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Advanced Slide Formatting and Design

Getting the organization of your entire project as well as the individual slides is crucial for any successful PowerPoint presentation. But we live in an age where we ignore image at our peril. Chances are your audience expects at least nice-looking slides, so in your quest for a knockout presentation, you should spend some time on the formatting and design aspects.

Slide Design Guidelines

Getting the slide design right is no easy task because you must strike a balance between giving your audience the eye candy they expect and not overwhelming your message with too many formatting bells and design whistles. With this balance as the goal, here are some design guidelines to bear in mind when constructing your knockout presentation:

  • Consider your audience, because some designs will suit certain audiences better than others. For example, if you’re presenting to children, a bright, happy design with kid-friendly images will work, whereas a plain, text-heavy design will induce naptime. On the other hand, if you’re presenting to managers or the board of directors, you’ll need a design that gets straight to the point and has little in the way of design frills.

  • Consider your company’s image. I mean this in two ways: First and most obviously, if your company has a set color scheme or style, your presentation should reflect that. Second, if your company is known as one that’s staid or bold, serious or fun, your presentation should not conflict with that image.

  • Be consistent across all your slides. This means using the same typeface and type size for all your titles, using consistent bullet styles throughout the presentation, using the same or similar background images on all slides, and having the company logo in the same place on each slide. The more consistent you are, the less work your audience has interpreting the formatting for each slide, so the more they’ll concentrate on your content.

  • However, don’t use the same layout on every slide. To help keep your audience interested, vary the layout from slide to slide: Title Only, Text and Title, Text and Content, Content Only, and so on.

  • For the typeface, use sans serif fonts (the ones without the little "feet" at the letter tips), such as Arial, Comic Sans MS, Microsoft Sans Serif, and Verdana. These typefaces are easier to read than serif typefaces (the ones with the little "feet") and are a much better choice than fancy, decorative typefaces, which are very difficult to decipher from a distance.

  • For the type size of your slide content, don’t use anything smaller than the default sizes. In particular, never use a type size smaller than 20 points because it will be nearly impossible for your audience to read. If your audience is older, or if you’re presenting in a large hall, consider using type sizes even larger than the PowerPoint defaults.

  • For maximum readability, there should be significant contrast between the text color and the slide’s background color. Dark text on a light background is best for overhead presentations; if you’ll be presenting using onscreen slides of 35mm slides, use light text on a dark background, instead. Finally, don’t use a background image unless it’s relatively faint and the text stands out well against it.

  • Always use the landscape (horizontal) orientation for your slides. The portrait (vertical) orientation reduces the available width, so each bullet point takes up more vertical space, which makes the slides look overcrowded.

  • Finally, and perhaps most important, design your slides so that they don’t include too much information. Each slide should have at most four or five main points; anything more than that and you’re guaranteed to lose your audience by making them work too hard.

Using the Slide Master to Get a Consistent Look

One of PowerPoint’s templates might be just right for your presentation. If so, great! Your presentation’s design will be one less thing to worry about on your way to an effective presentation. Often, however, a template is just right except for the background color or title alignment or font. Or perhaps you need the company’s logo to appear on each slide. Using the template as a starting point, you can make changes to the overall presentation so that it’s just right for your needs.

However, what do you do if your presentation already has a number of slides? Isn’t it a lot of work to change the background or alignment or font on every slide? Well, yes, it is. Fortunately, PowerPoint offers a much easier way: the Slide Master, which is available for every presentation. The Slide Master acts as a kind of "design center" for your presentation. The Slide Master’s typefaces, types sizes, bullet styles, colors, alignment options, line spacing, and more are used on each slide in your presentation. Not only that, but any object you add to the Slide Master—a piece of clip art, a company logo, and so on—also appears in the same position on each slide.

Viewing and Editing the Slide Master

The beauty of the Slide Master is that any change you make to this one slide, PowerPoint propagates to all the slides in your presentation. Need to change the background color? Just change the background color of the Slide Master. Prefer a different type size for top-level items? Change the type size for the top-level item shown on the Slide Master.

Earlier, you saw how to use the Slide Master to modify the footer layout (see "Customizing the Footer Layout"). Here’s a review of the methods you can use to open the Slide Master, shown in Figure 3.9:

  • Select View, Master, Slide Master.

  • Hold down Shift and click the Slide Master View icon.

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 Each presentation comes with its own Slide Master, which acts as a "design center" for the slides.

With the Slide Master open, you can format the text, background, bullets, and colors as though you were working in a regular slide.

Using Multiple Slide Masters

Although having a consistent look among your slides should be a prime design goal for any knockout presentation, that doesn’t mean you have to use precisely the same formatting and design on every slide. Some of the most effective presentation designs I’ve seen are ones that apply a particular design to groups of related slides. Why would you need to do this? Here are some examples:

  • For a budget presentation, you might use a green color scheme on income-related slides and a red color scheme on expense-related slides.

  • In a presentation that includes both sensitive and nonsensitive material, you could add a "For Internal Use Only" graphic to the slides with sensitive material.

  • If your presentation has multiple authors, you might want to display the author’s name, signature, or picture on each of the slides he or she created.

This would seem to defeat the efficiency of the Slide Master, except that PowerPoint allows you to have more than one Slide Master in a presentation. You can then apply one of the Slide Masters to the appropriate slides, and any changes you make to that Slide Master will affect only those slides.

To create another slide master, you have two choices:

  • To create a default Slide Master, open the Slide Master view and then select Insert, New Slide Master (or press Ctrl+M).

  • To create a duplicate of an existing Slide Master, click the Slide Master and then select Insert, Duplicate Slide Master. This technique is useful if your new Slide Master is similar to an existing Slide Master. By duplicating it and then tweaking the new Slide Master as required, you avoid having to create the new Slide Master from scratch.

When you display the Slide Design task pane (select Format, Slide Design), you see in the top part of the pane a section titled Used in This Presentation. This section includes the Slide Masters that you created. To apply one of these Slide Masters, select the slides you want to work with and then click the Slide Master.

Ensuring Good and Consistent Design

Despite your best efforts to follow design guidelines and ensure a consistent look throughout your presentation, you may make a design faux pas or two. These things happen to the best of us. To help you avoid or catch these small mistakes, you can enable PowerPoint’s style checker. This feature works something like a spelling or grammar checker—it examines your presentation and looks for style errors and inconsistencies:

  • Inconsistent use of uppercase and lowercase letters in title and body text.

  • Inconsistent use of "end" punctuation, such as not having a period at the end of each paragraph.

  • Using too many fonts.

  • Using title or body type sizes that are too small.

  • Using too many bullets on a single slide.

  • Using too many lines in titles or bullets.

This is a list of many small things that contribute mightily to the large goal of consistent and proper design that is the trademark of any knockout presentation.

To turn on style checking and customize its options, follow these steps:

  1. Select Tools, Options.

  2. In the Spelling and Style tab, activate the Check Style check box.

  3. Click Style Options to display the Style Options dialog box, shown in Figure 3.10.

  4. Figure 3.10

    Figure 3.10 In the Style Options dialog box, use the Case and End Punctuation tab to check for uppercase and lowercase letter style and the punctuation used to end paragraphs.

  5. Use the lists in the Case group to determine the style of uppercase and lowercase letters to use in slide titles and body text.

  6. Use the lists in the End Punctuation group to specify whether title and body paragraphs use punctuation (such as a period) at the end. If you choose Paragraphs Have Consistent Punctuation in either list, and you end your paragraphs with a character other than a period, enter that character in either the Slide Title or Body Text text box.

  7. Select the Visual Clarity tab, shown in Figure 3.11.

  8. Figure 3.11

    Figure 3.11 In the Style Options dialog box, use the Visual Clarity tab to set limits on the fonts, text sizes, bullets, and lines used in your presentation.

  9. Use the controls in the Fonts group to set the maximum number of fonts and the minimum type size for titles and body text.

  10. Use the controls in the Legibility group to set maximum values for bullets, lines per title, and lines per bullet.

  11. Click OK.

Creating a Custom Color Scheme

If you want to avoid the drudgery of getting your text, line, background, and fill colors to match, PowerPoint comes with a dozen predefined color schemes that do the hard work for you. To select a color scheme, click Slide Design, Color Schemes in the Task pane, and then click the color scheme you want (see Figure 3.12).

Figure 3.12

Figure 3.12 Select Slide Design, Color Schemes in the Task pane to see PowerPoint’s predefined color schemes.

If a particular color scheme isn’t quite right for your needs, or if you want to create a color scheme to match your company colors, you need to create a custom scheme. Follow these steps:

  1. If you want to base your custom color scheme on an existing design, click the color scheme in the Slide Design, Color Schemes pane.

  2. Click Edit Color Schemes. PowerPoint displays the Edit Color Scheme dialog box, shown in Figure 3.13.

  3. In the Scheme Colors group, click the slide object you want to work with.

  4. Click Change Color to display a color dialog box. (The dialog box that appears depends on the object you’re working with.)

  5. Choose your color and then click OK.

  6. Repeats steps 3–5 to modify the colors of the other slide objects, as needed.

  7. If you want your custom scheme to appear in the Slide Design, Color Schemes pane, click Add as Standard Scheme.

  8. Click Apply to apply the color scheme to your presentation.

Figure 3.13

Figure 3.13 Use the Edit Color Scheme dialog box to create your own custom color scheme.

Replacing Fonts

I mentioned earlier that it’s an important design guideline to use typefaces consistently throughout your presentation. Sometimes, however, typefaces can become inconsistent. For example, you might insert some slides from another presentation that uses a different font; you might collaborate on a presentation and the other person might use some other typeface; or you might start using Verdana or Helvetica instead of Arial.

Whatever the reason, going through the entire presentation and replacing the wrong fonts with the correct ones isn’t why they’re paying you the big bucks. Fortunately, you can avoid this drudgery by using PowerPoint’s Replace Font feature. Here’s how it works:

  1. Select Format, Replace Fonts. The Replace Font dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 3.14.

  2. Figure 3.14

    Figure 3.14 Use the Replace Font feature to replace all instances of one typeface with another.

  3. Use the Replace list to select the typeface you want to replace.

  4. Use the With list to select the typeface to use as the replacement.

  5. Click Replace.

  6. If you have other typefaces you want to replace, follow steps 2–4 for each one.

  7. Click Close.

Changing a Picture’s Colors

It’s a common source of presentation frustration: you find the perfect piece of clip art for a slide, but the picture’s colors don’t go with your color scheme. Rather than rejecting the picture outright, you can use PowerPoint’s Recolor feature, which enables you to change one or more of the picture’s colors for something more complementary to your presentation design. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Click the picture.

  2. In the Picture toolbar, click Recolor Picture. (Alternatively, double-click the picture, select the Picture tab, and then click Recolor.) The Recolor Picture dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 3.15.

  3. Figure 3.15

    Figure 3.15 Use the Recolor Picture feature to change a picture’s colors to ones more suitable to your presentation’s color scheme.

  4. In the Original column, click the color you want to change.

  5. In the New column, click the list beside the color you chose in step 3 and click the new color you want.

  6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 to change any other colors you need.

  7. Click OK.

Some AutoShape Tricks

PowerPoint’s AutoShapes are handy objects that can add design flair to a presentation without getting in the way of the content. If you use AutoShapes frequently, the next few sections present some tips that you should find useful.

Drawing Circles and Squares

To draw a perfect circle instead of an oval, click the Oval tool, hold down Shift, and then draw the shape. To draw a perfect square instead of a rectangle, click the Rectangle tool, hold down Shift, and then draw the shape.

Drawing Shapes Quickly

Rather than clicking a shape tool and then drawing the tool on your slide, PowerPoint offers a faster way to get a default shape: hold down Ctrl and click the shape tool. PowerPoint adds a default shape in the center of the slide. You can then move, size, and format the shape as needed. You can also hold down Ctrl and Shift and then click Oval or Rectangle to get a quick circle or square.

Setting the Default Formatting for an AutoShape

If you find yourself constantly applying the same fills, line or arrow styles, or colors to a specific AutoShape, you can set that formatting as the default for the shape. There are two ways to do this:

  • In the Format AutoShape dialog box, select the Colors and Lines tab, choose the formatting options, and activate the Default for New Objects check box.

  • In the slide, right-click the shape and then click Set AutoShape Defaults.

Copying Object Formatting

If you want to copy the formatting from one shape to another, the easiest method is to click the shape with the formatting, click the Format Painter tool, and then click the other object. To apply the formatting to multiple objects, double-click the Format Painter tool, click each object, and then click the Format Painter tool to deactivate it.

That works well enough, but PowerPoint also has a tool that "remembers" an object’s formatting indefinitely, which is handy if you want to apply a particular shape’s formatting to different objects over time. Select View, Toolbars, Customize, select the Commands tab, and then click Format in the Categories list. Drag the following tools to a toolbar:

    Pick Up Object Style—Click an object and then click the icon to have PowerPoint "remember" the formatting of the object.

    Apply Object Style—Click an object and then click the icon to apply the "remembered" formatting to the object.

Duplicating Shapes at Evenly Spaced Intervals

You can create effective designs by duplicating a particular shape multiple times. Although it’s not hard to copy a shape (hold down Ctrl and drag the shape), it’s quite difficult to get the same distance between the duplicates. Happily, PowerPoint can do this for you. Click the shape and press Ctrl+D to create the first duplicate. Use your mouse to drag the duplicate to the correct position. This tells PowerPoint how far away you want each duplicate and in which direction. Press Ctrl+D again and PowerPoint creates a third shape that uses the same spacing as the second. Keep pressing Ctrl+D to create more duplicates, as shown in Figure 3.16.

Figure 3.16

Figure 3.16 After you establish the spacing between the first and second shapes, press Ctrl+D to create duplicates with the same spacing.

Setting the Default Font for Shape Text

By default, PowerPoint uses 18-point Arial for the text you type in a shape. You can format the text in a specific shape, but what if you want all your shapes to use the same font? You can set this default font by first clicking any shape that includes text. (If you don’t want to apply the new font formatting to an existing shape, click an empty section of any slide so that no placeholder or object is selected.) Then select Format, Font, and make your choices in the Font dialog box. Activate the Default for New Objects check box and click OK.

Wrapping Text Within a Shape

If you want to display a shape such as an oval or rectangle with text inside, you don’t need a separate text box. Instead, draw your shape and then type the text. PowerPoint automatically centers the text within the shape. To prevent the text from spilling over the shape borders, right-click the shape and then select Format AutoShape. Select the Text Box tab and activate the Word Wrap Text in AutoShape check box. If you prefer that the shape expand to accommodate the text, activate the Resize AutoShape to Fit Text check box.

Hiding Slide Master Shapes in a Slide

If you add a shape to the Slide Master, it will appear on all the presentation’s slides. If there is a particular slide in which you don’t want the shape to appear, you can hide it. First, right-click the shape, and then click Format AutoShape. In the Colors and Lines tab, pull down the Color list in the Fill group and select the Background option. This gives the shape the same background as the portion of the slide background that lies underneath the shape. You should also pull down the Color list in the Line group and select No Line.

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