Cheating Death by PowerPoint: Slide Makeovers

Learn about visual techniques and designs that you can use to make slides communicate a lot better in PowerPoint, from expert Laura Foley.

Sharyn Fitzpatrick: Good morning, good afternoon, depending wherever you are. My name is Sharyn Fitzpatrick, and I’m really excited today to have Laura Foley of Laura Foley Design doing Cheating Death by PowerPoint. She has written for us. She’s been a great contributor and we’re really excited to have her on today’s webinar, which is sponsored by Citrix. Citrix has been kind enough to offer us a 30-day free trial. You’ll find it in chat and I will probably put it in chat again. You’re welcome to just go to the website and try it for free. It’s what we’re using today and I happen to be a huge fan. We want you to stay connected with us. We’re all over social media. If you want to tweet today, just use the #PresentationXpert. And at this time, what I’d like to do is turn this over to Laura Foley and say thank you very much, Laura. I can’t wait to see what you have going for us.

Laura Foley: Great. Thank you so much. Welcome everybody. I’m so glad that you’re here today with me to learn about some visual techniques and designs that you can use to make slides communicate a lot better in PowerPoint. From Sharyn’s introduction, I know that you come from all varied backgrounds and all over the world. So I hope that I have something that you will be able to take away with and take to your own positions, your own jobs, your own presentations, and be able to use what I’m going to teach you to help to be better communicators.

Oh my God, I love PowerPoint, said nobody ever. I have yet to meet someone who is really in love with using PowerPoint. That’s really interesting because PowerPoint is very widely used. In fact, it is the single most used software in the world. I mean, not software, presentation software in the world. But people tend to use PowerPoint because, do they want to use PowerPoint or do they have to use PowerPoint? Well, what I’ve been noticing is usually the case is that people are using PowerPoint because they have to. It is everywhere. It is the world’s most popular presentation software. And for that reason, because it is so popular, because everybody has it, because it’s installed on Windows computers all over the place, just about everyone in business or academia already knows how to use PowerPoint.

But not everybody uses it well, because just like knowing how to use a hammer or knowing that you have to hit nails with a hammer, that doesn’t make you a master carpenter just because you have a hammer and you know how to use it. In the same way, knowing how to use PowerPoint doesn’t make you a presentation design expert. But that changes today because during this webinar, I am going to teach you five top tips for using PowerPoint well. The good news is that these tips are easy to remember and to use every day when you’re working in PowerPoint. You don’t have to be a graphic designer or a marketing expert to create great PowerPoint presentations. These are learnable skills and they’re easy to learn and you can start using them right away.

Today you’re going to learn how to redesign slides to make them better in every way, not only just the way that they look, but easier to understand and easier to communicate your messages. We’ll focus on four main points that will come up again and again when I show you the slide make-overs, and they are to think like the audience. It’s not always easy to separate yourself from your content, but it is important to realize that the people you’re presenting to don’t necessarily share your experience with your topic. In fact, they usually come to you to learn what you know about that topic. So, keep the audience’s experience in mind when you’re working on your slide. Be clear, be concise, and be informative.

We need to start putting less stuff on our slides. Now, nobody comes to your presentation to read slides off of a screen. They’re at your presentation to listen and to learn from you. So you have to learn a way to get your message across in fewer words, using more pictures. A great way to make your ideas easier to understand is to use pictures. Now, we’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words about a million billion times. But it really is true. Pictures do communicate in ways that written words and speech do not.

We are going to combine these first three things: thinking like the audience, putting less stuff on your slide, and using more pictures, as we apply the analyze and synthesize method of redesigning slides, which I’m going to explain. So let’s get started.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said very famously that less is more. He was an architect who was speaking about how simplicity and functionality can be a lot more powerful than complexity and needless decoration. If you remember nothing else from this webinar, I hope that this sentence, less is more, sticks with you.

Do not read your slides. That is a big, big, powerful lesson. It’s funny but people who put lots and lots of text on their slides are typically using them as teleprompters. They’re reading from their slides to the audience. This is by far the most annoying thing a presenter can do. It’s not just me saying that, it is thousands and thousands of people on Twitter complaining about their classroom Professors reading from PowerPoint, it’s about people in training reading from PowerPoint. It is a big, big problem.

If you’re reading your presentation to your audience, it’s kind of like a story time for little kids. Your audience probably already knows how to read so it can be insulting and annoying to do it for them. Another important thing is that if you’re reading to people, they’ll probably be wondering why they bothered to be in the same room with you when they could have read the presentation themselves. Presenting is a real gift that we as presenters have, that we are able to connect directly with an audience. So we do want to make sure that we’re doing that in the most positive way possible, and that is definitely not by reading your slides to people.

Well, let’s start with analyze and synthesize. This is a method of redesigning overly wordy, complicated, or busy slides. The first step is that we analyze each slide to determine the most important parts of the message. You may find that when you analyze a complicated or a very busy slide, it will be necessary to create more than one slide to communicate all of the messages that are there. Once we’ve determined our main messages, it’s time to distill them down into new, more concise slides. That means getting rid of excess texts and adding images that do a better job of explaining concepts. Let’s take a look at this analyze and synthesize method in action by looking at this slide, and I’m going to pause for a moment to give you a chance to read that slide.

Okay, that’s enough reading. The problem with this slide, and there are many, I’m going to start with the words first. There are just too many words on this slide. If you ask people to read the slide, it is distracting them from you, the presenter. You risk alienating people by zipping through this slide too quickly and not giving them a chance to catch up to the reading, or you alienate them by waiting too long and the fast readers start to think, well, I’m already done, why am I sitting around watching this slide? Aside from the too much text being on the slide, the colors in the background are not really that attractive. They don’t speak about family farming. And the image, while I applaud the idea of using an image, it is really, really tiny and very hard to make out, and it really doesn’t stand a chance against all of the text on this slide.

In the first path of analyzing this slide, we can read the text and figure out that there are three main themes going on in this slide. First, we’re talking about the definition of family farming. What is it? Then we’re talking about what it used to be in the past, and then we’re talking about what it is now. So there are three main themes. That means we can break this down into three slides. Let’s focus first on the definition of family farming. Now, in this case, all of the text that’s there is really helpful because it is helping me to figure out what kind of pictures to put on the slides.

Now, when you are dealing with a slide like this that is overly wordy, and you are doing this analysis, you will end up with a slide, the finished slide, that only has maybe a sentence or a couple of words on it, but all of the text does not go away. That goes into the speaker notes, and the speaker notes will help the speaker to practice the presentation and be able to touch on the subjects that he wants to. Here is the redesigned slide. We have a large version of that tiny little photograph, and we offer the definition, the family farm, the economic base of much of human history. That is the distillation of all the words that we saw in the slides before.

Where Can You Get Photos for PowerPoint?

Sharyn: People are loving the picture and want to know, where do you get your pictures?

Laura: Well, that is an excellent question. There are a lot of places where you can get pictures. I use Wikimedia Commons a lot, and I use that because a lot of the photographs are free. They are in the public domain, which means that you don’t need to purchase them or to attribute them, and you can use them commercially or privately, or really for any use that you want. In Wikimedia Commons you’ll also find some photographs that have certain copyrights to them, but they are still free to use. And on each photograph that you find there, you’ll see what kind of copyright they ask for, or rather what kind of attribution they ask for, so that the cost of the image really is just indicating someone’s name, the original author of the work, where it came from, the website it came from, and the type of copyright that it has.

Sharyn: That’s one of the things I love from PowerPoint 2013 on where you can say insert pictures, you can insert an online picture, and Bing will bring up creative comments pictures. And that really, I think, has been a really nice addition to give people a wide range of resources for pictures. Back to you.

Laura: All right. Very good. I’d say that the Bing search is a good place to start, but you really do have to be careful because the onus is on the user to make sure that the pictures are correctly attributed, that they do have creative comments licenses and that they are something that you can use. And that’s especially important if you are working for a company that distributes these slides or that they might see a wide audience, but the copyright talk is really a talk for a whole other webinar really. But I will throw out a couple other image sites that I like. It’s Mourge File, M-O-U-R-G-E. No, I’m sorry. Morgue. Just forgot how to spell Morgue. I’ll get back to you on that. But Morgue File is one and Pixabay is another one that I like for free images. It is important to have these images. It’s really… Yes, thank you. just appeared in the chat window.

Getting back to this family farming slide. This is the second idea where we’re talking about what family farming used to be like. When we synthesize it using a photograph, and this is something you might be able to see in the bottom right corner, it might be too small, but in the bottom right corner it does say copyright German Federal Archives. This is a historic photograph of a woman and her daughters working in a family farm. And we say that it used to be a way of life. And then the present, all of this text can be distilled down into those days are gone. And again, down at the bottom, it’s image copyright 2010 Philip MC. So that’s the attribution for that photograph.

Here’s another delightful slide. This was a slide that was submitted to me for redesign, and I have taken away the identifying marks on it so that right now it’s just Acme Medical Services. There is a lot of stuff going on in this slide. A lot of information on this slide, not to mention this kind of word art name going vertically up the side of the slide, which I never recommend that you put vertical text like that because people have to tilt their heads to read it, and it’s very awkward. The first problem is of course that there is too much stuff on the slide, and the first idea that I found on this slide is that 10% of the posts of medical officers, and then the rest of that. And then this is the second idea on this slide. This is the third idea, the fourth, and the fifth.

It’s not important, for the purposes of this webinar right now, for you to read all of those things. But I have done that and I have figured out that there are five separate things that are going on in this slide. For the redesign, I introduce a picture of a physician that might be in this organization, and I have put the heading, the title, across the top, and the title stays the same on all of the redesigned slides. I’m pulling out each idea one at a time on these slides so that people can get a glance at it and understand what they’re talking about.

Now, in a situation like this where it might be a briefing, they’re trying to give a lot of information to people, no doubt they will have other resources to look at. They might be given a website to go to, they might be given handouts. So you don’t need to go into a great deal of detail on the slides. It’s enough to pull out these different things, different items on a slide. I’ll go through these fairly quickly but these are the basic ideas on the slide. The people will probably need to have some kind of supplemental resources for them to refer to, and that could be, as I mentioned, in the form of a handout, or it can be in the form of a website that they can go to.

Remember, a lot of times these presentations are just to introduce ideas to the audience. They’re not for the people to memorize and study and know exactly what was talked about. They need to get the idea of these ideas are present, and here’s where you can go for further information.

Now, one thing you might have noticed is that when you analyze and synthesize slides, you increase the number of slides in your presentation. We started off with a family farming slide with one slide that went into three, the medical slide started at one and it went to five. But I would argue that the number of slides in your presentations really isn’t that important, and this is an argument that I make to my clients. And when I explain it to them, they come to understand that it’s true. The reason is, think about a movie, any movie you’ve seen. I don’t think anybody in the world talks about how many frames per second goes into a minute of this movie or that movie. It really isn’t important because it’s the experience of seeing the movie that’s important, not the number of frames that’s go into it.

Similarly, that’s what I’d say to people about PowerPoint. I’ve seen 30 minute presentations that have one slide, and I’ve given 30 minute presentations that have 50 slides. But you really can’t tell that there are so many slides because they move very quickly, they’re a part of the animation, and it really breaks the information across in one idea slides that help audiences to understand so they don’t really know that there are that many slides. In fact, people are often surprised when I tell them how many slides my presentations has. So, don’t worry that you’re increasing the number of slides because if you’re speaking at the same pace, then the information will come out of your mouth and the flag will appear behind you at about the same pace as before when everything was crammed into one slide.

I’m going to be quiet for a moment so you can read this slide. Now, many times people will overly describe things that are much better communicated with just a simple picture. Now that you’ve read this and you have looked at this supporting clip art, see how much better it is with a picture. Now, look at this guy. He is not doing something that’s very smart, and in case the audience doesn’t understand that this is not the best idea in the world, we have another image that comes up. Now, this is a universally understood symbol for no or something that you shouldn’t do. That can be as important drawing on symbols as the photographs that you use because a symbol like this, because it is understood, saves you the trouble of explaining what it means and you can communicate your ideas instantly by drawing on symbols and photographs like these that have a universal appeal and that people universally understand.

This is a slide that is from a student. He was doing a report about the famous people of Mali. Now, for this makeover, I’m going to cut the student a little bit of slack because this is a young student. I’m going to not take out all of the words that he’s put in, but I’m going to split this slide into two because this slide is speaking about two people. But apart from the words, there is a lot going on with this slide. First I want to applaud him for using a very interesting set of pictures, but because he is talking about the famous historical figures of Mali, having a photograph of these camels and these riders in modern day Mali does not really speak to what the words are talking about.

In fact, what does speak to what the words are talking about are those tiny little pictures that are covering up the text. You see the first picture of a man on a horse is right in the center of the slide, right below the background picture of the man on the camel. And there’s another tiny picture in the lower right corner. When I was analyzing this slide, I saw that these two pictures are of the people who are described on the slide and also that they were of pretty high resolution and great for use in the slides. So for the redesign, I took away the busy camel background and I made the pictures of the historic figures a lot bigger.

I’ve got the text is a lot bigger. And again, if this were a slide that was being presented by a professional, a teacher or a presenter, I wouldn’t want this much text, but because this is a student slide, I’m allowing a little bit more text to be on this slide. In the background, I still have a pattern but it’s a lot less busy than the photographic background before. This supports the idea of Mali because the background is in fact some fabric that was decorated in Mali, but it is very faded back so that it doesn’t compete with the foreground. And for the second slide, because we’re talking about two people, it’s a similar thing where you have the historic picture and the text on this rather neutral background.

The next slide, I’m not going to cut her much slack because this came from a professional, and this is a slide that was given to people who were just hired as sales reps. They needed to find out what to do to handle complaints. You can see that there is way too much text on the slide. First we have the title is Complaint Handling-Sales Rep’s Duties. We’ve got the first level bullet points of the first three bullet points. Then we have a sub bullet points starting with incident report. And then another level about the document can be completed electronically, and so forth.

This is an outline, and outlines are great to start with when you’re working on your presentations. But there’s way too much information in there for the audience to read. Again, in a training situation, the people who you were speaking to would no doubt have either handouts to look at, a website to visit. They might have a person they can contact with any questions that they might have, but they’re not going to get all of the information and memorize it by looking at the slides. That’s why you can afford to take out a lot of this information, put it in the speaker notes and redesign it so that there’s a lot less stuff going on.

Start off by clarifying the title, how you should handle complaints. You see, I’ve changed it to how you should handle complaints because we’re speaking to the audience of sales reps. So I want the speaker to be able to have a connection with the audience. We’ve kept the background the same, but we’ve added a picture of a sales rep, and there he is smiling away. The first thing you should do when you hear a complaint is you should immediately notify your branch manager. After you’ve done that, you should review your guidelines and procedures, and then you should complete and file an incident report.

Now, the good thing about having animations coming in like this is that the presenter can control when the animation for the next step comes up. So if the class has questions, then the presenter just doesn’t click on the mouse until the questions have been answered. All of the information that was on this slide are things that the presenter would know about, or that are in the speaker notes so that she could refer to them and learn about them before she gives the presentation. This control of the timing of information can be very important because depending on what your audience reaction is, they might need to slow down a bit so that you can completely explain yourself to them or clarify concepts, or they might understand it very quickly so you need to go through a little quicker. But having this information reveal itself on clicks gives the presenter that control, the control of information.

Now, I know that in the audience we had aviation instructor. Hello there. This type of slide might be familiar to you. What we are looking at here is an example of not so good color use. I’m not going to pick on the photograph because it’s a nice big photograph that’s clear, but the colors that are being used here are very confusing. Usually if you had colors that were similar, such as the red text with the heliport instrument landing and heliport approach lighting, those two items would relate to each other. In a similar way, the two things in yellow would relate to each other.

In this case, it just appears as if the person who designed the slide just chose a bunch of different colors that they like rather than making them mean something. Up on the top where we’ve got the title, that red on blue creates what they call a vibration. It’s a visual kind of as a blur, and depending on the monitor or the screen that you’re looking at it, it can be very distracting to see those two colors together. And it’s taking a lot of attention away from the actual captions on the image because it’s in that big dark heading.

Now, let’s see what this is going to look like with some better color choices and maybe a little bit bigger typeface so that you can see really what’s going on. We move the title down to the bottom. And as I mentioned on the other slide, I can control the flow of information like this. I’ve got my file approach and take off area, and I talk a little bit about that. Then with another click, this is revealed. With another click, and so on. It just goes through and talks about all of these different approaches and the different lighting that’s on there. And then at the end, if you want, you can put all of the texts back up on the screen so that people can see what’s going on in an overall view. But by having it animate in one at a time, you can concentrate on each type of landing in each area of the airport so that you can make sure that your students understand completely what’s going on.

Recommended Fonts for PowerPoint

Sharyn: Laura, we have a question about fonts. What are your recommendations including size? I mean, one of the things that you’ve got is you can have like 20 point type, five point type, 72 point type. What’s the best recommendation to make it stand out?

Laura: Well, I generally don’t like to say that you have to do certain types of font size or a certain color, because then something comes along that blows that rule out of the water. But I will say that I rarely go below 14 point, and that is 14 point is on the very small end of what I use. And that might be for a chart or some kind of an image that requires typing it that you don’t necessarily have to read it that well. But you have to consider what the viewing experience of the audience is going to be. If you’re in a room where people might be 12 feet away from you, say a conference room, you can have the text a little bit smaller.

If you are presenting a keynote address at a giant conference where there are 1,000 people in the room, then your text is a lot bigger so that people can see it from the way back seats. And in that situation, you might not want to go below 24 points. But when you have less text on the slide, then you can afford to make the typeface bigger so that people can read it from any distance that they may be.

Sharyn: Is there a favorite font for numbers, like in a chart?

Laura: Not really. It depends on what the PowerPoint template or theme is that you have. The themes and templates come equipped with the typeface that is supposed to be used. So for instance, if you’re working at company XYZ and they have a certain look to their marketing materials, then they will always use say Ariel and, I don’t know what, Ariel and Times, let me just go with the two very basic ones, so that every time you work on a presentation, you’re always using either Ariel or Times in your charts, in your captions, in your text, everything. The choice of typeface makes the PowerPoint presentation have a better connection with the organization’s brand identity so that all the marketing looks like it comes from the same place.

Sharyn: Well, I mean, it’s definitely consistency in brand, but sometimes you have to be really careful when you’re setting up your template not to have fonts that don’t do well when they’re on the web or on PowerPoint. They could be too thin or too light. They might be great for a corporate logo, but you’ve got to be able to consider all aspects.

Laura: Yes, absolutely. And that’s part of knowing where your show is going to be presented.

Sharyn: Good point, back to you.

Laura: Okay. Audience here, you’ve had a chance to look at this lovely map of the United States. This is an interesting slide because the title of it says eight regions, but in fact there are nine regions that are being called out. The map itself, I’m not sure if you can tell on your screens, but it is highly pixelated. The text that’s being used for the region names, starting at the left we’ve got West, Central, Midwest, et cetera, that is highly pixelated as are the names of the initials for the states, and the people’s names have been typeset and put in there in PowerPoint.

The colors that are chosen are a little strange. They don’t match with the template that it’s in. Ordinarily for red, we use red for things that are dangerous or something that is undesirable. Think of phrases like red tape, or you’re in the red, meaning red tape is excessive bureaucracy and rules, being in the red means you lack money, that you owe money to people. So it’s seen as a negative thing, just as in a traffic light where you have green is go, yellow is caution, red is stop. To have such a large swath of red on here is a little bit strange because it might imply that there’s a problem with this region, which indeed there is not. So this is just a color choice that was made that doesn’t fit in with the template or with the idea that everything is okay in that region.

To change the way that this map looks, I found a vector image of a United States map, and I will tell you that a wonderful place to get free vector graphics is called Vecteezy. It’s V as in Victor,, Vecteezy. It is a place where you can download free EPS files that you can ungroup, you can regroup in PowerPoint. When you ungroup them in PowerPoint, you can change the colors around, and that’s what I did for this map, so it’s a nice clear map now. We have the colors of the regions are taken from the template. So now the colors look like they belong on that template.

Another thing I did was to typeset all of the names of the regions and the people in the regions, and the color of the region names now matches the actual region. So it’s a lot easier to see that the West with the orange type, it says West, matches the states that it’s over. So it’s pairing up the colors with the titles. I’m just typing in the chat room so that you can know where to get these great kinds of resources.

I’m going to give you a moment to take a look at this slide. It’s not very easy to figure out what’s going on because the title is in the left most column. The title of this slide is Dashboard Metrics Job Aid. Because it’s in the left, it doesn’t read as the title. The lines are heavy in some areas, light in other areas. There are very bright colors, and there’s a lot of visual information here and it’s all competing for your attention. Everything seems really important because nothing is really called out. But the real problem with this slide besides the fact that there’s a lot of information is that this is not information that really works for a table.

This slide is actually meant to be a guide for a dashboard that you would see on a computer screen. So when you’re looking at this slide, everything that’s in the middle column where it’s Club 700 Dashboard, with those yellow, red and green bars, that’s what’s on the screen, and the text that’s on the right is the description of each of these areas on the screen. As I said before, we’ve got that red, yellow, and green stoplight showing there where red means something needs attention, yellow is caution review, and green is meeting goals.

Let’s see what this redesigned slide would look like. Because we are illustrating what’s on the screen, I put the screenshot on a picture of a monitor. This is a nice visual trick to show people that this is what they would see on a monitor. We’ve got the Dashboard Metrics Job Aid up at the top, so that is the title. All of the text that used to be in the right column is going to come in, one at a time, on a click. I’ve changed the shape of the text box, which you can do very easily in PowerPoint, to a call-out or a word balloon kind of text. Every time I click on the mouse, a new call-out appears, and that’s just a fade in animation and a fade out when I click off of it, and a green highlighted area appears. So if you look at 3372, you see that it’s highlighted there. When I go back, summary is highlighted, and so on. As I click through, the descriptive text comes up, that area is highlighted so that people can really see what each thing does.

Here’s a slide that was taken from a presentation that an elementary school teacher would present to students. A couple of things struck me about this slide, the first of which is that the style of the clip art looks fairly dated. It doesn’t look very interesting to me. But another thing that I saw when I was analyzing this slide is that the sentences are a little bit inaccurate, and I’ll show you what I mean. The first sentence I noticed was the constitution says how the government works. Well, realistically, a document doesn’t say anything. It’s just a sheet of parchment. Now, this mistake, it is a small and it is kind of a nagging mistake, but it isn’t entirely correct the way it’s presented. And if you are teaching something, you want to be sure that you are teaching it in the best way possible.

Here’s another statement that the constitution creates the president. It actually created the office of the president. Again, it is a small detail, but where you’re trying to be the teacher and the expert, then you do want to pay attention to the details because that is what gives you credibility. When I did my research and was analyzing the photograph of the clip art, I realized that there are lots of images of the United States constitution that I could draw from. So I took one of those and blew it up really big to use as the background.

We are going to create, or rather I made two slides so that we have a couple of main ideas. We have the constitution and what it did, and then in the second click, it created the three branches of our government. I think that this, having an actual photograph of a copy of the constitution, makes it seem like more of a real document. By synthesizing the text that was there into something that is a little more accurate gives a better representation to the students of what the United States constitution actually did.

All right. Here’s another slide that comes from a college level teaching presentation. Again, we’ve got this clip art and the clip art really doesn’t help this slide much because it is very distracting. It is something that looks a lot less like college level coursework and a lot more like a comic book. You should try to use photographs whenever possible so that it gives your students something real to look at so that they can relate what they’re seeing to something that might actually exist in their homes. Again, the one idea per slide idea, we’ve got two ideas here. Luckily there’s not a lot of text on the slide, so that means we’re not going to have to do a lot of work to synthesize some new texts for this.

To redesign this slide, I found a picture of some high quality herbs and spices in a spice market, and then the generic herbs and spices you might find at a convenience store or at a dollar store, really inexpensive cheap stuff. So you contrast one against the other thing. That’s a nice photographic or visual trick you can do, compare and contrast. Putting two different images next to each other so that people can really see what the differences are. And for the second part of the idea, the second idea of herbs and spices having a shelf life, we’ve got a picture of each type of herbs. I was able to find this picture in the public domain and by some amazing set of circumstances, this picture did have the whole herbs, the ground spices, and the whole seeds that was talked about on the first slide. That really helps to underscore the fact that you do need to label these in order to get the maximum fresh herbs.

This analyze and synthesize method works great for charts too because we’ve all seen charts to have a ton of information going on. And when the presenter is talking about them, these busy, busy slides might not be an accurate representation of the point the person’s trying to make. What I’d like to do now is to show you some examples of some confusing slides and tell you how they can be redesigned to make them less confusing. This is the original slide, and it’s talking about the kinds of media that the population of India would use in 2008. Interestingly, the text that’s on the bottom is a description of the graph that’s on the top. That is the first thing that I would get rid of because if you have a good graph, you don’t need to describe how to read it because the graph will be self-evident. People know how to read them.

Another thing going on with this chart is that pie charts are really best used if you are trying to represent percentages of a whole. Say 50% of people, in this case probably more like 75% of people use mobile phones, where 12.5% use internet and 12.5% use landlines. If you’re not showing the percentages or rather the portions of percentages that add up to 100, it makes it a little unclear. A better representation of numbers like this would be a column chart like this where you can really see that the 296 million towers over the 45 million and 39 million of landlines. You can also see that landlines and internet are about equal compared to mobile phones. If you wanted to make more of a point at this, you could make the mobile phones column brighter or different color. You could also add an arrow trend line showing that the number of mobile phones is way higher than the landline and internet numbers.

Now, here’s another kind of a problem with a chart. This is a table that I’m not going to ask you to read everything, but I will show you that this table runs across two slides. We have a continued on there. I think the presenter was hoping that we would read this table and understand that it’s all supposed to be one big table, that if she had it all in one slide, the text would be really tiny and not very good for us to read. But because we have all this stuff to read, people are trying to read it while the presenter is speaking. That can be a real problem because it’s distracting.

When I was analyzing this slide, I found out that the table was there just to show that the table exists, that such a document exists; that people are looking at quality of care, that there is such a thing as quality of care indicators, and that people need to refer to them. You might find that happens in a presentation of your own or one that you’re redesigning where people are including tables not to show you what the data are but to show you that the data exists. In this case, I redesigned it so we’ve got a nice friendly person in there and she’s going through that list of the quality control indicators. Now this slide describes what these indicators do and how they can be used.

Another thing I see a lot is texts that could better be portrayed as a chart. When I analyze this slide, I see that it is a list of the top 10 body language. The title is fine, but the fact that everything is written out makes it very difficult to make comparisons unless you read everything. I know that because we have number one is 65 and number 10 is seven, because number one is the first in the list, it’s bound to be more than seven, but it’s very hard to bounce among the different lines to see how one piece of data is different from another and to make comparisons. This is a case where a chart is needed.

When I put those numbers into the form of a chart, now we can see very clearly that the biggest mistake the interviewees make with their body language is they don’t make eye contact. That’s the very top. You can see that the bar extends further out beyond the other data, and it’s orange. It’s the same color as the lady’s shirt, and that’s not a mistake. If the lady were wearing a green shirt, then that bar would be green. And if she were wearing a brown shirt, that bar would be brown. Something to contrast it that makes it stand out as the biggest error that people make and also taking some of the color from the photograph itself. Because this is now a bar chart, you can very easily see how it cascades down so that we’ve got the top most things that people do wrong are a little bit bigger bars, and the things that people don’t do wrong very often are very small.

What we’ve been talking about here, the whole reason why we redesign slides is that we’re trying to put ourselves into the mindset of the audience. The audience comes to a presentation to learn. They want to learn. They want to learn from a person who is presenting to them. So we need to design slides that will answer questions that they might have and not put in so much information that it is something they can’t easily understand or put in so much technical information that they feel lost. The purpose of the presentation is to bring the audience along on a journey. You want to be as inviting with your slides as you can so that the audience is understanding what you’re talking about and is driven to the goals of your presentation, and to come to the conclusions that you’re hoping that they will come to as a result of your presentation.

The analyze and synthesize method of slide redesign helps you to put less stuff on your slides so that people aren’t concentrating on reading your slides while they’re trying to listen to you, or if you’re designing for someone else, that they’re trying to listen to your client. People are there to pay attention to the person who is on stage speaking. The less stuff that’s on the slides, the easier it is for them to pay attention to the presenter. We do need to use pictures in our slide shows because pictures help people to understand things very quickly. They also help people to remember things more and they help people to be able to relate information that they read or that they see to an experience they might already have. The familiarity of a picture can help you to communicate what you need to in your presentations.

All of those things, those three things of thinking like the audience, putting less stuff on your slide and using pictures is what you’re bringing together when you’re analyzing your slide shows to come up with a better idea of how to present it, and synthesizing, that is putting together your new ideas with your pictures, your new text together to make slides that really do communicate what you need them to. So we’re thinking like the audience, we’re putting less stuff on our slides, we’re using more pictures and we are using the analyze and synthesize method. When we do all this, our slides are much cleaner, clearer, and much easier to understand. Sharyn, I can hand it back to you right now.

Sharyn: Well, thank you. We have the questions are pouring in.

Laura: That’s good.

Sharyn: We want to remind people to just put their questions into the question dashboard, and we will be glad to share it. I have to share with you, there’s something funny. We had a couple of quite a conversation going back and forth about the shark picture and people were saying, you sure it’s not partying with the shark or pet with the shark. But they thought that was very, very fun. We have a question, where do you find your background and themes for your slides?

Backgrounds and Themes for PowerPoint Slides

Laura: Well, two ways. I will either design it myself based on what an organization’s other marketing materials look like. I will incorporate the colors that they use on their websites or in their brochures or other printed marketing materials. I’ll use their logo and I’ll try to use as close to the typeface as I can, and still stay within what’s common for Windows machines. If I don’t have something to start with like that, then what I’ll do is I can open up one of the Microsoft templates that are already in PowerPoint and I’ll make some changes to it so that it more closely resembles the website of the organization I’m working with or a description of what they want the template to look like. I don’t generally use right off the shelf templates because when you do that, there’s bound to be someone else who’s using the exact same thing. I try to get something that unique to someone so that they’re not faced with someone else using the exact same look and feel as they are.

Sharyn: I think that’s a good point. I think sometimes too the topic or whatever the content is may also impact a little bit of your theme or at least the pictures that you choose. That’s why sometimes it’s really important to think about as well.

Laura: Yeah.

Ugly Presentations

Sharyn: Let’s talk about the fact that we have people who are really proud of their presentation. Sometimes they’re sensitive about their presentations. But as an expert, especially on Cheating Death by PowerPoint, you know they have a really ugly presentation. How do you let them know?

Laura: Well, here’s what we don’t say. “That is clearly the ugliest presentation I’ve ever seen”, because that is like insulting somebody’s child. They don’t want to hear that. What is a better way to do this is to ask someone about what their goals are for the presentation. For instance, let’s go to an example where an engineer might have developed some software that accomplishes a task, and he is trying to get funding to develop the software. If he goes to the VCs, the people who have the money, and explains how the software works, he’s going to lose the audience because they will not understand him a lot of the time.

His goal for the presentation is to get funding. What he needs to do is to be able to describe the benefits of what he’s designing so that the people with the money can say, “Oh yeah, if this technology takes off, it will solve problem X, problem Y, problem Z, and we can certainly make some money off of this invention or this software. Yes, we will fund you.”

If someone does have that deck that is unattractive, you can start the conversation with, are you seeing the goals? Are you realizing the goals that you had for this deck? Are you getting more funding? Are people signing up for your seminars? Are the people you’re teaching learning effectively? And if the answers to those questions are no, then you can explore different ways to show the information in the presentation so that you’re not hurting their feelings and turning the people off to you, but rather you’re acting more as a trusted associate who wants the same things as they do. You want them to succeed with their presentations.

Distracting Pictures

Sharyn: Good point. Going back to our friendly shark who everyone wants to pet before you put the no petting zone up there, how do you deal with sometimes pictures can be distracting as well as really important. For example, the picture of the dairy cattle may overly focus on the idea of the family farm, and there are really many types of family farms. I know it’s just to be an example, but how do you find that balance between what’s distracting and what works?

Laura: Well, it’s all part of the act really. If you want to disrupt people, bounce them out of their chairs, see if they’re awake, you can always throw in an extremely distracting or strange photograph and waiting for the reaction and say like, “Oh, I just was hoping you were awake and paying attention.” I try not to put in photographs that are super, super distracting if they are meant to illustrate a concept. An example of this might be, if I were trying to illustrate a concept of a meeting, a business meeting, and there’s a photograph of a business meeting, but one of the people in the meeting has piercings all over their face, they’ve got these tattoos and some wacky hair color, then that wouldn’t be a good picture to use to illustrate business meetings because everyone would be focusing on the appearance of that one person in the picture. So depending on what your goal is, do you want to illustrate the idea of a meeting or do you want people to talk about your weird picture?

Sharyn: That’s a great point. I think you face that in multiple things is you want to use the picture to get a reaction and that reaction you can control based on how you deliberate what the content is.

Laura: Yep, absolutely.

Using Company Names and Logos in the PowerPoint Footer

Sharyn: We have a question from Liz. Can you comment on using company logos and names in the footer?

Laura: Sure. I go both ways on it. Some of my clients that I work with insist on using their logos on their slides and that’s okay. They’ve made an investment in their logo and they want people to know who they are. The problem arises when the logo takes up a lot of real estate in the slide. When it takes up too much space on your footer, you’re losing perhaps a fifth of the slide that you can no longer put information on. What I try to get my clients to do is to put the logo on the very first slide that is up when people are entering the room and on the very last slide so that when people are asking questions of the presenter, the logo is visible to the people. Because my theory is that people are not going to forget who you are and where you’re from in the time that it takes you to give your presentation.

Sharyn: Yeah. I hate it when sometimes people just want the logo on every single slide, because I think that’s not needed. It’s overkill. I think the way you handled it is perfect. Here’s a question from Rebecca. Why no periods at the end of statements on slides?

Laura: If they’re incomplete sentences, then they shouldn’t have a period.

Sharyn: I agree.

Laura: The last slide I put up there said your slides will be clearer and easier to understand, period, full stop. I put a period on there because it’s the correct punctuation. But where you’re offering phrases, then you don’t need to punctuate those as if they are sentences.

Sharyn: We have another question. PowerPoint’s awful, at least that’s what some people think.

Laura: It’s not a question. That’s a statement.

Sharyn: I know. Should I put a period or not? Real designers don’t use it, do they?

Laura: You know what, it’s funny that you should say that because a couple of years ago I was at a design conference. It was in 2009 that I decided I was going to focus primarily on PowerPoint. Every single designer I told had some variation of, “You’re an idiot. That’s the worst program in the whole wide world. That’s terrible. It’s no fun.” Everyone thought PowerPoint was terrible. But from a designer’s perspective, because all of my designer friends, in other words my competition, wasn’t using it, that was a great opportunity for me to use it for the benefit of the people I work for.

Another thing about PowerPoint being awful, or PowerPoint being stupid, or whatever kind of word you want to use for it, it’s just a tool. It’s like that hammer that I was talking about. You can use the tool poorly, or you can use the tool very well. It’s just a matter of learning the different things that you can do and cannot do with PowerPoint that makes it either great for design or not so good for design.

Sharyn: I use PowerPoint for everything. If I need to create a banner or… There are different things that you can use it for. I love PowerPoint, but then I guess that’s a good idea since I’m the editor of PresentationXpert. So I better like it.

Laura: Yeah. I use PowerPoint to make flyers and of course slides, but if I were sending something to print, I would absolutely not use PowerPoint because that’s what it’s not designed for and it’s terrible at designing for print. But if you’re designing things that are visual, certainly presentations, or things that might be produced in an office or copied from a PDF file, then PowerPoint can be a great tool.

PowerPoint Slides for Webinars vs In-Person Seminars

Sharyn: Yeah, I agree. We have an interesting question from Anette. Does the development of a slide differ if you’re giving a webinar using PowerPoint versus in-person in a very large room with 300+ people?

Laura: I’m not sure the slide is different. It’s certainly the presentation is different because the presenter lacks the ability to connect with her gestures or facial expressions to an audience that is online. Certainly having an online audience removes the opportunity to do things in person like offering something for people to look at or to hold or to smell or to touch. You can’t do that in a webinar. But the slides themselves, I find that I design them exactly the same for a webinar as I do for a live show, except for one thing. I would not tend to include video in a webinar because sometimes it can lag terribly and people don’t get the experience of seeing the video immediately as they would if it were live in a room.

Sharyn: Yeah. I think that’s a good point. And I also think one of the nice things too about using an integrating slide is the whole idea of interactivity within a webinar that enhances your slide. You can put the chat, you can do polls, you can do different things. I think that’s just redefines the experience for each audience.

Laura: Yeah.

Using Non-Standard Fonts in a Presentation

Sharyn: What are your thoughts on using custom non-standard fonts in a presentation?

Laura: Well, it’s interesting that you should ask because I’ve started doing that for my own presentations. In PowerPoint, you can save a file so that it also contains the typeface that you use and you can save it so it saves only the typeface that is used, or it can save the entire font. The difference is if you have a presentation that has the word cat, C-A-T, in all lower letters, if you save it one way, it will save the C, the A, and the T, and that’s it. Pretty small file size. If you save the entire typeface, then it will save CAT and all the letters and all the punctuation within the typeface.

Plus, the upside is that you can create a presentation that looks like something people don’t generally see using typefaces like the one that I used on the presentation today. That’s a non-standard typeface, and there are lots of free typefaces available on Google that you can download for free and can use in any way you like, and I embed these into this presentation so that my presentation looks like it comes from me.

For presentations that I do for my clients, I always use a Windows standard font. That is because the presentations have to be usable across an organization. The organization might be in all different parts of the world, different parts of the country. They might have an older Windows system that they’re using. They might have cutting-edge state-of-the-art system that they’re using, but it all has to look alike. When you start messing the typefaces around, if someone is opening a presentation that has a typeface that is not loaded on their machine, then that can throw the spacing off and you have line breaks where there shouldn’t be or the text is too small to fill a space and it just doesn’t look good at all.

Tips for Welcome Slides

Sharyn: I know we’re running long, so we’re going to… We have a lot more questions, so just want to let people know that we’re going to just go through the next couple of questions and then we’ll end it, but I wanted to at least give you the option to listen to this, plus, we will capture the extra questions in the recording. We have a good question. Do you have any tips for a welcome slide that might be used during opening speeches but not actually reference directly?

Laura: You can use a looping slide show for that. If you have a room that is gradually filling up, you can use a slide show of maybe five to 10 slides that just continuously loop around. One of them might be your logo or the presenter’s logo to show where they are, and there might be some pictures or a little bit of a discussion about the kind of themes that you’re talking about. Not giving away the whole show, but if you’re at a tech conference, then maybe you’ve got some pictures of technology and talking about some of the technology you’re going to introduce in your presentation. But I always like to include a logo and contact information in this type of a slide show so that people can get in touch with you either before or preferably after your speech.

You can also put in a, you can just have one single slide up there that does have a nice neutral image in there, or the conference splash screen, whatever that might be, but always having your contact information on there. That helps the audience to understand that you want to be talked to. You’re not some person delivering the sermon from the ivory tower, you’re someone who’s approachable. If you even write that on your slides, please contact me with your questions, please live tweet this experience, whatever you want them to do, that gives them the instructions of how to get in touch with you.

PowerPoint Color Schemes

Sharyn: I think that’s good. We have so many questions, so I’m going to just limit it to one more. We have a lot of questions about color. How do you decide on the color scheme when you have a blank template?

Laura: That’s the toughest thing. Really that’s the thing that takes the longest to get going. But what I try to do is draw on colors that are meaningful to the person I’m designing the template for. It really helps if they have a website that’s already up and online, or if they have a logo that’s been designed so that I can take the colors from that website or logo, use those as the base colors for my presentation template, and then come up with other colors that work well with the main colors.

Sharyn: And if they don’t have colors, there’s some interesting color site where we actually were able to create a branding look and feel in colors by using both PMS colors as well as RGB colors as well. That really enabled us to create then a palette that we could use for each one of the PowerPoint, their website and everything. It worked really well.

Laura: Another thing you could do is you can take, or the client can present a photograph that they have that represents what they like. Maybe a spa might have a picture of a calm beach in the tropics. So you might choose cool blues and aquas and turquoise colors and some beige from the sand, and take the colors from the photograph and use that as your basis for your template.

Sharyn: Yeah, that’s a good idea. The clients that we did this for, they had pictures they wanted to use, but the pictures together didn’t work real well. So we were able to find a way to change the color of the picture a little bit to match a better tone for what would look like a good mix of their personality and the content. It worked pretty well.

Laura: Yeah, that’s another… It’s interesting you should mention that because one of the tricks I do is if I’ve got a presentation that has a lot of color photographs and I don’t want them to be color, in PowerPoint you can change the overall color of a picture to one of the colors that’s in the palette. That way the colors in the pictures aren’t distracting, they aren’t actually harmonized with the colors of the palette.

Sharyn: I do that all the time. I was working on a presentation yesterday that the picture I wanted was a really dark black or gray, but I was looking for something that was more a blue, gray color. I was able to change it and still make it look consistent within what we were trying to build.

Laura: Yep. It’s a great trick.

Sharyn: Yep, I love it. I want to thank everybody and thank you, Laura. I thought this was fabulous. I learn a lot every time and I’m so glad we finally got you on. I want to remind people to mark their calendars for our June webinar, Oops, Geeking out with Hyperlinks and Trigger Animations in PowerPoint. And of course, Rick Altman is always entertaining, so it’s always fun to do that. You can sign up. The webinar registration is open and we’ll be geeking out on Wednesday, June 22nd. Thank you so much. I want to thank you all and I will end the webinar at this time. Thank you.

Laura: Thanks. It’s been a lot of fun.

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