Using Imagery to Create Powerful, Impactful Presentation Stories

In this webinar, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP Nolan Haims talks about how to utilize imagery to create more powerful, impactful presentations.


Sharyn: Thanks for joining us for Using Imagery To Create Powerful, Impactful Presentation Stories. I’m really excited that we have Nolan Haims joining us. I’ve always loved what Nolan does and I always learn so much. My name is Sharyn Fitzpatrick and I’m the editor of PresentationXpert. Today’s webinar is brought to you by GoToWebinar. Did you know that Gartner has given GoToWebinar a spot in the leaders quadrant in the 2016 Magic Quadrant Award [inaudible] third year in a row? If you’d like to try GoToWebinar for yourself, just go to and start our free trial.

We want you to join the conversation with us on social media. Use the #PresentationXpert. At this time, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Nolan who many of us know as a powerful speaker, an incredible designer, one of 11 Microsoft PowerPoint MVPs in the US and one of the cohosts for the new Presentation Podcast.

Nolan:  Thanks, Sharyn. Great to be back with everybody. I’m glad we have so many people on the line and definitely some friends I know we’re out there too. We’ve got about an hour together. We’re going to take questions throughout at times, so definitely throw them in the Q&A panel as we go on, but we’re also going to do a Q&A at the end. Hopefully, we’ll have enough time at the end to have a separate time for that as well. I want to start off by showing you one of my favorite photos. This is a photo of my third grade science project. Now the cool thing about it is not really the project itself, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember too much about it. It has something to do with junk food, but the cool thing is what my mother wrote on the back of the photo way back in third grade. She wrote, “First presentation.”

What you’re seeing there is, I guess, Nolan’s first presentation, and as you can see, it could use some help, right? In fact, there’s no imagery whatsoever. Yeah, I’ve got some ugly colored bar charts at the bottom which are technically images, but it’s really textual base. One of my favorite definitions of graphic design is the combination of image and text. That’s really what presentation is, image and text, and yet, we seem to spend not so much time or thought on 50% of that which is the image. We spend most of our time thinking about text. Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of imagery and also more specifically how the professionals really use imagery and presentation and a lot of tricks and techniques they use.

Today is going to be in two parts. The first part is going to be sourcing and selecting your imagery from a wide variety of places and what makes a good image, what doesn’t when you’re looking. Then the second part is once we get a good image, how do we edit it? How do we use it? How do we insert it into PowerPoint? Both of these two things, and of course, there’s some overlap, but I want to start off, like I often do, showing what some people call slideument, what some people call Death by PowerPoint. It’s awful. This is a slide that is weighted way too heavily on the text part of that graphic design equation, right? Not so much on the imagery side. I show this image to set the stage for why imagery is important in a presentation on slides.

The main reason is this, the picture superiority effect. This is a real scientific thing. I didn’t make it up. What it says essentially is that humans, that’s all of us, we process and remember, most importantly remember, information infinitely better when it’s presented to us as an image than we do as text. The reason is it’s because this is the way our brains are wired. We are visual thinkers. Whether you think you are or not, your brain wants to think visually. It wants to process information, visually not textually. If you have any doubt about this, I do this all the time, but I love doing it, I’m going to prove it to you right now, everybody on the webinar right now think of beer. Now, whether you’re a beer drinker or not, just get it in your head.

I’m not going to ask you, but I want you to keep that in your mind and take note of what you’re thinking about right now in your head. I will wager any amount of money that nobody on the line right now is thinking of the letters B-E-E-R and the reason is the picture superiority effect. Your brain wants to think in imagery. Your brain does not want to think this way, it wants to think this way, some people more than others. We want to exploit that. We want to give information to our audiences visually through imagery whenever possible. There’s this old model of presentation that, unfortunately, is still around and can’t seem to kill it. The old model is text first, text mostly. It’s where we create a slide, we type all those bullet points, and then at the end, we say, “Oh, yeah, I need some visual interest,” and you go to Google and you steal an image and you put it on the right side of the slide.

Hopefully, you’re starting to understand that’s not the way our audience’s brains want to receive information. Trust me. You would much prefer to be communicated to visually than textually. This new model of presentation just flips it. It starts with the image and tries to communicate whatever you’re trying to communicate, data or other stuff, it tries to communicate visually first with an image. Then if you need text, and most often you do, that comes in just enough text for clarification. Today is all about photography mostly, but when I say image, that also includes process graphics, iconography, illustrations, charts. There’s a lot to the umbrella imagery.

Let me show you this in action just to … This is the old way of thinking, right? This is a very simple slide, not a lot going on, but it’s the old way of thinking. It’s putting text on the screen and then saying, “Oh, yeah, let me go get an image that says poverty,” but it’s so easy to flip this around to be the new model. The way you do that is you just make the slide first and foremost about the image. Now you can see so much more about the image. The image is starting to communicate the message here, first and foremost, and then the text comes in, secondarily for clarification, so we know, “Yes, we’re talking about poverty and Procter & Gamble.” That’s just the bedrock foundation that I would like to go over before we dive into some specifics on using imagery, sourcing and using it.

Let’s jump in and we’ll start to cover the first part of this which is sourcing and selecting. I put this up front because it’s always the first question everyone has, “Where do I get good imagery from?” There are a ton of places to get imagery. Every day, they are more sites. Every day, cameras and our phones become better. We can take more photos. Every day, the just number of images existing in the world increases. There are tons of places. I categorize them in a few different ways. The first is what I call the sites that cost money. Now, the sites I’m going to go over now and you don’t need to scribble stuff down because I’m going to tell you where you can get a whole list of the sites and plenty more, all the imagery we’re going to be talking about is royalty-free and not rights managed.

Rights managed, you really don’t want to be dealing with too much in presentation. It’s where you have to pay, first of all a lot more money, but it’s dependent on the situation, that sort of imagery for high-end advertising and stuff. For average presentation, royalty-free, it’s basically just off the shelf. Here’s the price, you can take it and you can use it with some restrictions, but for the most part, you can use it in presentation. These are two great sites for royalty-free imagery. iStock has been around a long time. Shutterstock is what I use. I don’t have subscriptions to multiple different sites.

Generally, I use Shutterstock. Both of these sites, you can buy ala carte or packages as well as subscriptions, but I like the subscription model, that all-you-can-eat thing. Occasionally I’ll go to other sites for individual ala carte images as we’ll see, but these are two great ones. There’s others, Thinkstock. I’m thinking of the image of places in this higher-end category, not cheap, but if you get a subscription for the year, your cost per image plummets to just a few cents each.

The next sort of level down or what I call that the sites they cost a little less money, these are more budget-minded and you may not have as much selection. The images might not be top notches as you’ll find in those other sites, but hey, if you need an image of whatever, a mountain, still lifes, you’re going to find stuff here or there. You’re still going to have millions of images, but the quality is probably a little on the lower side. Dreamstime. Fotolia. Bigstock is another one I know Sharyn uses that a lot. There’s no right or wrong in what you use. You go and take a look and do some searching and see what you like.

Even going down further, we have the sites that cost money sometimes, otherwise known as freemium and they’re more of these popping up. I use Death To The Stock Photo. That’s a great site. Unsplash is another one. These actually seem to be proliferating more and more. These are sites where usually the way they work is you subscribe and you get sent an image package every month with 15-20 images usually around a theme. You can download those and keep those on your computer, but you generally don’t have access to the full catalog unless you subscribe for something like $15 or $10 a month. At which point, then you have the whole catalog you can search and find.

I’ve used stuff on Death of The Stock Photo. I think I used Unsplash. They’re freemium. You can get some great imagery, all royalty-free, but if you really want the whole catalog, you’re going to subscribe, and still, you’re not going to have millions of images. You’re going to have a very select curated type of image. More often than not, it feels very hipster-ish which sometimes is good, but if you’re looking for office environments on a lot of these sites like on Death To The Stock, it’s going to look like everything was shot in Brooklyn, which it probably was.

Then you have sites that cost no money. MorgueFile is a large stock site that is free. Flickr, you can do an advanced search in which you can type in a Creative Commons attribution and it will only give you results that are Creative Commons. I always use the Eiffel Tower example that if you’re looking for an image of the Eiffel Tower, you can find it on Shutterstock, you can find it on Dreamstime, you can find it on Fotolia, you can find it a lot of places, but you can also find it for free because somebody, some amateur has taken a great shot of the Eiffel Tower and has put it up on Flickr. With a Creative Commons attribution, you can use that for free.

Again, it’s up to you. I’m not a lawyer. You’re going to have to take a look at all the Creative Commons levels, just educate yourself on that and to make sure you’re using it correctly. For example, not using it to advertise cigarettes. That’s usually one of the no-nos of all stock photography, but Creative Commons too. Some of the levels of Creative Commons, they don’t allow you to resell it or use it for certain commercial purposes. You just need to take a look at that. I want to point out this wonderful site that I use all the time because very often you’ll get an image where you’ll see an image and maybe it’s in a deck and somebody sent you in, you want to use it somewhere else or you’re fixing up that presentation. You won’t know where it’s from. You won’t know if you’re allowed to use it. You don’t know if it’s Creative Commons or if it comes from Shutterstock or whatever.

This is a wonderful reverse image search engine called There are a few others out there. I think Google has a reverse image search, but I love this because it allows you to upload the photo or if it lives online, you can type in the URL and it will search the web and tell you where that image lives also. Very often, it will say, “Hey, this image, you can find on Bigstock,” or, “Hey, you can find this image and purchase it on iStock.” It’s a great detective tool for figuring out where something came from. Even if you can use it, it will give you the source where you can maybe get a higher res version if you need it. I use TinEye all the time. It’s a great tool. You should never be able to use the excuse of, “Well, I just use the image. I don’t know where it came from.” You got to do some searching.

I think Shannon already put it in the chat, but if you want this, my resource list of stock sites and other graphic design resources and PowerPoint resources, you can go to my website,, and subscribe at the top. Trust me, I barely send out newsletters, so your inbox isn’t going to be full. Once you subscribe there, you will get a welcome and a link to a members only part of the site where you can download these stock imagery resources as well as a whole bunch of other PowerPoint goodies and other things all for free. All you got to do is sign up there and you can get access. I try to keep this resource list updated because every week, it seems like there are new sites that are coming and going.

Sharyn: We have a couple of questions that I wanted to bring up. One is from Jeff who says, “Silly question, what does it mean to say, “You can use that image?”? if you paid for it on Shutterstock for example, can you use it in your published materials?”

Nolan:  That that is something you’re going to have to read the license terms for. I can’t tell you your situation and I’m going to put the lawyer hat on and say it depends. Whenever you make a purchase, you are signing a license agreement and you have to read that agreement and find out. All the sites are good. You can just call them up and ask them as well. Again, there are limitations you on some stuff. You can’t by a Shutterstock image and use it in a Coca-Cola advertisement globally or you can’t use it in a Hollywood movie. There are some limitations. I you have any questions, you can just go to the source and they should be able to help you out with that.

Sharyn: I can address it for Bigstock because I use big stock. They will give me an option to buy additional rights for a picture when I choose to use the picture. That’s one way that potentially people will handle it. Here’s another question, “If you use the reverse search and find it on iStock, does that mean you cannot use it without purchasing it?”

Nolan:  In general, yes, unless that image you can prove has been purchased for the usage, for your usage. If somebody else in your company purchased that image and they put it into the presentation, it can be used in the context of that presentation by you, in general, if it’s in the same usage. You have to know where your imagery is coming from. Otherwise, you can be held responsible.

Sharyn: Well, another thing too is if you’re not sure you want to use an image, one of the things I like about the Stock Photography sites is you can download a preview, which will have a watermark on it. You can use it in your presentation until you decide that’s the right fit. That’s another we to think about it as well.

Nolan:  You can do that, but please don’t ever put a watermark image in front of an audience.

Sharyn: No, never. It’s the-

Nolan:  It’s just internal, just as you’re trying to decide. That’s one of the reasons I like the subscription model is I can download 20 images. I can make five different versions of a slideshow to a client or whatever. Then, I cannot use four of them and I don’t have to then go back and swap out the watermarks. It’s just allows me because I don’t like seeing watermarks personally. I want to be able to use and manipulate the image without the limitation of that. That’s why I like the subscription model. I’ve never tensed about, “Oh, do I spend $10 on this image, even though it might be cut?” I don’t have to worry about that.

Sharyn: Here’s another question from Nancy. “I found the same image on multiple sites. Who owns it?”

Nolan:  The answer is they all do because that photographer or whoever owns that image has sold the image to multiple sites and you can purchase it from anyone. That’s happening more and more. It basically comes down to the license agreement that the stock house has with the photographer or whoever owns it. Sometimes you can actually find it cheaper on one site than another. That’s why TinEye is a great site.

Sharyn: Great. Back to you.

Nolan:  All right. Let’s go into, as we’re on one of our sites, we’re trying to decide on what image to use for a presentation, this is one of the big questions I want you to ask yourself, “Am I looking for a metaphoric or literal image?” We’ve all seen slides like this, right? This is such a huge continuing trend, “Well, I want to talk about sales strategy, so I’m going to get that keep stock image of the kid selling lemonade,” but here’s the problem with that, unless you are actually selling lemonade, visually your audience and those visual brains are going to remember lemonade. They’re not going to remember widgets or whatever you’re actually selling. Metaphoric image, while sometimes cute and clever, can be counterproductive if you’re actually trying to communicate a story visually.

Here’s another example of a visual metaphor and my guess is that whoever created the slide didn’t run a mountain climbing business. If they did, it’s a great slide. It’s a great image to use, but if they’re selling widgets visually, it’s this big contradiction. I’d much prefer to see an image of the widget for example or something closer to their core business. Here, if you want to talk about teamwork, if you type in teamwork to a stock site, you’re going to see tons of stuff like the Olympic baton handoff or the puzzle piece or things like that. Again, do you want your people remember when they think about your solid sales team, do you want them remembering puzzle pieces or your actual solid sales team in a photo that you took with your iPhone?

For my money, even if that image on the bottom right is a little more pixelated than we like, not as quite high res, I’m going to go for that image on the bottom because it communicates far more clearly what you’re actually trying to say. These are two slides from a presentation I did for a client and this was approximately about 20 slides and they were all talking about things and reminders, they wanted to tell their audience, this was an audience of nonprofit foundations. They wanted to say, “Don’t forget, cultivate trust and accomplishment.” This was all when you’re meeting with stakeholders. Remember to say your clear values and have your clear vision. In a lot of cases, like these two slides, we had to go metaphoric because we tried, but we just couldn’t get the right image.

The deck actually started out with 20 slides that were all metaphoric. At the end, some of them remained metaphoric, but at one point, I just said, “Look, we’ve got to try to get a little more literal.” I said, “Do you have any other imagery that could help out here?” They said, “Well, we have all the images from last year’s conference.” I said, “Great, send them to me.” Then when we took a look at a slide like this which was about strong facilitation, I said, “What does that mean to you in your context,” and they said, “Well, that means we want people to have a really strong moderator whenever they’re meeting with stakeholders,” and they said, “Exactly like Doug from last year.”

I said, “Who’s Doug?” They said, “Doug was this great guy at the conference and he moderated all the panels and he was the most brilliant facilitator. Everybody was raving about him.” I said, “All these photos you sent me, is there a picture of Doug?” They said, “Absolutely.” I said, “Well, then we’re going to be using that picture of Doug.” This was from last year’s conference showing strong facilitation literally in action. These are the kinds of images you want to try to use. Here’s another one from the exact same conference. “Organizations have different capacities.” We ended up using this image again from last year’s conference, literally showing somebody who does not quite have the capacity of a large organization here on a break.

Try to go for literal whenever possible. That’s the more there. Also, when you’re pulling up the search results on whatever site you have, you’re going to get a ton of images. Always be careful that you’re … I got snagged by this the other day that you’re in either most popular or most relevant. Sometimes some of the sites, you can select like new images, in which case, it will bring up images that are fairly new but not quite relevant. However, you bring them up, you’re going to get all these images. What are you looking for? Well, first, you’re most likely probably looking for horizontal images. That always helps in a lot of the sites. You can just check on, “I want a horizontal image,” but beyond that, you want to search for images that embrace negative space, that have a lot of negative space in them.

When I look at all these images from Shutterstock search that I did, my eye goes to these two because I’m seeing a lot of negative natural negative space in the sky and in the grass in the water there that I’m going to be able to put content over. What makes a great image for presentation? It’s one that has a lot of negative space. Here’s a great image that we can put content over. It’s a studio background, but it works. Here’s a more natural image that is great to put content over. This also holds to the rule of three, which we’re going to talk about in a little bit. Look for images that that allow you to put content over there and not so noisy and filled with details that text is not going to work with.

One more example that I love and we’re also going to see ways in which you can force negative space as well. I mentioned the rule of thirds. That’s the next important thing as you’re searching through these sites. Look for images that hold to the rule of thirds. I’ll explain what that is. Here’s an image that it’s okay, it’s good, it’s high res, it works, but she’s right dead center in here. Now, yes, you could put content on either side of or potentially, but how much better would the image be if it held to the rule of thirds. This is what it is. If you draw a tic-tac-toe board over an image or any layout, wherever those lines intersect, those are your most important points where you want to put the most important part of that image.

In this case, the most important part of a person is right between their eyes. If we can crop the image or find an image that looks more like this, that’s what we want, because now look what we’ve opened up two-thirds of the page for content. She would actually be looking at that content which would be great. Take a look at professional presentations and you’re going to see this constantly where the content is on one side or the other holding to this rule of thirds. Here’s a couple examples. Whether it’s vertically, where your person is and also the rule of thirds gets even more involved because those horizontal lines help as well. You can line up your horizon lines or other things on those horizontal lines, but if you’ve ever hit a wrong button on your digital camera and you’ve got a tic-tac-toe board, it comes up and you’re like, ” Why is this here? How did I get rid of it?” That is the camera company trying to help you take better photos by giving you that Tic Tac Toe board to align people and align horizon lines and align subjects of your photographs better. Use it. Don’t get rid of it so quickly.

Let’s talk about being big and bloody. Whenever possible, we want our images to be big and bloody. Big, that’s a little self-evident what that means, but what are bloody images? Bloody images are ones that bleed off the edge of the screen. Here’s an image that bleeds off the edge of the screen. That’s the simplest thing in the world to do. You just make it fit the slide completely. I just had a client the other day called me complaining that all his people were using images, but there was always whitespace, a little on the edge, a little on the top. He said, “How do I get people to do that?” I had to explain cropping to them, but just because an image will rarely come in and fit a slide perfectly, especially as we’re dealing with widescreen versus standard. You’re always going to have to do some sense of cropping, but do it. You want your image whenever possible to bleed to the edge.

This image suddenly, once we to be put into a newer template, this is not quite as impactful as it was a moment ago. We’ve already seen tons of slides with image that bleeds. I love this slide for a number of reasons. Again, all this stuff, it’s bleeding, it’s holding to the rule of thirds. Even if you have multiple images, you can’t have them completely filled a page like this layout, have them bleed as much as they can, bleed off to the side and to the top to the bottom. You can still do a collage and still have them bleed. A little bleed is better than nothing at all, instead of having them floating in midair.

Let’s talk a little bit about image sets. Again, this is as we’re sourcing and looking for imagery. We want our images to be of a family. We don’t want them to seem random because very often, we’re going to be getting images from multiple sources, even if it’s the same stock site. Images that feel mismatched lead to a presentation that feels disjointed. The best presentations we’ve seen, and I’m sure you’d agree, everything works together. All the colors are the same. All the images have the same style and mood that. The fonts, of course, are all the same. There’s consistency.

Now, first of all, their image means lots of different things. It could be in a full color photograph, but an image could also be an illustration. An image can be an icon or a silhouette. I’ve seen some great presentations that were nothing but illustrations. That was what tied it together. That’s the first decision to make it, “What style of image am I using?” but even if you’re going to go with a full color photo, there’s still a huge universe within that of images from different families that are unmatched. Here’s a really a not terribly well-designed slide. If you were looking to look at this and want to improve it, my guess is you would probably first go to that ugly glow quote thing. It’s centered and it’s got that silly glow behind it. You’d probably want to fix that first. It needs to be fixed. There’s no question about that, but I look at this slide and my eye goes to those images because let’s take a look at them, let’s analyze them, going from the top down.

This image of this racecar driver drinking Red Bull. It looked like a snapshot. It’s an inaction thing. That’s a person interacting with the product. The next image down is a great shot of a Tesla, but it’s on a white background and that’s different from the other two shots and there’s no person in there. There’s no person interacting with the product. The iPhone on the bottom is in context, like the top one. There’s a background, it’s not cut out, but there’s no person interacting with the product. These are three very, very different styles of imagery and it leads to a very disjointed slide. As you’re looking for imagery, maybe and trying to make the slide better, maybe go with something like this in which we take all the products and they’re all cut out on this nice clean white background. Yes, we fixed the quote down at the bottom.

That would be one option. Is that the only option? No. Maybe it comes down to what you can actually find and then you have to make the best choice. It could look like this now. This is good. It’s certainly better than the original, but it’s still not perfect. Yes, we have three images. They’re all the same size. They’re all full backgrounds, but the one on the left is still an inaction snapshot person interacting. The middle one, yeah, there’s a guy driving the Tesla, but it’s an advertisement. Stylistically, it’s different. The one on the right is, yes, it’s a person interacting, but it feels very stocky, right? It’s like a stock image. I don’t know that’s certainly not reality.  Yes, it works better, but not quite. Maybe you need to do a little more searching to force an image set.

Here’s a collage of images that a designer came up with and sourced in advance of doing a presentation for an eyewear company. Now, if you just type in person wearing glasses into a stock site, you’re going to get a million images and they’re going to be all over the place. You need to do some cooling down, start making some light boxes. In this case, the designer, started looking at photos and said, ” I really like these studio background.” No image here is in the real world. They’re in studios. They’re, for the most part, looking forward. They’re these gray backgrounds and these light blue ones. People are wearing glasses, for the most part.

Now, not every image needs to be exactly the same. We’ve got the person down on the right in red. That breaks the mold a little bit, but holds to some other things. We actually have a black and white image and a guy not wearing glasses. We have some different ages. We have some people not looking at the camera, but all together, it’s going to create a dynamic presentation ultimately. Ultimately, we’ll get down to what images are used and not used, but here, we’re starting to create a style. You can use imagery to help create your design of your presentation. If I was given all these images, I’d say, “Well, I love that light blue and the gradient and the gray. I’m going to start building a color palette and a design around that maybe and then the imagery is going to work of course and I’m going to be inspired to create this blue and gray palette from imagery, not stealing. I’m creating from being inspired.”

Here’s a great set of slides, a few slides, in which the designer played off the orange in the client’s logo and then found these soft, natural, warm amber and orange images. They went with wood and brick backgrounds, a little blurry image, some blurred images and sun shining through. That all feels like a set now and they did a lot of research to get to that point. Here’s a situation where the image set was forced a little much, manufactured by taking lots of different images and turning them all black and white which worked great with this blue, yellow, very flat color but very bold color style.

This is a great transition period into the second part of today which is editing and using our imagery. We’ve sourced it. Let’s say we’ve sourced some images that are not quite a set, but we really need to make them more of a set. We need to force that a little bit more like we just saw with the black and white imagery. Now there are a lot of ways to do this. Here’s an example of a really highly stylized set of images and slides that again came from multiple places, but the designer made these very striking bold duo tones, adding this color to all these images. That’s one way.

Here’s another image set that was forced, manufactured set. I’m going to come back to this one and show you exactly what we did in a moment in this particular case to get this natural sepia type feel to all these images, but I’m going to go out of a slideshow mode here and show you … There we go. I want to show you just sort of some of the techniques that we used to manufacture these sets. Now I’m on a Mac, just as you’ll notice, but this is all possible on the PC as well. The first thing that you can always do is we’re going to select all these images and go to picture format. You can use PowerPoints built in color tools. Now these play off the color palette that you’ve set. The only colors available here will be from the palette, so this is the palette for the side.

There are two variations here. We can make them all this light blue, that would help. By the way, all these images are very disparate to begin with in terms of subject matter. We can make that light blue, that dark blue or we can maybe do a sepia. That’s always available too. That could help, but let me show you some other techniques that you can use. You can make them all black and white here and you could stop there or if you wanted to have a little more control of your colorization or your duo toning, you can take a semitransparent shape and PowerPoint and just place it over the black and white. That’s going to give you a little more, in my opinion, contrast and a little more control and just a different look than those preset PowerPoint color options.

The other cool thing about this is you can play with the transparency. It’s dynamic. You just again have a lot more control. You can also apply a gradient to your transparency, which you can’t do with the built-in thing. That’s another way if you want to get a really interesting effect there. Again you can play with the transparency. Those are a couple ways. Let me show also … Let me show you … I’m going to reset these here, reset the picture. There are a few other tools that people some use and some are understood, some are not as understood. If you go to the picture format, picture corrections rather, you can play with darkness a little bit. That doesn’t have that mostly has to do with not so much with color, but you can play with the brightness which a lot of people do, depending on the image to make it a little lighter or darker.

You can play with the contrast, but these other tools, don’t forget about it, under picture color, you can play with the saturation. It’s going to work better with some images, not with others. This is a fun image where you can probably play with the saturation a little bit more. You also have this temperature down here. Nobody has any idea what these numbers here mean, but essentially, what you need is if you go all the way to the right, that’s warm. You can see we’ve gotten a much warmer color. If you go all the way to the left, it’s cool. Let’s say we take that all the way to the right and we want to take our line all the way to the right as well.

Again, subject matter, still weird, but they start to feel more of a family. Let me show you what we did here just to give you a sense. We did a, I think, a lot of things here. We had a vignette, a PNG vignette over it to give just a picture frame-type thing. We had a big transparent sepia over everything, so it’s all the same. Then in here, with each image, what we did was we took down the saturation a lot. This is a natural saturation. We brought that down. We brought our temperature up to make it a little bit warmer or more to the right.

If we go back to, let’s see what this image really looked like to begin with. I’m going to reset it. It wasn’t too bad. It started off pretty good, but certainly adding that little extra stuff definitely helped. Again, you can do lots of things and play around with it. Let’s talk about semi-transparent text boxes and gradients here. We just talked about some transparent boxes and how those can be used to edit imagery, but sometimes you’ll get images like this where you want to use it, but it just doesn’t quite work for you and work for the content and you weren’t able to find that perfect image with all the empty space.

Again yeah, you could maybe go on Photoshop and fix that or I’ll show you some other techniques where we could create more empty space, but you can also always just take a transparent box and throw it behind the text. You still get the benefit of that full-screen imagery, but your content can be red on top of it. Here’s another example of just a semi-transparent black shape over the image, so we still get full imagery, but we can read our type. There’s a cousin to the transparent. Here’s another example of a semitransparent PowerPoint shape being used in a Photoshop-ey way. In fact, I’ll show you, I’m going to go back to my main screen so you can see it in outline mode here or layout mode.

This is the original image. It’s okay, but what if I wanted a more organic layout where the image melds into the background. I wanted something like this. You can do this all in PowerPoint without Photoshop. This is simply a semitransparent gradient shape that goes from 100% white to 0% white. If we go here, you can see that we have a gradient applied to this. You can play around with this. You can make it wider or shorter, but at the end of the day, it’s going to allow you to get that soft edge on an image. You can do this in white to nothing. You can do it in black to nothing depending on your image.

Here’s a case where we wanted just a little bit more contrast with the background, we wanted to use the image, but we just needed the type to pop a little more. We put in a little transparent background. Again, you can play with this. That’s a cool thing about doing this on PowerPoint. You can play with this and you can play with the transparency and keep playing with it. Let’s go back to slideshow mode. There we go. Let’s talk about one of the tricks of graphic designers when they’re dealing with people. That is very often to cut their heads off. What do I mean by that?

Well, in a lot of cases, especially with presentation, especially with lots of people weighing in, you’re going to get situations where you’ve created a slide like this and your client or your boss says, “Yeah, well, that’s good, but he’s too young. We want an older doctor,” and you’re like, “Okay, fine. I’ll go get an older doctor,” and you put that image in and they say, “Well, yeah, but I don’t like the beard. He doesn’t look that smart. He doesn’t look like he really knows what he’s talking about.” “Okay, fine.” “You know what? Why does this have to be a guy?” “We’ll put this one in here.” “Yeah, but she looks a little bit more like a nurse than a doctor.” “Okay, how about this?” “Yeah, well, he’s smiling too much. It’s just he looks like too stocky.”

How do you solve all these problems? Well, you find an image and you cut the head off. Now your client can’t say that he’s smiling too much, can’t say they look too old or too young or ethnic or not ethnic enough. This will get you farther and result in fewer issues, because you’re now allowing the image to focus just on what the real story here is which is doctors and electronic records. You’re not dealing with the smiles or anything like that. Here’s a slide where we did that exactly. We found images where we were able to cut the head off or we were able to use the back of a person. It’s hard to find imagery of the backs of people, but if you can do it and it allowed us to focus on what the person was doing or was engaged in rather than person themselves. That’s huge. You want to focus on the person themselves or the subject matter rather than the model, the stock model or the person. Let’s talk a little bit about some Photoshop techniques in PowerPoint. We already showed you a few where you can recolor and can change the contrast and sharpen things up. You can certainly crop, but you can get a little more advanced.

I have Photoshop opened all the time, but I don’t always use it because it takes time to go to Photoshop and then come back. A lot of times, I’m going to use the built-in techniques, the built-in tools of PowerPoint itself. You can do some pretty cool things. You can make things black and white. You can cut things out. I cut Derek Jeter out here, using the Remove Background tool that can be very powerful. Sometimes it takes a little while to work with and play with, but here, I’ll show you the technique I use most often. Very often, I get situations like this where I have an image, it’s good, I want to use it, but it came from a standard size for four, three deck or this is just the way the image came down from Shutterstock and I want it to fill the page.

Can I stretch him all the way over? Yes, I could, but he looks really bloated and awful now, so we don’t want to do that. Can I crop him in and make him bigger that way? Sure, but then he starts to really overpower the slide if we want that. What I really love is for this photo to extend. I’d love to see more of the photo here, but it doesn’t exist, but we can force it. I do this all the time. I’m going to take my image and I’m going to cut and paste it. I’m going to align it, so I’m just duplicated right on top. Now I said you can’t stretch in it the whole image because he’ll get distorted, but you can stretch part of an image. I’m going to go to crop and I’m going to crop in this new copy of the image right there, right past his chair where his chair ends. I’m just have a slice of the background and it overlays. You don’t you don’t recognize that it’s a second copy. Now I’m going to stretch just that side.

He remains unchanged. It’s just this blurred background. I use this image intentionally because there’s a person with a laptop, but if you saw this on its own, yes, that person and those hands are getting stretched, but you can’t really tell, right? It’s just that background that allows you to stretch. Obviously, you’re going to have to find the right image to do it, but you can even do it with a small slice. I could probably just slice out just over here on the other side of him if I wanted to because it just gets blurred and you know, and it works. That is something I do all the time and the great thing about this is that it’s nondestructive. If I decide later, I don’t really need that or I want to stretch from a different part, I can do it all within PowerPoint. I don’t have to go back to Photoshop.

Once we do this, now this image bleeds. It holds to the rule of thirds. It has a negative space and it’s ready for our content, right? Without having to have our empty whitespace or anything like that, we’ve just made a full bleed image all within PowerPoint. There are, of course, going to be situations where you’re going to have an image that simply can’t hold up for full screen. It’s not high res enough or it just doesn’t fit. It’s vertical. That’s where this other really awesome technique can come in all within PowerPoint. Here’s a slide that I wanted to show this photo, but I didn’t want it floating on this empty background. I really wish I could make it full screen, but it just wasn’t high res enough to do it with.

I took a copy of the image. I blew it up in the background and I applied a blur in Photoshop. This is under artistic tools. This is one of my favorite tools within PowerPoint. It’s just so easy to use and you have a whole slider. You can change the amount of blur. Here’s an example where I wanted to show a vertical article, but there’s just no way to make it fill the page, so I copied it to the back. You can see it’s just the top of it. I blurred it and it gives it that nice background. You see this on the news all the time with vertical cellphone videos.

Blurring an image in the background is a great way to get just an abstract background that has some oomph to it. Here’s an example of a slide where we wanted to use this boardroom image to talk about foundation boards, but it was too noisy. It was competing too much with the content, so we blurred it. You still get a sense of the boardroom, but you can easily focus on the content in the front. However, if I wanted to take it a little farther and just say, “I don’t want a boardroom at all. I just want a cool background.” I can blur that photo even more. Now I have this awesome gradated abstract background.

Let’s talk a little bit about compression because I know that’s definitely been a question that’s come up and we wrote an article, a quick little Q&A about that. It’s on the PresentationXpert site. First, compression, when we talk about that, I want to talk about file format first because this is a big one. PowerPoint can take multiple different types of images, but the two main ones that were we deal with are JPEGs and PNGs. JPEGs, we’re all familiar with. They can be very high res, but when you compare the same image to a PNG, it takes up less space. If you’re concerned about file size, consider going with JPEGs. JPEGs are good for most images, but not all. A JPG is good for like a snapshot like a line here, an image that has lots going on, but a PNG is going to be bigger.

Here’s the thing, a PNG, you want to use for images that might be used multiple times down the road. Anything part of a template, you probably want to go with a PNG over a JPEG and also certain images which we’ll see in a second. Here’s the reason. A JPEG is what’s known as a lossy file format. Every time a JPEG is saved or created, it kicks out pixels because it wants to be small. That’s the way it was designed. It looks at all the pixels and says, “We don’t need those. We don’t need those. We’re going to delete those.” That’s a way to compress the image and save space. That’s what it was designed for.

PNG doesn’t do that. PNG, you can save over and over and over and it’s never going to kick out pixels. You’re not going to lose that image quality. A JPEG, if you keep saving a JPEG over and over and over, each time it kicks out pixels, it’s going to get worse and worse, which is why sometimes we see logos like this, and these are, one’s a JPEG, one’s a PNG, they look the same, but over time, that JPEG logo of Microsoft is going to get blurry and pixelated because people have saved it time and time again and it’s lost pixels. That’s why logos, always, always you want to be PNGs.

The other reason is, especially with logos, PNGs can be transparent, so if you have dark backgrounds, that’s where you want a transparent PNG. With a JPEG, you can have that awful white stuff in the background. I should point out that if you just have your image in a PowerPoint file and you save it a million times and don’t do anything to the image or move it anywhere, PowerPoint is smart enough not to compress it every single time and not to kick out pixels. However, if you take that image and put it into a new deck, copy and paste it somewhere else, PowerPoint treats it as a new image and when you save it again, it will compress that JPEG more. That’s what happens.

We’ve all seen decks with the logo in the corner. It’s pixelated. You’re like, “Why would they put in a blurry logo.” Well, they didn’t, but that template is a few years old and it’s been saved so many times in different ways. It’s now been degraded. Again that’s a reason we want to use PNGs for anything that’s going to stick around for a long time. If you’re not concerned about file size, go ahead and use the PNG but just the JPEG will help you get smaller file size. The other ways to get a smaller file size are obviously to compress the pictures once they’re already in PowerPoint. Now, you can do this in PowerPoint. This is the PC view here. You can select the image, go to Format, go up to Compress Pictures and you’ll get this little dialog box with lots of options. “Do you want for HD, for print? Do you want to keep it just for email?”

These are down the line of how much it will compress. You can tell it to delete the cropped areas of the picture. I don’t like to do that because I always want to be able to go back. You can apply it only to this picture or every picture in the deck. This is a one-way street, folks. Once you do this, you can’t go back. You’ve got to be really careful with this. Do I use this? No and most professionals don’t. They either do all their compression outside before it comes in, or most people, if they are real pros with PowerPoint, use a third-party tool for compression.

The best one out there is NXPowerLite. This will compress PDFs and all Microsoft Office files. It’s plugin. It’s drag and drop. It is magic. PowerPoint’s compression tools, you can use in a pinch. They might work for you, but somebody once said, I think the girls at Slide Rabbit said this, so if you’re on the line, “PowerPoints, compression is like a hatchet. NXPowerLite is like a scalpel. You’re going to get much better results. Smaller files without compromising image integrity. It’s magic.” I don’t know how they do it, but in addition to just compressing images, they also clean up a lot of code and others just stuff in a file if you’ve been worked on it for years. It’s got needless code in it and other stuff. It does some other stuff behind the scenes work which we’re not really sure of, but it will definitely compress your files magically.

Video is another story. NXPowerLite won’t do it. The way to compress video again is either before you bring it in, and if you really serious about it, you’ll have a professional video editor get that file size down without compromising quality before it comes in, but if it’s already in PowerPoint, you can go to info backstage. Go to compress media. This will only show up if you have media video, and you can select you can play around with it presentation quality, internet quality, low quality, make a copy, do a test, see if the compression is acceptable. I said you can compress things with external video editors. I generally don’t, but there is this one tool that I use for a number of reasons including saving out and clipping and cropping.

This is a great little tool for the PC and Mac called iSkysoft iMedia Converter Deluxe, not inexpensive program. NXPowerLite is not expensive, their PC, Mac. They have multiple versions. This is a great little standalone program if you have a huge video and you need to compress it or trim it down before going into PowerPoint. I use this all the time. Lots of different options and presets. We’re almost at the end. I did mention, You can go. This is a goodies stock resources. PDF, so that’ll be there. Then we’ve got some PowerPoint assets and other goodies and things you can play around there and that’s also part of my blog, which you can take a look at. We talked about visual communication and presentation and data visualization.

Sharyn mentioned the Presentation Podcast. We’ve got a little time. I’m going to go back to Sharyn to moderate some questions. I’m sure you guys have them. Always feel like we only scratched the surface in an hour because we could go on and on about imagery and presentation, but Sharyn.

Sharyn: I think there’s a lot. We have one that I want to get to before we lose. It’s, “How do you source logos?”

Nolan:  That’s a good question. If we actually go back here, I have huge logo collections here, corporate media, nonprofit social logos. You can download these. These are all in PNG transparent format and actually EPS as well. You can use them. You can also go to Wikipedia. Very often you can get company logos there in SVG format. SVG can now be brought into PowerPoint as of three or four months ago which is very exciting on the PC side, but I think they’re also often high res PNG versions there. You can go to the company’s media site. Sometimes they have it. If you’re working with a client, just ask for it and just say, “Hey, can you send me a high-res PNG of your logo to use. I want to make sure I get it right.” There are other sites like Brands of the World,, those are in that PDF that you can download from my site as well.

Sharyn: Somebody is asking, “Is there a psychology, a negative connotation about showing someone’s back in a photo?”

Nolan:  I don’t think so. It depends on your situation and your context. The point is when you’re showing somebody’s back, you’re focusing on what they’re doing, or when you cut their head off, you’re focused on what they’re doing rather than who they are. I think one of the examples I showed you is four or five people commuting to work. We don’t really care about it. The point of this slide was people commute to work. By showing them doing what they’re doing, that we’re getting to the subject. Now, of course, we had somebody facing away from the camera for the Alzheimer’s slide. In that case, yes, there’s a little more storytelling going on about Alzheimer’s and maybe they’re losing their identity and things like that. You can read into that as you would.

Sharyn: We have a question for you personally, how did you acquire your design acumen?

Nolan:  I come from a family of professional trained educated artists and designers. I’m the only person in my immediate family without a design degree. I have a theater degree. I just over the years self-taught and it was … When I was in the theater world, I was always designing on the side to pay the rent. It just morphed into what it is today. Yeah, I’m mostly self-taught. I read a lot. I look at a lot. I study a lot. I like to think I have a fairly simplistic design aesthetic, which I’m sure some people would say. Well, anyway-

Sharyn: It’s easy to understand, your design sense, makes sense. It’s easy to understand why you do the things you do which is why I love having you on our webinars. We have someone else’s asking that, “Are there any color schemes to avoid?”

Nolan:  There are no inherent bad colors in and of themselves. That are bad color combinations. You never want to do blue over red, especially with type. You don’t want to do dark blue over black or yellow over white because those aren’t high enough contrast. Whatever color scheme you use, you want really high contrast. There’s some cool sites out you can go to, I think it’s or you can just google Adobe Color. You can get all color schemes. There’s a website called Colour Lovers. I think it’s what the British spelling. People just put up these cool color templates that you can steal, you can download them and say, “Oh, that’s a cool light blue with the dark green. I’m going to use that in my presentation and be inspired by that.”

Sharyn: We created webinar checks. We did that we went and found the colors and created almost like our own style guide using that site, so it’s a great resource.

Nolan:  You can also look at images. If you have seen an image that’s really cool, you can bring that into PowerPoint and color sample using the eyedropper tool sample the colors from it. I’ve done that for presentations. I found an image that I thought was really cool. I’m like, I’m going to take that shade and that shade and make my color palette out of it, and voila, I’ve got a cool color theme.

Sharyn: We have another question, “Can you kind of explain what SVG is?” Again, people were questioning in.

Nolan:  Sure. That’s a good really good question. So SVG stands for scalable vector graphic, I think. It’s a vector format, similar to illustrator or EPS, but it’s been around for a while, but it’s becoming much more popular because it’s a vector, which means it’s infinitely scalable. A lot of times, you’ll see, for example, on a website like a logo and it might be a little blurry because you’re on a really high res monitor. Well, that’s like a PNG logo, but more and more you’re seeing websites where you can blow it up infinitely and that logo is still crisp. That’s because the logo is vector. No matter how big it gets, it’s going to be crisp. PowerPoint, as of a few months ago on the PC, allowed for SVG import. Now you can find an SVG logo online or SVG graphic or anything and just drag it into PowerPoint and it shows beautifully. It will print beautifully.

You don’t have to worry about resolution at all and also it’s actually takes up less space than a comparable JPEG or PNG because it’s just made up of math basically, without getting into it, instead of pixels. SVG is also the way, that’s the format of the new icons, if anyone’s played with that in PowerPoint. Again only on the PC, but Microsoft came out with a whole library of iconography and those are all SVG formats.

Sharyn: This can be our last question because we’re a little bit after the hour, but we have a comment/question from Graham who said, “Great presentation, down-to-earth advice, lots of practical tips,” but he’s curious because, “How much can you use images when you’re not prescribing things in person, what you’re really trying to say, what the slide is trying to say? We often send up PowerPoints that are communicating information and we’re not there to present that information, sometimes even through a purpose presentation.”

Nolan:  Well, there’s nothing I like less than the dual person, dual purpose presentation. It’s the topic of another presentation or another webinar, but basically, you’re trying to fit two different formats into one. You’re trying to create both the advertorial and the Billboard and say, “It’s the same thing. How do I do it?” Well, you can’t put a hundred words up on a billboard and expect that to be an effective Billboard. You have to choose and it sounds like if you’re just creating a presentation, the speaker will never give to somebody that will just be read by one person. What you’re actually creating is a document. That is totally valid. That’s a valid document.

You get printed annual reports. You get brochures. You get white papers all the time that are documents, they have images, they might not have full bleed images on every page, but there’s appropriate imagery, graphs and charts and maps and things like that that makes sense, but then there is prose content, there are paragraphs of text, because it’s a document. If you make those types of presentations, I urge you to go investigate Nancy Duarte’s Slidedocs. Just Google Slidedocs, all one word, Duarte and you’ll find a free online book that explains basically how to make those types of presentations, how to use PowerPoint as more of a document creation tool.

Again, there’s some other ways for that two-in-one deck involving handouts which again I think is the topic of another webinar, but that’s the main thing. If the primary usage is as a standalone document, design it to that. Don’t design it on screen presentation.

Sharyn: I think great advice. I think we’ve got some other questions that I would suggest if you want to see something that Nolan did and you want to see it again, I will be sending out a link to the recording and I suggest you look at the recording to see exactly how he does stuff. If we didn’t get to a question you might have, please feel free to send an email to or editor and I’ll be glad to help you as much as I can. I want to thank everyone for joining us. Nolan, amazing as always and just say goodbye to our global audience. Have a great day.

Nolan:  Thanks, Sharyn. Take care everyone.

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