Slide Design Tips For PowerPoint Slide Decks

AUTHOR:  JASON MORRELL 

Jason Morrell

Have you ever fallen to sleep during a PowerPoint presentation because you've been hit by walls of text, wizz-bang animations that send you dizzy and boring imagery?

Well, when the time comes for you to put together your next slide deck in PowerPoint, this post will put you on the front foot by using effective visuals to engage your audience and convey your message clearly.

TIP #1: USE GOOD QUALITY IMAGES

Images are much more effective than a wall of words. There are lots of places to find an image.

  • If you have your own pictures, use them.
  • Run a Google Images or Bing Images search (you can even do that from within PowerPoint via the Insert tab | Online Pictures and type in a search keyword).

    Just be aware of the Creative Commons Licence. There are certain limitations on where you can use an image. If you are not careful, you could inadvertently infringe on a copyright. Take the time to check that you are within your rights to use the image.
  • Free stock photos.

    There are lots of places to find good quality stock photos that are FREE. These sites provide the opportunity for photographers to share their work and receive exposure. It's win-win. Most of the time there are no limitations on use but check the small print. It's also courteous, but not obligatory, to credit the image owner.

    Check out these sites.
Tip #1: use good quality images
  • Premium (paid) stock photos for a small investment you can purchase high quality stock images from a stock photo site. Some charge for images individually
  • This bullet list is stored as a template
Tip #1: use good quality images

TIP #2: USE A COUNTDOWN TIMER

A timer helps set people's expectations.

Here are a few examples of where a timer could be used:

  • A countdown timer that runs before a presentation starts to let the audience members know how long they have to find a seat, grab a coffee or go to the bathroom. It also builds anticipation and excitement, as well as being a great tool for starting an event on time (the audience normally dies down very quickly as soon as the presenter walks on stage).
  • A timer for a demonstration, e.g. the 2-minute challenge.
  • The logo is contained within one third.
Tip #2: use a countdown or stopwatch timer

TIP #3: RULE OF THIRDS

This is a favourite tool used by professional photographers and designers. The rule goes along the lines of splitting your image into one third / two thirds, or one third / one third / one third.

Rather than placing an image in the middle of the frame, place it to one side. It's more aesthetically pleasing.

Here are some examples.

  • Notice how the bird takes up one third the width while the title consumes two thirds of the width and height.
  • The logo is contained within one third.
  • The leaf is contained within one third of the width and two thirds of the height.
Tip #3: rule of thirds
  • The logo and title consume roughly two thirds of the width, while the microphone consumes one third.
Tip #3: rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is just a guide.

In this picture, the lady is in roughly half the picture, but could easily be moved a little off frame so that her face and hair took up one third.

Tip #3: rule of thirds

TIP #4: DEPTH OF FIELD

Depth of Field is here the object in the foreground is in sharp focus and the background is blurred. In many cases it is also the other way around. For example, a tree in the foreground may be blurred while an object in the distance has the focus.

The blurred section of an image provides the perfect space to place text on top.

Tip #4: depth of field

TIP #5: KEEP IT SIMPLE & CLEAR

  • Slides should be kept as simple and uncluttered as possible. Everything should earn its place. If something doesn't need to be there; if it provides no added value remove it.
  • Use a text size of at least 24pt and go larger if you can. The font size on the example is 60t!
  • Have no more than 6 points per slideOne is best. Nobody remembers ten points anyway. If the points are important, create a handout and, well, hand them out
Tip #5: keep it simple & clear

TIP #6: CONTRAST

Always use contrast.

  • Dark on light or light on dark.
  • Use simple uncluttered backgrounds

Make sure every audience member can clearly read the text.

Tip #6: contrast

TIP #7: SHADOW

To make text really stand out when placed on a background image:

  • Use Use the Shadow tool in the Font group (Home ribbon).
  • Create the text using WordArt and apply a shadow or glow effect using dark colour.
Tip #7: shadow

TIP #8: DIMINISH THE BACKGROUND IMAGE

If you have the perfect image you wish to use, but you cannot clearly read your text when it is placed on top, instead of manipulating the text, try adapting the image. You don't even need Photoshop – you can do it directly in PowerPoint..

Let's say you start with this aerial image of the Gold Coast, Australia (my home city) and place your text on top.

This is how you can wash out the image to emphasise the text.

1.  Select the image.

2.  Click the Format tab under the PICTURE TOOLS at the top of the screen.

3.  Click the Color icon and choose one of the washout options and optionally, go to the Corrections icon and make the image brighter.

Tip #8: diminish the background image

Here are two examples, one using black and white washout and one using a colour washout.

Tip #8: diminish the background image
Tip #8: diminish the background image

Or you can use one on my favourite techniques …

TIP #9: OVERLAY

1.  Keep your original image in full colour.

2.  Draw a text box and type your text.

3.  Switch off the borders of the text box.

4.  Select Shape Fill then More Colors.

5.  Choose a light colour, and then here's the important part …

6.  Set the transparency to 50%. Depending on the image, you may need to set the transparency value higher or lower.

Tip #9: overlay

You can also add a full-size rectangle covering your entire image, choose your colour and set the transparency to different values to create the perfect combo for your image.

TIP #10: CUTE, FUNNY OR GEEKY

Inject some personality into your presentation. Turn the dullest, driest slide show into something memorable.

Let me introduce you to some simple Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

It doesn't matter what kind of a day you're having everyone feels good when they see a happy kid.

The image evokes a warm, positive emotion and opens up the neural pathways to receive (and retain) the message being presented.

Also, when someone is looking directly into the lens it draws you in. You find yourself leaning in and paying attention.

Tip #10: cute, funny or geeky

As a side point, notice:

  • The rule of thirds
  • Black/white contrast
  • The text is in line with the eyes.

Try not smiling when you see this image!

You could put any message (other than bad news) with this image and it would work.

It's a good way to break the tension/ boredom, enjoy a lighter moment and re-engage with your audience.

Tip #10: cute, funny or geeky

For anything techy, use a geeky image to lighten a heavy topic.

Tip #10: cute, funny or geeky

TIP #11: EMOTIONS & EXPRESSIONS

When you see someone expressing a particular emotion, it often invokes the same emotion in you.

Tip #11: emotions & expressions
Tip #11: emotions & expressions
Tip #11: emotions & expressions
Tip #11: emotions & expressions

TIP #12: LOOKING OR POINTING

Use pictures of people pointing, to draw attention to 'the thing' that you want your audience to see and remember.

Your eyes naturally go where somebody is looking or pointing, so use images to help bring attention to important elements. The internet has thousands of suitable stock photos you can download.

Here are some examples.

Tip #12: looking or pointing
Tip #12: looking or pointing
Tip #12: looking or pointing
Tip #12: looking or pointing

And on this final example, you can't see the board- it's a visual illusion - but you can insert any text into the white space below the image and because she's looking at it, you do too.

Tip #12: looking or pointing

All the key points again

  • Images are more effective than text. Remember the rule of thirds
  • Use good quality images from stock photo sites.
  • Consider using a video timer. It's a simple tool to engage your audience.
  • Keep slides simple and clear.
  • Use as little text on a slide as possible. NO TEXT (just images) is best.
  • Make sure text size is at least 24pt. That's the absolute minimum. Go larger if you can.
  • No more than 6 points on a slide. ONE point per slide is best.
  • Use contrast, shadow, transparency and overlays to really make text stand out.
  • Use cute, funny or geeky images to help engage the audience.
  • Use pictures of people expressing certain emotions to invoke those same emotions in your audience.
  • Use pictures of people pointing, to draw attention to 'the thing' that you want your audience to see and remember.

Please feel free to post any questions you have into the comments below. And before you leave this page, I want to give you one quick little action item! 

ACTION ITEM: Comment below with ONE thing you picked up from this post and share how it has helped, or will help, you. It's good to share your successes because it encourages others and provides an instant boost.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

Jason Morrell blog signature
About Jason Morrell

About the author

Jason Morrell


Jason loves to simplify the hard stuff, cut the fluff and share what actually works. Things that make a difference. Things that slash hours from your daily work tasks. He runs a software training business in Queensland, Australia, lives on the Gold Coast with his wife and 4 kids and often talks about himself in the third person!

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