October 23, 2012

Prettier PowerPoints: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

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June 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 4| Page 24

Tips & Tricks

Prettier PowerPoints: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

PowerPoint is much maligned as a poor presentation tool. But when it comes to dull and boring slides, most of us can generally agree that the blame lies more with the presenter than with the tool. Too many presenters forget that variety is the spice of life.

Few things will put you to sleep faster than a PowerPoint presentation with an endless stream of monotonous, identical-looking slides full of nothing but tedious text in a barrage of bullet points. Snooozze… Although the fact is that the other commonly used presentation programs—Keynote, Presentations and the open-source Impress—can all be equally effective in sending you off for a pleasant catnap.

So then, what do you do to liven things up a bit and make sure your audience stays awake? You make your slides more interesting and memorable, of course. Here’s what you need to know to add some color and variety to your slides with clip art and photos.

Going Artsy with Free Images

There are thousands of sites on the Internet that offer free and for-pay clip art, but many force you to deal with loads of pop-ups and advertising. Don’t bother with them! Your first and only stop—and the absolute best online source for free clip art, photos, animations and sounds—should be the Microsoft Office Online Clip Art and Media page. It has thousands of free image and media files, all easily searchable by keyword and topics. Many of the photos are of professional quality.

The licensing agreement for the site provides that as long as you don’t sell the images, you can freely use them as you wish without having to worry about copyright or royalties. You can find this treasure at http://office.micro soft.com/clipart. Or, if you want to see other online options in the bargain, just type “online clipart” into Google.


Resizing Photos to Suit Your Slides

So you’ve found some great images for your presentation. When you drop a photo or clip art graphic onto a slide, though, it likely won’t be the right size or in the right location at first. This is easy to fix.

To resize an image, you want to drag and drop the edge on a side or at a -corner. To do that, take the following steps:

1. Left-click anywhere on the image.

2. Place the cursor over the border, then left-click and hold.

3. Move the mouse to resize the image as desired.

4. Then release the mouse button.

If you want to keep everything in the image in the same proportion, remember to drag and drop a corner. Moving a side or the top or bottom will re-proportion or distort the image.


A Little to the Right, Please

Now that you have the image the size you want, you need to place it nicely on the slide relative to text and other slide elements. You can easily move a photo or a piece of clip art around a slide by dragging and dropping it. But to better play with the options and see how a slide will look, I prefer left-clicking on a graphic and nudging it around in tiny steps with the cursor keys.

Note that you can nudge multiple graphics around in the same way, after first selecting them by dragging a box around them, or by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on each you want to move.

Remember to mix it up a bit, too. Don’t always place your clip art in the same place on your slides. Put an image to the left of text on one slide, for example, and to the right of text for the following slide. Remember also that you can resize and move the edges or corners of the text boxes in the same way you resize a graphic.


A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

In an effort to be different and more intriguing, some people create PowerPoint presentations that consist of only clip art or photo images—with no text used on any slides. I think this works for some types of presentations (such as open-ended discussions or brainstorming sessions), but generally I think it’s preferable to give people slides full of content so they have something to take away. A bonus to presenters is that they can use the content on the slides to prompt their comments. Usually this is better than looking at separate speaking notes, which can be a distracting crutch, for both you and the audience.

However, for transitions between topics, or a humorous interlude at appropriate points within a presentation, a slide with only an image or photo can be just the perfect touch (sometimes with a little text on it, and sometimes not). And to have a bit more fun and break things up, whenever I include a humorous slide I don’t put it in the audience’s handout—that would ruin the surprise.


Getting Rid of Background Graphics

When you have a slide that has only a photo or a clip art image on it, for the sake of simplicity you’ll sometimes want to remove the various graphical elements from the slide master. To do this, right-click on an empty area of the slide, select Background, and then check the Omit Background Graphics From Master box.

To really make those transition and humorous slides stand out, I usually also change the background color of the slide. You do this in the same dialog box.

Note that in the same dialog box you can also easily change the colors in a clip art graphic. Just click on the Recolor button. This is very handy if the colors in the clip art are similar to your slide background color and you want the image to have more contrast.


Compressing for Smaller File Sizes

Adding photos to a presentation can work wonders—but it can also leave you with a PowerPoint that has an absolutely massive file size. This can make the file slower to load, and impossible to e-mail to someone. Remember that a much lower resolution is required for the purposes of projecting on a screen or printing a PowerPoint, at 96 dpi and 200 dpi, respectively.

To reduce file size, right-click on a graphic, select Format picture, and then hit the Compress button. You can compress a single picture, or you can compress all the clip art and photos in an entire presentation.

So now that you have more PowerPoint know-how, no snoozing allowed, okay? Try to add some variety and color to the slides in your next presentation. Your audience will really appreciate the effort.

About the Author

Dan Pinnington helps lawyers avoid malpractice claims and looks for good tech tips in Toronto, ON. He is an editor of the Law Practice Today Webzine.