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POWERPOINT

PRESENTATIONS
still

WHY MOST

SUCK
second edition

& HOW YOU CAN
MAKE THEM EVEN BETTER

RICK ALTMAN

Enjoy this free excerpt
If you’d like to read the rest of the book, visit www.betterppt.com/the-book

Your message is more important than your slides. the principles in this chapter are the low-hanging fruit of Part 3: easily understood and easily implemented. This is written for the non-designer.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 18 e have chosen the order of the chapters in Part 3 with purpose: we think presentation design is more important than slide design. You are the presentation. W . You won’t need a degree in the arts to follow or recreate any of them and none of the makeovers here will intimidate you. and focusing on the structure of your presentation is a better investment than focusing on how your slides look. remember? Your slides are secondary. That said.

while you still have time to adjust your slides. Hmm. When people in the back of the room start getting out of their seats and walking forward. (For example. who has worked out some way-cool math: Measure the diagonal length of your computer screen. Yet many. If you suspect that your meeting room is unconventional in some way. probably can’t be seen from the back of the room. if you are in the mid-30s for your headlines and the mid20s for your text. it means I have to go with 44 pt type for the body of my slides. if you use a 21-inch monitor. I also like Guy Kawasaki’s formula: Determine the age of the oldest person in the audience. I’ll defer to my friend Nancy Duarte. that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve blown it with your typesizes. On choosing a correct typesize.if my father is in attendance.. Use a tape measure to place a marker of some sort the number of feet away that corresponds to the size of your screen. Divide that age by two and use that as your minimum typesize. They typically expose a funamental lack of understanding of one of the most important elements in graphic design: White space Empty space Negative space It goes by several names and it is every bit as important to slide design as the elements that go in the space. there is no substitute for scoping it out in advance.... content creators disregard it. you’re going to be fine in most situations. place a marker 21 feet away. In general. perhaps most.186 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck Bigger Isn’t Better? There is no shortage of empirical data to indicate when a presentation content creator has created elements that are too small. if necessary. but I am more interested in the opposite condition: type and other elements that are too big. .) Start your slide show— whatever you cannot see from behind your marker. I don’t mean to be dismissive here.

the photo.. “I picked the point size that would allow it to go all the way from one side of the slide to the other. This slide lacks focus and loses impact because all of the elements compete for your attention. Instead. We see this more often than we see elements that are too small.. because there was little that invited you in to read the three points of the slide. the text.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 187 Figure 18. In fact. maybe you didn’t conclude that corrosives are yucky. They are all too large and too shoved up to the top. “How did you choose the size of that title?” I regularly encounter the answer.. What is the first thing that stands out about this slide. I will change none of those components. There is too much competition for your attention. Watch what happens when I do. . Part Three: Design Figure 18. or the tenor of the words themselves.1 has been an example in my Design for the Non-Designer workshop for several years now. and the photo a bit smaller.” © Before you turn the page to see the makeover. To the question. Your eye does not know where to go.1 This top-heavy slide suffers from elements that are all too big. I will simply make the title. I want to point out that I am not passing judgment on the slide background.nothing.. other than the fact that corrosive substances sound really yucky? That’s right.

2 By making each element smaller. Isn’t it amazing how much more prominent the title becomes when reduced in size by almost half (54 pt down to 32) and allowed to swim in all of that space? It’s the space around the title that allows it to stand out. but my arbitrary rules for this exercise forbid it. When set smaller and allowed to have its line spacing opened up. it becomes more prominent. therefore not inviting the audience in properly. I just created more white space by making the elements smaller. Line spacing is not allocated consistently through the main content. we need to “chunk” this slide better. the text is more inviting.3 is another example of a slide that lacks focus and definition. Moreover. As for the line below the title. Let’s create three distinct chunks of text elements and allocate the space accordingly. it balances better with the text. when set smaller.4 shows the value of bringing related elements into proximity and creating space between each chunk of elements. That’s all. Figure 18. Your eye sees separate disconnected elements on this slide.188 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck Figure 18. each one competing for your attention or being overlooked and disregarded. Figure 18. I didn’t do anything magical or complicated (the faded line was as advanced as I got). Now it is obvious . So I set it to fade to white as it traverses across. and the tagline at the bottom almost runs into the nicely-designed but completely overpowered logo. For instance. not less. I might normally remove it altogether. In order for it to make a better invitation. can you tell us whether the second line of text belongs to the title or to the bullets? We can’t either—it’s been made into an orphan. I suspect that every one of our readers will recognize the second slide as friendlier and easier to digest. While the value of the photo is not completely obvious.

the question is often whether you can make that case to the brass. And once again. Nothing that you couldn’t do with your own slides. Part Three: Design Figure 18.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 189 Figure 18.3 This text does not do a good job of inviting you in because its elements are scattered down the slide. You just need to become more aware of the space around elements and how that space helps define them. that the second line is a subhead. Our international editor Chantal Bossé raises an excellent point here: should this logo appear here at all? Should logos appear on every slide of a deck. or just on title and ending slides? You could make a very strong case for removing logos from interior slides entirely. Once again. making everything smaller helps. and the tagline has been integrated with the logo. the bulleted text has equal space in and around them. .4 Better chunking of elements creates a better welcome mat for the audience. no rocket science performed here.

That creates unique challenges for us. It uses Figure 18. well. or other vagueries of the print medium. Their audiences either sit dozens of feet away from the text. this slide looks great. Pick a typeface.5 is a slide from one of my standard introductions. Presentation designers have no such comfort zone with their text. as with webmasters. preparing slides for a presentation is easier than creating and printing a color brochure or publication.190 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck About Face In most cases. If the text is a bit too small. and they can be confident that their readers will see the type as it was intended. print designers can choose from thousands of typefaces for a given job.. Presentation content creators. that’s what reading glasses are for. in which case it’s anyone’s guess whether the typeface chosen by the author will appear as intended. in which I whine and complain about the topic of the previous chapter.. We slide jockeys don’t have to worry about color separations. or they are reading it on their own computer screen. Any likelihood that you might distribute your slides electronically will profoundly influence your decisions. . are forced to cede a signficant degree of control over their product to their audience. trapping.. Figure 18.5 When I can count on the Eras typefaces. RGB conversions.as long as it’s Arial The first question that you must address before choosing a presentation typeface is how well-traveled your slide deck might become. On the other hand..

6 provides the answer. Part Three: Design I could try embedding the typeface. In particular n The URL at the top is both left-aligned to the title and properly centered in its space. probably Arial. n n If I were to send the slide deck to you. this slide looks exactly as I intend. the title breaks over onto three lines. Figure 18. with nagging dialog boxes about what you can and cannot do with embedded typefaces. Suddenly. The bullet copy is well-distributed.. Eras.. with all of the Eras faces installed. with nice line breaks.. the URL at the top is no longer centered.but on someone else’s computer. These warnings have freaked out enough of my clients that I now know not to go down that road. The title fits comfortably on two lines. what would happen to my meticulous preparation of this slide? Figure 18. And then my text looks like everyone else’s. and that typeface-swapping could be hazardous to my career. . however..6 . Windows will substitute another typeface. but that creates other potential problems on your end. and when I run the slide show from my own notebook. If you do not own Eras.. I revert to a lower common denominator: I use a typeface that I know everyone owns. and worse.but at least I avoid the nasty surprises that you see here.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 191 one of my preferred type families. assuming I am allowed to.. if I have to distribute a slide deck.yawn. another face might be used in its place. No. and that could spell curtains for my design. the care I took on the fourth bullet to create an even break becomes a disaster.

While you won’t see it at sizes like this. like Arial. The other quality of sans serif typefaces is their uniformity of width. Serif typefaces. like Times New Roman.. That won’t happen with a sans serif face. Of curlycues and stick figures Most of our readers understand the difference between serif and sans serif typefaces. But those uniform widths of the sans serif letters ensure that they will project prominently.and that is why the second statement above is also true. Text on a computer or projection screen is of a much lower resolution than the fine ink or toner used for print. Most of you know that the serifs on a typeface. the serifs get in the way and actually decrease readability. sans serif typefaces (“sans” means without) are easier to read. Sans serif typefaces..7. Serifs guide the eye from one letter to the next. like the ones in the first string of text in Figure 18. The exact opposite is true with text that is displayed or projected onto a screen. Type purists would argue that they are less distinctive and interesting. increasing readability in newspapers and magazines. For screen work.7 How can both of these statements be true? It all depends upon the medium. are the cute little feet and hats on many of the letters. At lower resolutions and with less-than-optimal lighting. the thin strokes of the “w” and the “e” above might disappear altogether. That is why the first of the two statements above is true.192 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck Figure 18. in smaller sizes and with older projectors. are better for reading text. and they might very well be right: PowerPoint Garamond (serif) Arial (sans serif) The first five letters above certainly have more character. . are better for reading text.

If you are designing a slide show for distribution. Better to pick one typeface and stick with it throughout. Otherwise.. but you can’t count on it with Windows XP and Office 2003 users. Any questions. n Consider a serif face if you know that all of your copy will be above 24 pt and you have good contrast between text and background.. Too bad. Most Mac computers will have the first six.? .Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 193 Experienced designers could successfully mix and match—using sans serf for all main content and a serif face for larger headlines—but most of us would just get into trouble if we tried. then you would be well-advised to choose a face that you can confidently predict a majority of your recipients will own. if you are designing a slide show to be played on just one computer. Here is one last piece of advice about type: not Don’t say don't when you mean don’t. © To review.. pick a sans serif face. you can pick any typeface that it has.it’s the nicest one of the bunch. n Here are ones that you can count on to be present on most computers: Arial Tahoma We expect strong fourth quarter results We expect strong fourth quarter results Century Gothic We expect strong fourth quarter results Lucida Sans Trebuchet Verdana Calibri We expect strong fourth quarter results Part Three: Design We expect strong fourth quarter results We expect strong fourth quarter results We expect strong fourth quarter results Users of Windows Vista or Office 2007 will all have Calibri. typeface swapping that might occur could affect your layouts. And because it sets much tighter than the rest..

” Now there’s an answer I can relate to! It also explains why so many charts are created with opaque backgrounds and unncecessary lines and tick marks. They are usually misused. projected out 20 years. I feel your pain. It’s just too much $%&#@ trouble figuring out how to get rid of them. abused. and elevated in importance beyond all reason.8 represents this syndrome quite well. I’m sure you could make some argument for doing it that way. The software engine for them is terrible. we just decided to leave it this way. Therefore. “We wanted to change it. The first thing I noticed about the chart when I was brought in to work on this slide deck was the chronology running opposite to intuition: the year 2030 at the top and 2007 at the bottom. but it doesn’t particularly inspire me any more than the terrible one that plagued previous versions. and one last thing. Tell us what you really think comes to mind as an appropriate response to all of that. apart from the content that relates to them. Figure 18. most charts create the impression that they are separate entities onto themselves. they’re ugly. . An otherwise welldesigned and clean slide completely lost its way when its creators at the Port of Long Beach felt compelled to create a chart to show the annual traffic patterns. I’ll also tell you that I have no real interest in teaching anyone how to create a chart or a graph. often relegated to their own slides. You enter some weird chart-engine mode in order to work on them and that usually leaves them seemingly disconnected from the other slide elements. The one in Office 2007 is much improved. but I really appreciated the response of my client when I asked why they did. The problem with most charts is that they usually end up being isolated from the rest of the slide. To those who must create charts on a daily basis. And the best way I know how to help assuage some of that pain is to help you recognize instances when you can avoid using them. As long as I’m indulging in full disclosure. It threatens to undermine any integrity I might have on this subject: I do not like charts and graphs. but it was so much trouble.194 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck No Chart is an Island I need to confess to a bias before we go any further in this section. The world doesn’t need any more of them and I can offer no real insight into how to use Microsoft’s charting engine.

sales are up over last year—let’s create a graph to show that.8 All too often... and ellipses that anyone reading these pages could create. You are trying to show how one thing measures against another. Part Three: Design Much of the time—I would argue most of the time—the only real value of a chart is to show relative values of a particular commodity.. charts become isolated little bubbles onto themselves. Do you really need a full-blown chart to show you that? Turning to the chart engine is a knee-jerk reaction.. easier to animate.9 These rectangles and ellipses do just as good of a job. Just the fact that it has Figure 18.9 shows a very simple grouping of text. rectangles.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 195 Figure 18. and easier on the eyes. are easier to create. Resist! There are better ways to show relative values than an ugly chart! Figure 18. .

A professional designer could create something wonderful with opportunities. and other graphic elements from smartdraw. everyone will grasp the impact of the relative values that you are intending to show. graphs. when I do have to create an actual chart of some sort. primitives. and starter elements. Figure 18. and it is so much easier to color coordinate and to animate. they’re just a bunch of shapes. however. I concede that it does not contain live data. While I try to avoid them whenever I can. I am nothing more than a one-trick pony when it comes to charts: I just create rectangles and drop ellipses on top of them when I want to visually show comparative data.” and you should be. . Most of the time.196 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck no backround serves to integrate it better with its surrounding environment. you can’t link this back to an Excel worksheet. you get an almost-dizzying collection of templates. But that is the only concession I am willing to make—a non-chart chart enjoys myriad of advantages over a Microsoft-style chart. When you buy the product. too.com’s ability to import chart elements into PowerPoint. Figure 18. I will turn first to my library of charts. The charting engine is friendlier and more sophisticated.com. and it integrates nicely with PowerPoint.10 was created in a fraction of the time that it would have required of me had I used just PowerPoint.ppt to see how simple a chart can really be. I am content to create something that does not look so “charty.10 Creating this whimsical chart was made simple by smartdraw. t Download 1808. Your audience won’t care if one of them is off by a few pixels.

and the specter of slower drive times. The key is the telling of this story all at once: an ugly rushhour scene. Do we really need two slides to tell this story? Shouldn’t the number of people and the speed be shown together? I also wanted to shift more of the job of telling this story to the presenter. but I wanted to see if we could integrate these two thoughts a bit better. ugly snarl of traffic. and draws the important conclusion: you will be driving slower. gradually zooms out to reveal a huge. I really liked where the Association was was going with this. These shapes wipe from the right to simulate meters calculating their values. 1 In order to punctuate the point. the graphing of these values is utterly simple and unadorned.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 197 Measuring the Pain of Traffic When the Southern California Association of Governments sent us the slides for its 2008 Regional Transportation Plan. slower speeds. Atop that scene fades in the essential data—more traffic. 3 This slide requires 40 seconds of narration and is best understood by downloading it and running it. thanks to a shrink and a pan. Once again. 1 2 This slide uses the same photo. . the forecast of increased population. not the least of which is the forecast of population increase in the region. It starts with a very tight shot and. Part Three: Design 2 3 t Download 18-11.ppt to see this slide in action. the creators had the vertical text and its yellow arrowed background all fly in from off the screen. we recognized several important and impactful points to be made. cropped differently.

create boxes around headlines. and sending it to the printer by issuing a Copy command from the DOS prompt. if you want to emphasize the fact that all ingredients are fresh and you’ve already played your bold card. and we only had about six typesizes available. And so how do we create emphasis today? . To any of you still wondering.. I could also drop a screen behind type. and Symbol) that was too expensive to buy (about $7. a bunch of us editors were playing footsie with our typesetters. All of the type is bold except for the address and phone. In fact.) I was at a CopyMat. underline. all caps.. We have unprecedented capability to deliver a message to one person or one million people. gray tones looked horrible.So Is That. we had cars back then).000).. illustrated exquisitely by one of my restaurant ads in Figure 18..12. all caps and an exclamation mark—what else was there to do with the equipment at the time and the design sense of its user? Fast forward 24 years. (Did I ever tell you that I actually invented desktop publishing? Well. Nobody there had ever heard of the software I was using (Ventura Publisher. so I would create PCL files by sending my output to a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk (which really was floppy). Swiss. It was incredible that I could set type in boldface without having to mark it up on paper for our typesetters. There were four computers connected to it: three Apple IIs that looked like toys and one lowly PC clone stuffed in the corner with no applications on it. driving it to the CopyMat (yes. and underline. round the corners of rectangles. trying to figure out how to practice desktop publishing before it had a name.. Until that time.nobody still knows about it.. that’s for another book. We now have incredibly sophisticated software and instant output to the medium of our choice. and rounded rectangles. This was nothing short of a miracle for a young man who had cut his teeth on X-acto knives (sorry.198 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck This is Important. I had no capability for color. Unfortunately.. bad visual) and wax machines.and That Other Thing! I remember the first time I saw it. how do you make the tagline stand out? Of course.. what do you do? And after underlining and enboldening. a 300-dpi printer with four typefaces built in (Dutch. I did it.. I’m not exactly Gen X or Y. So how did I create emphasis? With a deft combination of boldface.and that too is for another book). renting time on an HP LaserJet IID. Courier.. It was 1985 and the term “desktop publishing” had just been coined.

Theory of relativity Emphasis is a question not only of degree. That will be an important undercurrent as we begin this part of the conversation. but of relativity. In short. The Green Shutter Homemade breads Hot breakfasts Fresh juices All fresh ingredients Nothing but THE BEST! Part Three: Design 22650 Main St • 510. you make it difficult to call attention to particular chunks of content. If you make everything bold.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 199 Figure 18. The makeeverything-bold compulsion is a first cousin. The role of your slides is subordinate to your role.555. I was pretty good at centering—you’d have to give me that. we create it as badly as I did back in 1985. This phenomenon is not far removed from the one that we have already spoken about—when you make everything big.12 How clueless was our lead author back in 1985? This clueless. I also want to remind you about the most important piece of advice that Part 3 offers.5555 In many cases. which I outlined on Page 163: you are the presentation. and together they conspire to send an audience a stupefying collection of jumbled messages. That notion was completely lost on me in 1985. and it remains a lost concept to many who create slides today. . you have made nothing bold. Something is only prominent by comparison to its surroundings.

they do not need to be set bold as they are prominent by their positioning on the slide. how ironic it is that the part that stands out to me are the few words set in normal weight. it is impossible to know. Figure 18. Figure 18. for instance.13 is a generic version of an actual client slide with all of its design elements removed.200 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck Figure 18. I want to be clear that we are not challenging the importance of the phrase that you might want to set bold. Our point is that if it is truly important. Set in bold instead are the key action words associated with each requirement. the phrases that are set in bold might be critically important. In Figure 18. As we survey this slide quickly we see n Bold and upper-case title Bold regulation number Bold introductory sentence with several job titles set in italic and underlined Bold copy n n n With all of that bold. and all bold removed from the main copy. The creator of this slide has made everything bold and so therefore nothing is bold.13 When everything is bold.14 is the result of a 10-minute makeover which includes very little text-editing. the regulation number moved to the top-right. The people responsible for compliance are listed at the bottom. Half of the intro sentence has been relocated at the bottom of the slide.15. Everything else is just noise—boldface has been so abused here as to become utterly meaningless. it deserves better treatment than . what is truly important? In this case.

By virtue of the fact that you are the most important part of the presentation. that’s your job! Create emphasis with your voice inflection.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 201 Figure 18. . Walk to the screen and touch the part of it that merits emphasis. you should do it with your voice and with your gestures.15 If certain words are worthy of highlighting. the presenter. Don’t pawn off that critical assignment onto your slides. Part Three: Design merely being set bold on the slide. There is no better way to highlight a passage of text than for you. That will carry more weight than a bit of bold on the slide.14 The bold on this slide is used judiciously and therefore has much more impact. Figure 18. to reference it directly. it is your responsibility to distinguish relative importance and deliver emphasis when warranted. visually and/or verbally.

try setting the passage in bold and with a sky blue fill or a soft gray. even in gray. Emphasize with understatement Recalling the discussion about eye fatigure and its insidious and negative effect on a presentation (see Page 44). I find that audiences respond better to it.202 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck Figure 18. With black text against a white background. The lighter color provides a softer contrast. and while you can’t see the soft blue on these pages.16 With text that is to be emphasized. The central element of the slide is undoubtedly the gigantic “15”—beyond that. if there is a time when you feel that a passage of projected text truly warrants highlighting. but the text still stands out. not louder. a slide for a webinar bemoaning the lack of training time that most people get with PowerPoint. try setting it bold but in a softer color. but they are not as potentially jarring as black bold might be. . Case in point—Figure 18.16. there are a few key words in each of the four statements. those words clearly stand out from the rest. consider using a color that is softer.

and the yellow box.. forms a nice intregrated unit. 1 Between the red title. you can now actually see the white space on this slide. The two remaining items in the list look better without their bullets.. Nice logo at the bottom and attractive strip at the top. it becomes immediately apparent that the first bullet should not be a bullet. the rule around the bullets. but they appear a bit isolated. As soon as that was done. 2 3 That first bullet functions much better as a subtitle and. those bullets are ugly..neither of which gets noticed in this slide’s current state.. the ornate arrows. an attendee sent in this slide for critique and it acutely reminded me of this issue of emphasis. 3 . the concluding text sticks out sorely.Chapter 18 Practical Strategies for Better Slide Design 203 Too Much Attention. And by removing the rule and the yellow box. not Enough Focus At a recent workshop. And with everything left-aligned. there is entirely too many elements competing for attention. with the title. 1 Part Three: Design 2 First step in our remodel is to move the title up to that strip where it belonged in the first place. And yes.

the arrows are more active and energetic than the equal sign.ppt to see the progression of this redesign. 4 5 Finally. the concluding text has much more impact. Opening up the space between them helps. they represent the relationship better. by punching up the text and using the bold-yet-softer technique. too. t Download 18-17. and arguably.204 Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck 4 At a minimum. 5 . I recommended to the author that it be set on a click and faded in toward the end of the discussion.