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How-to: Making your Powerpoint presentation have more impact.

Posted by Brandon Hess on
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For many, creating a Powerpoint presentation is at the bottom of a long list of things we'd rather be doing, falling somewhere between preparing taxes and being attacked by a Honey Badger.  Because of that, many webinar presentations end up looking like this:

A basic Powerpoint presentation slide

Its layout is simple, it provides data in a bullet-list fashion, has incredible clip-art and more importantly, uses Comic Sans.  However, if you've been on the audience side of a presentation (virtually via a webinar or in person) using slides like the above example, then you know the problem: the information while at its core is exciting (2012 Marketing Goals, 70% increase in Webinar traffic, etc)  but these messages are often buried in text that, while important, isn't usually the key message the presenter is trying to convey.


To give an example of how you can make your PowerPoint presentation more visually attractive while maintaining your message, I wanted to start with a simple guide on some PowerPoint basics to showcase what you can do with PowerPoint if you know some simple tricks. Through future posts, I'll show more complicated tricks in regard to laying out more complex information, but to start, I wanted to showcase some simple and easy tips with the assumption that if you're reading this, you've used PowerPoint to some degree in the past.

Below, I'll show you how you can take the above slide and split it into a title slide using Microsoft PowerPoint 2010.

Final Powerpoint presentation slide

Finding a relevant background image.


Creating a presentation with visual impact isn't just about using fancy background images. Your slide should speak in simple terms, through both written content and imagery. This doesn't mean that your images have to beat your audience over the head with obvious imagery to match your text. A slide about Dog Ownership with a background image of a chewed-up remote communicates a different message than one with a background image full of adorable puppies.

The goal, when finding a suitable background image, is to find one that both speaks to your slides message and  is simple and clean, providing an obvious area where your text or data can be placed in a legible fashion.

As we're looking to make a title slide for ACME's 2012 Marketing goals, I decided to go with a stock image purchased from iStockphoto of a dartboard with a large dark gradient background that provides ample room for text. As well, it being a dartboard makes me look incredibly clever.

Dartboard image care of iStockPhoto

Cropping and positioning.


Once you've decided on a background image, import your image by:

  • Selecting the Insert tab.

  • Click on Picture.

Position your background image on your slide, keeping in mind its relation to the PowerPoint slide frame below it. In this example, I made sure my stock Dartboard image would cover the entire slide so that I'd have some liberties in regards to positioning and how far in I zoomed my image. Depending on the size of your background image, you may need to spend some time scaling your image until you find a suitable size that makes the full use of your available slide-canvas. (Presentation Zen has a great article on using the Rule of Thirds in your image positioning ).


Once you've determined your layout, you'll want to crop your background image to remove any overlap of your image. To crop your image:

  • Click on your background image.

  • Select the Format tab.

  • Under Size, click Crop.

  • Grab the Crop Handles that appear around the edges of your background image.

  • Crop your borders until they snap to the slide canvas in the background.

  • Once satisfied with your adjustments, click Crop to finish.


Cropping a background image in Powerpoint

Tip: Cropped background images can quickly make your PowerPoint file become bloated in terms of file-size based on how PowerPoint crops images. PowerPoint allows you to compress your presentation file to help reduce its size which becomes especially crucial if you need to email your finished presentation. To compress your images:



  • Click on the Format tab

  • Under Adjust, click on Compress Pictures



Compressing Pictures in Powerpoint



Text formatting and layout.

The trick to creating a powerful slide is to resist the urge to data-dump. As in this guide, we're just making a title slide, this may seem less an issue but you'd be surprised in how often people feel pressure to over-inform. Keep your text simple and to the point so your audience will focus on the message of the webinar, not digesting a page of text.



When creating your text layed over a background image, you'll want to pay close attention to contrast. Obvious examples to avoid are  white text/white backgrounds but also keep in mind that depending on your background, the busier the background, the harder it will be to find both a size and color that allows your text to be legible as well as pleasing to the eye.

As my Dartboard background has a dark blue area, I went with the Tahoma typeface using a white font color.

Inserting text into Powerpoint slides

Alternating layouts often gets overlooked when entering text. Usually, its easier to  use a large text box and enter your text in at the same size and move on. However, if you have the time, providing slight alterations in size, emphasis (bolding, italics) and colors can help with making a slide more engaging in terms of design.


PowerPoint also has some helpful layout features that make on-the-fly alignment easier. In the below example, I added a second text-box with Tahoma at a smaller size, dragging the text box until it aligns with the 2012 above it correctly, using the auto-align guides in PowerPoint to help.

Lining up text in Powerpoint

Something you may have noticed in PowerPoint is that text can be oddly spaced when entered by default. To combat this, PowerPoint has a spacing option under the Home tab that gives a set of quick spacing pre-sets that can help when your text spacing just doesn't seem right.


Text spacing in Powerpoint

Breaking up your text using shapes. To break up the text, I decided to add a background rectangle below 2012 Marketing Goals where I wanted to place the name of Company and Team giving the presentation.



Creating a rectangle in Powerpoint

However, I wanted to make the background rectangle subtle and instead of using a stark white background, PowerPoint allows you to adjust the transparancy (opacity) of a shape using the Format Shape menu. To format your the transparancy of a shape:



  • Right click on your shape.

  • Select Format Shape from the menu.

  • Under Fill, adjust the Transparency slider to the % desired.

  • Click Ok.



Formatting the transparency of a shape in Powerpoint

Layering in PowerPoint.



Something to keep in mind with PowerPoint is that items added to your slide (images, text, shapes, etc) exist in a certain layer order. Because of this, a shape added after text can mean that the shape itself, even if opaque, will sit on top of your text. While not always an issue, if your background shape is transparent white, it can dull the text below it by overlapping colors. In PowerPoint (versus programs like Photoshop), adjusting the layer position of a selected item exists through sending an item forward or backward. To send your background rectangle backward:

  • Right click on your shape.

  • Select Send to Back.

  • Select Send Backward.

  • Repeat this process until the shape or item is in the layer position you desire.


Send Backward in Powerpoint

Sizing to match.



While you can enter text into a shape, I prefer to separate my elements in case I decide at a later time that I want to change a specific element (ex: Deleting a background shape, adding more text, etc). This allows your elements to act independantly which can save frustration down the road.

Text over transparent shape in Powerpoint

Final thoughts.


While of course, I only covered taking a busy slide and separating a part of into a title slide, the same practices shown above can be used to create additional slides from our original. Again, the key take-away should be identifying the key message in your slide and making it prominent and simple. Below is an example of taking our original slide and one of the powerful statistics mentioned (70% increase in Webinar attendance) and making it a prominent message not buried in text. The below example was created using the same tricks above but shows that often, with PowerPoint presentations, less is often more.

Statistics slide in Powerpoint




Brandon Hess works at ReadyTalk as a Product Marketing Manager.  Starting his initial career as a web designer, Brandon eventually decided that the web could design itself just fine and that his true interest was in marketing. Following his passion through the agency, startup and newspaper industries, he eventually found his way home inside the wonderful walls of ReadyTalk.  In his free time, he enjoys debating why Lord of the Rings is superior to Harry Potter, collecting all things Batman and answering questions about his height (6'8" by the way).

Name: Quora
Time: Thursday, February 16, 2012

How do I make PowerPoint slides look elegant and designy?... One of the tips we give our customers is to keep it simple. Some times it makes sense to make a slide for each bullet rather than one slide with a bulleted list. You might be interested in this blog post:

Name: ReadyTalk Blog » Blog Archive » Take A
Time: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

[...] marketing manager like me, with a deep respect for all things Batman, kicked off a series on making your PowerPoint presentation more impactful. The most important goal of any PowerPoint presentation should be to get your key message across, [...]

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