As we strive to improve the effectiveness of slideshow presentations, it's important to challenge ourselves to convey information using graphic concepts and to reduce the amount of text that appears onscreen. As you develop new ideas and design individual slides, take a look at the big picture — your presentation as a whole.
In this column, we'll look at simple techniques that can add character and style to slideshow graphics and at the same time visually bring a presentation together.
Think simple, design simple
One of the best ways to improve the overall look of graphics, charts and diagrams is to simplify. Get rid of as much extraneous information as you can. Charts, for example, will have much more impact when they include only the information essential for making your point. For a start, try removing all tick marks and most of the data labels from a chart. Do you really need to include every date or scale division, or can you limit these as well? Keep in mind, there are always exceptions to this simplification rule, situations in which presentation of precise data is crucial. Make sure you do not remove so much information that the audience becomes confused.
Pare down the visual clutter on slides and transfer that information to the spoken part of the presentation. It will be easier to communicate ideas combining clean, organized graphics with concise narrative.
Update graphic styles for consistency
Next, turn your attention to the fills, outlines and text on your slides. The shapes and colors should complement the template and background design. If the slide's content and template design appear mismatched, consider using the template design as a starting point for the presentation's graphic theme. Is there a shape or repeating element, such as curved corners or sharp angles, that can be applied to other graphics? Does the background have any shapes or lines that could be reflected in other graphic elements throughout the slideshow? Does the template's color palette translate nicely into fill colors? For inspiration, turn to other marketing materials developed for your company. A corporate brochure or the company Web site might provide some insight.
As you gather ideas from the template, begin your graphic makeover with one slide. Using the drawing tools in Microsoft PowerPoint, redesign the slide to better complement the template theme. Draw a new shape and fill it with a color or gradient. Experiment with different outline colors and sizes until you find something you're pleased with. If you have text labels, try various point sizes and colors until your typography pops off the slide.
Instead of basic fills and black outlines, try a few new techniques. Reverse-out the headings on a filled rectangle or other interesting shape. As you experiment with text and fill colors, remember that contrast is important for legibility. If you're using a dark-colored shape or background, use white or light-colored text. When sitting on a light color, text should be black or another dark color. Your audience will attempt to read every single word displayed onscreen, so make it easy for them.
Graphic styles should mirror template themes
The background image used in the slides in Examples 1 and 2 has soft, curved forms. Notice that these curves are repeated in all the graphics on the slides, including the picture-filled rectangles that set up the four topics areas in Example 1. Bold colors, with a slight gradation, fill the graphic shapes used for topic headings. The high contrast of the white lettering, and its strong sans-serif font, help improve legibility.
Example 2 repeats the rounded rectangles and color scheme. Notice that the slide is simple and easy to read, and that the graphics complement the template background.
The set of slides above use a template design that features angular shapes. In Example 3, the angle detail in the title area is repeated in the shapes in the bar chart. Each bar is actually made up of two shapes: a rectangle with a transparent gradation, and a rhomboid that makes an angled top for the rectangle. This top shape, or cap, was drawn separately, then duplicated, to sit on top of each bar in the chart (see Example 4). The dark vertical arrows at either side of the bars were drawn in PowerPoint, with the point of the arrow repeating the same angle. The second completed slide in this set, Example 5, picks up the theme, using the same angles and color scheme to highlight three distinct concepts. Again, the text labels are bold, simple and easy to read.
A working style slide
To avoid having to re-create graphic elements you like, you can develop a graphic-styles slide for your presentation template. Design a few shapes, fills, outlines, arrows and other elements that can be repeated throughout the slideshow presentation and collect them on one slide (see Example 6).
To "hide" the slide, select it in the Slide Sorter view. Under the slide show menu, choose hide slide. This storage slide, which won't appear when you run the slideshow, will still be available for you to copy from as you work. This is also a handy visual reference to share with others who may use the same template. Making these elements and styles readily accessible makes it easier to keep a unified look across your presentations.
As you design new slides, use elements from your graphic-styles slide: duplicate and resize shapes, edit text labels and arrow directions. When you introduce another shape or other graphic to the mix, copy the new element to the graphic-styles slide for future use. (Your graphic-styles slide might include many more items than the one in Example 6 does.)
Eyedropper style application
A great way to apply your new styles to existing graphics is to use the pick up and apply tools. If you aren't already aware of the "eyedroppers," this may be one of the handiest tips you'll ever find for working in PowerPoint.
First, you must customize your workspace by adding the eyedropper tools to a toolbar. Under the tools menu choose customize, then select the Commands tab. From the Categories submenu on the left side, select Format. In the Commands submenu on the right side, scroll down until you see Pick Up Object Style. Click and drag this tool's eyedropper icon until it locks into place on your bottom toolbar. Do the same with the Apply To Defaults eyedropper icon (see Example 7).
On your machine, PowerPoint will remember these updates, and going forward, the new icons will always appear where you put them on the toolbar. As you search through the available commands, you may find other shortcuts you'd like to add. Having these icons on the toolbar can speed up your work considerably.
To use these eyedropper tools, first select (click on) any shape or text object whose style you want to capture, then click on the Pick Up eyedropper icon (the one with the up arrow). The style picked up by this tool can then be transferred to any other object by clicking on the object, then clicking on the APPLY eyedropper icon (the one with the down arrow). The style setting will remain in the tool's memory until you use the Pick Up eyedropper to pick up another style or you quit PowerPoint.
Taking the time to scrutinize and fine-tune the overall graphic style of a slideshow is a surefire way to give a presentation a more unified and professional look. The end result is a slideshow that carries a consistent look and style and provides enough information for the audience to understand and absorb your entire presentation.
Software and system used: Microsoft PowerPoint 2002; Microsoft Windows XP.
Julie Terberg has more than 15 years of presentation-design and computer-graphic experience. She specializes in custom-designed presentations, including animation and multimedia applications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.terbergdesign.com.-