, with most text being 32pt and titles even larger. Do not mix lots of different fonts throughout  your presentation, two fonts should be sufficient. See the Fonts entry for more advice on your choice of fonts.

Try to have just one concept for every slide. If you have 5 points to make, rather than having 5 bullet points, have five different slides, each one with a descriptive and appropriate image. See my related article on Bullet Points.

My one final point on design concerns animation. Animation should only be used if it actively contributes towards the meaning of the slide. In particular don’t use the spurious animation techniques PowerPoint provides to move from one slide to the next.



January 5, 2010

Some fonts look good on paper and some look good on screens.  Generally, san serif fonts are better for use on screens, eg Arial, Gill Sans

In terms of size, the normal minimum size for text on a slide is 22pt. Anything smaller than that it is likely to be hard to read.  32pt is the preferred size for most text, with 40pt for titles.

This means you can never use standard office documents as visual aids, i.e.Word documents or Excel Spreadsheets.  The text is never large enough to read, so do not be tempted to try.  If it is vital that people see a new form or other office document, as part of your presentation, hand the document out before the start of your presentation and ask people to look at their own copy.  Make sure there is enough for everyone.

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever


January 5, 2010

‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a well known phrase these days, but is it really PowerPoint’s fault?  While after dinner speakers rarely use PowerPoint nor comedians or entertainers that does not mean that any presentation that uses PowerPoint or similar presentation software is at a disadvantage. 

Personally, I believe Effective Business Presentations can be made even better by the right use of PowerPoint. 

Surveys have shown that audiences remember up to 40% more if they have seen it as well as hearing it.

The trap many presenters fall into is using PowerPoint to build their presentation in the first place.  This makes the slides more like speakers notes than visual aids.

PowerPoint slides should be “visual aids”, doing exactly what it says on the tin. That is being both visual (rather than textual) and helping to convey the message and make it more memorable. This medium is ideal for showing graphs, charts and images, which elucidate, compliment and reinforce your message.

Instead of a bullet saying the company was formed in 1969, why not have an iconic picture of something that happen the year the company started, in this instance, the first moon landing.

Once you have worked out what you are going to say and even written out your cue cards, that is the time to start thinking about using PowerPoint or a similar tool to create your visual aids.  Think about what imagery you could have to illustrate each point. If you can’t find a substitute for the bullet points, even this type of text can be transformed by embedding the text into conceptual block diagrams.

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever


January 5, 2010

What looks good on the screen may not work so well when it is projected.  Even today, most projectors lose some of their colour density when they are projected.  This makes the screen look washed out.  Pale colours are very susceptible to this effect.

The most readable colours are yellow writing on a dark blue background or black writing on a yellow background.  If you use a plain background, the text will be more readable but the slides look less interesting.

Be careful with using images as a background, it is very difficult to choose a text colour that will always show up.  If you want to use images as backgrounds, to reflect for instance the different industries your customers are in, I suggest making them very pale, more like a watermark so that the black text will show up against the whole background.

In PowerPoint or similar software, it can help to use a shadow font, which will provide more contrast between the text and the background.