PowerPoint Plus – Part One: Themes and Things

Let’s start out with a simple one, shall we?  You may know that PowerPoint comes with lots of preconfigured themes, but did you know that you can customize the themes to better suit your personality and purpose? This post discusses how to select a PowerPoint theme and how to customize the colors and fonts of the selected theme.

Unless you’re presenting to an gathering of infants or aliens, the odds are that your audience members will have seen PowerPoint presentations in the past, so getting flashy with the animations and graphics won’t impress many people.  But that doesn’t mean that you want your presentation to consist of merely a white screen with black Arial font.  On the contrary, you’ll want your presentation to be unique.  This is where themes come into play.

When creating a PowerPoint presentation, the first thing you’ll want to do is select a theme.  Under the Design tab in PowerPoint 2010, there is a  wide variety of pre-configured themes available.  If none of the themes quite suit your needs, you can always visit Microsoft’s website and find a new theme.

Once you’ve selected a theme to work from, you can customize the color scheme by clicking on the “Colors” drop-down which can be found just to the right of the row of themes.

As you can see in the image on the right, there are plenty of preconfigured color schemes which can be applied to your presentation.  To apply a color scheme, just click on the color scheme you want to use and you’re done!

But if none of the pre-configured color schemes meet your needs, you can customize the color scheme by clicking on the “Create New Theme Colors…” link at the bottom of the “Colors” dropdown.

This will load the Create Theme screen where you can customize the colors for your theme.  This will probably involve a bit of trial and error, but once you’ve got your custom colors ready, you can re-use them in future PowerPoint presentations.

A word of caution: Creating your own color scheme can be tricky. Although selecting the colors is simple, it’s critical that you try to use color schemes which won’t distract your audience or which won’t be clearly visible to color blind individuals.

If you want to explore color theory further, there are a wealth of websites devoted to the topic. For a quick introduction to color theory, check out this article from SmashingMagazine.com. There are also a lot of websites which will help you design color schemes using the color wheel.  A couple of the sites I use to assist with the development of color schemes are colorsontheweb and colorschemedesigner.

Selecting Fonts

In addition to creating a custom color palette, PowerPoint also allows for the creation of font themes. While not everyone will want use a custom font theme, they can come in very handy and can add a personal touch to a PowerPoint presentation.  To create a custom font theme, click on the “Fonts” dropdown in the “Design” tab (just beneath the Colors dropbown).  There only two customizable elements (Heading Font and Body Font) each of which are pretty self-explanatory.

The key here is to use fonts which are easy to read and won’t distract the audience. The only “rule” is to NEVER use Comic Sans or other “handwritten” fonts as the heading or body fonts. These fonts may appear cute at first, but they quickly become tiresome and look horribly unprofessional.  For more information on typography and fonts check out this list of  8 Essential Web Typography Resources from Mashable.

I certainly hope I’ve enlightened you a little with this post, and next time I’ll discuss using images in PowerPoint.  When to use them, where to find them, and how they should be added and cited.

As always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.

~Rodney


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