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Be Your Own Master

Be Your Own Master

Only once you’ve established the basic plan is it time to launch PowerPoint and start putting the slideshow together. PowerPoint does of course come with a whole slew of templates, and it’s tempting to dive straight into one of these, adding suitable text and graphics as required. But a much more professional result can be obtained by creating your own Master slide, accessible via the Slide Master option of the Master menu under the View menu item.

As the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously declared, “Less is more,” so while the use of corporate colors and typefaces can make slides look more tailored to a specific audience and function, overdoing such trimmings leads to clutter and confusion.

In the example shown in Figure 3, two slide background images have been created that use the Peachpit Publishing colors and logo. One has the logo and company name in black, and this background will be used on the title slide. The other background has the logo and company name toned down to grey by reducing the opacity of the layer that they’re on, making them less obtrusive. This is the background that will be used on all the other slides. Note that the corporate colors are limited to the border of the slide: The region where the text will appear has been left white.

Elsewhere on the Master slide, you can adjust how the text will look by changing the font, font size, text color, paragraph formatting and so on, just as you’d change them on a regular slide. We’ll say more about the use of text in the next section, but for now we’ll concentrate on just two characteristics: legibility and readability. At their simplest, legibility is how easily letters of the alphabet are recognized, while readability is how easily words and blocks of text are understood.

Typographers continue to debate precisely what makes a good typeface legible and readable, and while some typefaces are highly legible, including sans serif fonts like Arial, such typefaces tend to score badly in terms of readability when compared to serif fonts like Times. That’s why books and newspapers tend to use serif fonts, reserving sans serif fonts for attention-grabbing banners and headlines. In theory, you could do the same thing on your slides, using Arial for the headings and Times for the bullet points.

In practice computer screens don’t work quite the same way as paper, and some sans serif fonts are actually more readable than many serif fonts because their clean letters fit the blocky pattern of pixels rather well. In any case, well-made slides contain so little text that the better readability of Times compared with highly legible Arial doesn’t make much of a difference, and good, clean serif fonts probably work best. Either way, try and stick with a single font throughout. Limit variation to font attributes such as size, color, and style.

Whatever fonts you choose to use, the aim is something unfussy and easy to read. Whimsical fonts such as Comic Sans and Impact are best avoided. Unless there’s good reason to do otherwise, text should be in sentence case throughout, with capital letters only used when grammatically necessary. Contrary to what some people seem to suppose, writing a word in capitals actually reduces its legibility, reducing rather than increasing its impact, and bold and italic versions of the typeface should be used sparingly for the same reasons. Color should be used very carefully because not everyone sees color in the same way, and the further you depart from black text on a white background, the more likely it is that some people in your audience will have trouble viewing your slides.

Figure 3 A customized background has been created using corporate colors and a logo, but note the logo has reduced opacity so it doesn’t overwhelm the content of the slide.

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