Archives for August 2015

A Palette Primer: Picking Colors That Make Your Presentation Shine

With sight dominating our senses, it is no surprise that colors have come to hold so much meaning and importance in our culture. Consciously and unconsciously, we use color to signify our feelings: a red rose for our love, a yellow one for a good friend.

With colors so closely tied to emotion, and emotion so effectively increasing memory retention, it follows that colors are instrumental to powerful and memorable communication.

When selecting a main color for a presentation template, take into account the emotions that the content or brand should produce. Is the material meant to excite the audience, rile them up for a new product? Use a bright warm color (red, orange, yellow) to capture the energy of your message. If the material is about a trustworthy medical or financial service, use blues to convey reliability and fortitude. For more ideas on the right colors for your content, check out this awesome infographic from The Logo Company on how brand colors speak to our emotions.

Whether the starting point is a predetermined brand color or a color selected for its emotional qualities the next step to building a palette involves color theory.

Color theory starts at the color wheel, where our main hues are laid out showing the relationships between primary (red, yellow, blue), secondary ( orange, green, purple), and tertiary (red-orange, yellow- orange, etc) colors. The outer ring of the wheel is the fully saturated intensity of the color. As we move toward the center, the colors become less saturated.


There are several different methods used to combine colors from the color wheel to produce a pleasing look & feel. These methods for mixing and balancing colors are called harmonies.


Different color combination methods, or harmonies, produce a different feel. Here’s a look at some common harmonies, how they are constructed and how they can be used.

Complementary & Split Complementary color palettes are vibrant and striking. Complementary colors are across the color wheel from each other and provide high contrast. Split complimentary colors are those on either side of the hue directly across from your main color.


Analogous color palettes are pleasing to the eye and feel comfortable because they often occur in the natural world, like a sunset of pinks, reds and oranges. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel.


Monochromatic color palettes are built by selecting different saturations of the same color. They feel simple and elegant, but lack contrast.


Triadic, Tetradic & Square color palettes use simple geometric shapes (triangle, rectangle & square,respectively) superimposed over the color wheel to determine color harmony. These palettes offer rich contrast and balance.


Putting Your Palette To Use

So now that the palette is selected, how do we use it?

Once you have your main colors selected, create a palette by adjusting saturation in your two main colors and adding in a neutral. This supplies some variance in the intensity of your colors, but you don’t want to go overboard. Using too many colors can dilute the cohesion of your palette. A limit of 5 or 6 is generally plenty.

Take the split complementary harmony, which is both pleasing to look at and easy to work with. This palette has three main colors. To create an intentional and polished look, one color should be dominant. The other two will be used as secondary and tertiary accent colors. To flush out this palette we can add variances of our main hues and a neutral for balance.

A built out split complementary palette might look like this:


Adding more hues of your main colors doesn’t change the harmony that you’re using, but you will want to make sure you’re establishing balance. Color balance in the composition will create a more polished and professional-looking piece.

One easy rule of thumb for balancing your colors is the 60-30-10 Rule. Using this compositional guideline, sixty percent of the color on a given slide will be the dominant color. Use it for big shapes or recurring elements. The secondary color should make up about thirty percent of the color, while the tertiary color is used only for small accents and “pops” to grab attention.


Of course, not all content or brand guidelines will fit nicely into the 60-30-10 rule, so don’t be afraid to use your judgment. The best and worst thing about working with color is that there are very few hard & fast rules. The main tenets are: not too many , not too few and do it if it looks good to you.

Whether designing for website, marketing collateral or presentation, a good color palette begins to tell the story immediately and subliminally. Evoking emotion through color increases the effectiveness and memorability of the content. Selecting the right color palette for the message and the content is vital to communicating to the audience on both an intellectual and emotional level. Working with a color palette is a subjective matter, but starting from a solid palette and keeping balance in mind will set you off on the right track.

To read more about design theory in general and presentation design in particular, visit our blog, Visual Sugar.

About the Author:

Bethany Auck is the founder and creative director of SlideRabbit. SlideRabbit designs killer custom presentations and infographics.

Body Language Lessons From the Republican Debate

I was going to watch the first Republican debate anyway, but when CNN’s Gary Tuchman called and wanted me to watch it with him and comment – in order to provide a 3-minute segment on Anderson Cooper 360 Friday night – well, that sounded like more fun than chewing marbles and I couldn’t resist.

The ground rules were no politics, no rhetorical analysis (because all rhetoric is political) – just body language. And my immediate caveat is an important one to repeat here: we humans are much better at reading the body language of people we know well than people we don’t. That’s because we establish a base line of behavior with people we see often, and we notice the variations.

With relative strangers, it’s harder to tell if a particular twitch is base line or a strong indicator of some emotion. So my readings need to be taken with a giant pinch of the proverbial salt.

All that said, it was great fun to watch 10 people make their case to the American electorate – 10 people under enormous pressure, extremely high stakes, and very bright lights.

And that, of course, is why it is interesting to study body language in situations like the debate. We’re bound to see some fascinating behavior because people do reveal things under stress. But remember the caveat – these five lessons are provisional only, given my relative lack of familiarity with the candidates in questions.

OK, no more equivocation. Here are my five body language lessons from the first debate of the 2016 Presidential election season.  These lessons will be useful for anyone under stress, or lights, or scrutiny.

1. Come out strong. There’s no question in my mind that Donald Trump was the dominant figure in the debate in terms of body language, and he took charge right from the very start by being the only one to raise his hand in response to the question about supporting the eventual nominee.

Again, I’m not taking a position on the politics. Please, skip the hate mail. I’m just saying that Mr. Trump sucked most of the air out of the room by beginning with a strong emotion and a willingness to stand alone. On television, strong emotions play well; gentler emotions get run over. Mr. Trump’s take-no-prisoners approach to the moderators and his competitors meant that he was the most charismatic figure on the stage. Remember: charisma = focused emotion.

Mr. Trump was the most focused.

2. Everyone gets nervous. It’s what you do with it that counts. Governor Kasich took the longest to settle his nerves and give an emotionally consistent answer. The result? In body language terms, he looked weak. The problem with showing nerves is two-fold. First, you look timid, and everyone knows that the Commander-in-Chief needs to be cool, not timid, under pressure.

Second, you look inconsistent – and that’s potentially more serious. We want to know, can we trust this person who’s claiming our vote? And in the short run, our test for trust is consistency – of content and body language, words and emotion. So, if you say, I strongly believe in this policy or that idea, but you look nervous, it looks inconsistent, and we don’t trust you.

Of course, we expect people to start out a little nervous – that’s only human. But we also expect you to settle down after a few minutes, because that’s also human. So if you don’t get there after an answer or two, we start to wonder what’s wrong.

3. Don’t defer. One of the most interesting body language ‘tells’ of the night came from Governor Bush. In one of his first answers, he talked about his father and brother. When he mentioned both of them, he tipped his head to one side – a sign of deference.

Now, it’s natural for Governor Bush to defer to his father and brother – both have been presidents, after all. But deference doesn’t look like strength, and we typically look for strength from our candidates in these debates. Especially if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from nine other strong leaders. So for an early answer to be deferential is a strategic and body language mistake.

4. Don’t forget to breathe. One of the subtlest and most important signs of strength and authority comes from the voice. When we get nervous, we tend to breathe in shallow gasps, or forget to breathe at all. The result is that the voice gets strangled or nasal – or both. Dr. Carson’s voice was both strangled and nasal, and it undercut his authority.

To sound in charge, you have to breathe deeply from your diaphragm and support your voice.

5. Gesture first, then speak. One of the most dramatic gestures of the night came from Governor Walker, who was discussing babies and abortion. He cupped his hands together as if cradling a tiny child. It was a visually arresting gesture, and would have been very effective if it had come in the right sequence. The way our brains work is that we gesture first, when we’re doing it naturally, then speak, because gestures come from the unconscious mind.

Governor Walker was thinking consciously about his gesture, so it came a split second after he started talking about abortion. The result was that the gesture looked fake. If you want to look real, gesture first – then speak.

There were many, many more lessons in body language, both good and bad, from the first Republican debate. I’m embedding the CNN clip which addresses a few more of those, below, so that you can get a flavor of what we talked about. The good news, for body language nerds like me, is that the 2016 election season has begun, and that means many opportunities to learn from the best and the worst of body language under stress. Stay tuned!

Click here for the link to my analysis of body language in the debate.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and presentation skill coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication and the good and bad speakers of the day. For more information about his coaching services or books, visit

Create Grids of Tiled Images With SmartArt Picture Layouts

Can you imagine creating this slide in under 5 minutes?


Well you can, using SmartArt Picture Layouts.

 SmartArt Picture Layouts

Few people use or even know about the SmartArt picture layouts. They help you lay out multiple images in a preset pattern. They even crop the images for you! But you can change the cropping if you want. You can use them for:

You can probably think of more uses.

You’ll probably need to make some minor adjustments, but the final result should take less than 5 minutes.

Here are the steps:

  1. Choose your layout. I used Title Only.
  2. Choose Insert, Pictures if the photos are on your computer or Insert, Online Pictures if you have them in an online account. Mine are in Flickr which is connected to PowerPoint, so that’s where I went. I was able to search for “hand” and get a number of images showing hands.
  3. Spowerpoint-tips-grid-tiled-images-2elect the images that you want. Nine images worked well for me, but you can remove images easily. I started with 11 and then saw that they wouldn’t fit. Click Insert. The images appear on the slide, all selected.
  4. Click the Picture Tools Format tab and then choose Picture Layout. You’ll see the gallery of SmartArt Picture Layout options. You can hover over various options to see what they’ll look like. Choose one of the options that has large boxes, because these emphasize the images rather than text. Instantly, you have a grid of images, all the same size!
  5. If necessary, click the border of the SmartArt object and then resize and move it to fit on your slide.
  6. Then add the text. You can click the small arrow on the left side of the SmartArt border to open the text pane and add the text there. It’s quicker! If you aren’t using the text pane when you create SmartArt — any kind — you should try it out.

Making Adjustments

Here are 2 quick adjustments that I made. They use new shortcuts/techniques that you may not know.

  1. Some of the layouts put the text outside the image or on a solid shape, but this layout uses a semi-transparent text box. I like that, but I thought that the level of transparency was too high for good legibility.  I clicked one of the boxes, right-clicked and chose Format Shape. In the Fill section, I reduced the transparency to 35%. Then I selected the next box and pressed the F4 key (repeat). I continued in that way to change the transparency of all the boxes–it took just a few seconds.
  2. The cropping of one of the images didn’t suit me. It was a photo of a hand holding a match, but the light at the end had been cropped off. You can easily change the placement of a cropped image. I selected the image, clicked the Picture Tools Format tab, and clicked the Crop button. Then I simply dragged the image downward (press the Shift key to avoid moving diagonally) until the tip of the light was in the picture. Finally, I clicked outside the picture to end the cropping process.

    About the Author:

    Ellen Finkelstein is a PowerPoint MVP who can train you or the presenters in your organization to create high-impact, engaging, professional presentations for training, sales, business, or education. For more information visit

Dishing it Up with Presentation Industry Experts: Rick Altman, Carmen Simon, Mike Parkinson, Nolan Haims and Editor, Dave Zielinski

rsz_250Creating successful presentations is more than just software, according to Rick Altman, the host of the Presentation Summit. Watch the webinar recording and see for yourself what an engaging conversation we had on the state of the presentation industry with thought leaders – Rick Altman, Carmen Simon, Mike Parkinson, Nolan Haims and PresentationXpert editor, Dave Zielinski. Presentations are way of life in corporate America but doing it right requires skill, creativity and great techniques. Our webinar panel dished on what techniques and tools are trending right now. They shared real-life examples of design challenges each one faces and how they solve them. This is also a glimpse at what types of conversations you will find at the Presentation Summit in New Orleans, September 27-30.

Meet Our Panelists

panel pic 2


Speaker Bios:

Dave Zielinski
Editor, PresentationXpert

Dave has covered the presentations, training and communications fields as a journalist for more than 20 years. He is a former award-winning writer for Presentations Magazine and has been a contributing writer for The Toastmaster magazine since 2004. He also is editor of Master Presenter, a book on high-impact presentation skills published by John Wiley-Pfieffer in 2013.

Rick Altman
Presentation Summit

Rick has been hosting end-user conferences since 1989. He is the author of 15 books on presentations and graphics, including “Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck…and how you can make them better.”

Nolan Haims
Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

With more than 20 years’ experience in the field of visual communications, Nolan helps organizations and individuals show up differently and tell better stories with fewer words. As a designer and art director, he has created high-end presentations, keynote addresses and pitches for Fortune 500 CEOs, leading financial institutions, top foundations, and all the major television networks. Nolan trains organizations to think visually and to create and give more effective presentations. He speaks at national conferences, writes extensively on visual storytelling and is recognized by Microsoft as a PowerPoint MVP.

In a past life, Nolan was an award-winning magician and juggler and performed with the Moscow Circus and Vermont’s Circus Smirkus before turning to theatre. He directed and wrote professionally, creating stories on stages in New York and around the country for a decade.

Mike Parkinson
Billion Dollar Graphics

Mike Parkinson is an internationally recognized visual communication and presentation expert, solution and strategy expert, award-winning author, trainer, and popular public speaker. He is a key contributor on multi-billion dollar projects and helps Fortune 500 companies improve their success rates. Mike shares his expertise through books like Billion Dollar Graphics, articles, and online tools. He is also partner at 24 Hour Company (, a premier creative services firm.

Dr. Carmen Simon
Rexi Media

Dr. Simon has helped companies revolutionize the way they communicate and relate to their employees and clients. A co-founder at Rexi Media, Carmen’s focus is on communication design, applied in face-to-face, virtual, or on-demand settings. A published author, she has kept audiences alert and entertained in the United States, Canada, Taiwan, China, and Japan.

How to Do Custom Image Cropping in PowerPoint

We’re often asked whether it’s possible to ‘cut out’ images in PowerPoint. Well the good news is that it is, and the even better news is that I’ve written this guide to show you how it’s done.  

To Crop an Image to a Square or Rectangle

1. Select your image.

2. In the Picture Tools ribbon, select ‘Crop’

3. Resize the cropped section using the Black V handles that appear, resize the image itself by using the white circle handles, and move the image within the cropped area by dragging the image itself.

Monkey 1


To Crop an Image to a Simple Shape (a circle, triangle, arrow etc.)

1. Select your image.

2. In the Picture Tools ribbon, click on the small arrow underneath the ‘Crop’ button to display more options.

3. Choose ‘Crop to Shape’ from this menu, and select whichever shape you require.

4. By default, PowerPoint stretches your chosen shape to cover the entire image. To change the size, shape or position of the cropped area, click on ‘Crop’ again.

5. Resize and reshape the cropped section using the Black V handles that appear, resize the image itself by using the white circle handles, and move the image within the cropped area by dragging the image itself.


This technique can also be used to highlight an area on an image (as shown below). Before you begin, create a duplicate version of your shape and apply an effect to it (such as recoloring, blurring, etc.). Place this version of your image behind the one you want to crop. Make sure you line both images up before you start on step one.

To Crop An Image to a Custom Drawn Shape (not in the Autoshapes menu)

1. Draw a custom (Freeform) shape over your chosen image, tracing out the part of the image you want to keep. Here I’ve drawn around the monkey. The freeform tool is found in the Autoshapes menu. To create a shape, make regular clicks along the outline of your chosen object to drop points – think of it like a child’s dot-to-dot picture.


2. Make sure you close the path of your custom shape by double-clicking after your final point is dropped. If you don’t, right-click on your shape, choose ‘Edit points’, then right-click again on any of the points you’ve made and click ‘Close Path’.

3. Once you’re happy with the outline you’ve created, you need to fill your shape with a version of your image. Right-click on the original image and click ‘Copy’ (or press Ctrl+C on your keyboard) this will copy it to your clipboard.

4. Now select your drawn shape and right-click on it. Choose ‘Format Shape’.

5. Select ‘Fill’ then ‘Picture or texture fill.’

6. Click on ‘Clipboard’.

7. By default, PowerPoint shrinks your image to fit inside your shape. To change make it look right, you need to stretch the image inside your shape back to its original size.


8. Click on your shape, then click ‘Crop’ from the Picture Tools ribbon.

9. Use the white circle handles that appear to stretch the image to match the original behind it. Don’t move the black V handles or you’ll lose your drawn shape.


10. Once the image inside you shape matches the one behind, you can delete the original image from behind (or leave it there and apply an effect to it as I suggest above). You can also remove any outline that might your freeform shape may have had.


If your freeform shape doesn’t look quite right, you can right-click on it and select ‘Edit points’. This will allow you to move individual points to alter the outline until you get it right.

If your shape’s edges look a little jagged, you might want to add a drop shadow or apply the ‘soft edges’ effect. This will blur the edges a little, giving it a slicker look. You can now sit your cropped image on top of another, or leave it just as it is – either way, it’s a cool technique that you’ll use time and time again.

About the Author:

Kieran Chadha is a senior consultant for Bright Carbon, bringing cinematic magic to the company’s presentations and traveling the world training and coaching.

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