PowerPoint Design Tips

Thursday, November 12th, 2009 0 comments

design-tipsMillions of presentations are given using PowerPoint each day, and presenters are beginning to realise the importance of good PowerPoint design. Yet not all presenters are willing to pay for the expertise of professional designers. While there isn’t always a substitute for professional slide design, here we have some simple tips that, when followed, can make the world of difference to a presentation.

We asked our expert PowerPoint slide designers for their personal PowerPoint design tips to help you to keep your slides in shape, whatever your level of presentation design experience.

Keep it simple

We all know that slide after slide of bullet points tends to disengage audiences, but taking the visuals too far by creating busy, garish graphics and overdone animations will be just as irritating.

For each slide, think about the key message and make sure everything on screen is complementing that. If you find yourself inserting more than five or six photographs on one slide, perhaps it would be better to express the ideas behind them in your narration instead, and use a simple diagram to represent the key message. Over-complicated shapes and animations can also distract from, more than reinforce, your point. Try to stick to regular shapes and subtle animations: a small silhouette of a person moving simply across the page will look better than a photo dancing across.

The key thing to remember is that you are not creating a presentation for entertainment value or purely for visual interest; the visuals are there for a purpose, to add clarity to what you are saying and keep the audience focused on the right thing at the right time. If there’s too much going on, or too many interesting photos to look at, you can easily lose control of the communication flow.

Stick to a sensible colour palette

colour-schemeGarish slides filled with contrasting primary colours look cheap and nasty. Stick to a simple and subtle colour scheme based around your company’s brand guidelines and work everything around that. Look at your company’s brand book or website for inspiration, and choose fill colours and font colours that stand out well from the background without clashing too much. Click on Format > Slide Design to bring up a selection of colour schemes so you can choose one that best complements your background image, or if you need to set specific colours to match your brand guidelines, you can click on Edit Colour Schemes… below the preset schemes to set your own custom colours. View a short tutorial that shows you how to do this – choosing a slide colour palette.

Design takes time

Presentations rarely have long lead times, but you can’t get away with adding new slides the night before a deadline that feature a bunch of obviously rushed graphs and animations. Allow yourself time to really perfect every aspect of your slides. You want to make sure that you are using an effective visual aid, not just a jumble of graphics. If you’re really pushed for time, you’re better off copying and pasting elements from other slides in the deck and modifying them, rather than starting from scratch.

Crop tool

Use this to trim a photo so that the key part of the picture is more obvious. This is particularly useful when using a screen grab; the image you need can be easily singled out from an image of the entire screen.

To do this, select the image you wish to crop, and then click the ‘crop’ icon (found on the picture tool bar). This will bring up black corner outlines, and in the mid section of each wall. These can be dragged at will to create the edit of the image you want. Don’t worry if you crop out too much and need to undo it – PowerPoint remembers the entire image even after you’ve trimmed it, so you can always drag the crop back to ‘uncover’ more of the original image if you need to.

Customise your toolbar

toolbarA must for any PowerPoint user, a customised toolbar gives you quick access to tools you use most frequently, thus cutting down time.

To create a toolbar, click Tools > Customise. This will open the Customize window. Under the ‘Toolbars’ tab, click New. Give your new toolbar a name, and then it will pop up on your screen – completely blank for now. Now clicking on the different ‘Categories’ in the left hand list will display all the toolbar buttons related to that category. This can be done for just about every function possible – have a play around, and choose the tools most useful to you. Key categories our designers find especially useful are the Format, Table, and Drawing as these provide useful tools for building slides. View a short tutorial that shows you how to do this – PowerPoint Toolbar Customisation.

Drawing with the ‘shift’ key

The shift key is your ‘regulator’ when creating autoshapes or lines in PowerPoint. When drawing a rectangle or oval, holding down the ‘shift’ key keeps the shape regular, so you get a perfect square or circle (the same goes for more complicated shapes like stars). Also, when resizing a photo or shape, holding down ‘shift’ will preserve the dimensions of the object so that it doesn’t end up distorted.

‘Shift’ is especially useful when drawing lines – holding it down will only let you draw a line that is perfectly horizontal, vertical, or along a limited number of diagonal angles. This can save massive amounts of time and effort when drawing graphs or tables. View a tutorial featuring more handy keyboard tools like this – Keyboard shortcuts for PowerPoint.

Set AutoShape default

This handy feature enables you to determine the fill properties and line properties of a new AutoShape. All you need to do is format one shape with the right properties, and then every new shape you draw will look the same. This makes it much quicker and easier to create consistent graphics to ensure your slides look professional.

To set an AutoShape default, create a shape and double click on it, then choose the settings you want from the various formatting options (fill colour and style, line colour and weight etc.) Then check the box that says ‘Set AutoShape Defaults’. Now any new shape or line you draw will have the same properties.

Use drop shadow on text

This PowerPoint design tool can make all the difference to the clarity of your text, especially when contrast is lacking because of the colours you have to use. A drop shadow is a contrasting shadow that sits just behind the text, enabling it to stand out better. In order to get the best result from PowerPoint’s shadow function, it is advised that you select a colour several shades darker than the colour on which your text rests. This will avoid the harsh contrast that might result from the use of plain black or directly contrasting colour, but still make it easily visible.

To apply the drop shadow, first make sure you have the ‘shadow settings’ toolbar available, which can be accessed through the Tools > Customise menu. Select the text you need to distinguish, then choose the colour required for the shadow via the drop down selection box on the shadow settings toolbar. You are then able to fine-tune the positioning of the shadow relative to the text through the use of the ‘nudge’ buttons on the Shadow Settings toolbar. For the most pleasing results, it is often effective to make sure the shadow hugs the text as closely as possible without disappearing under it altogether.

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