PowerPoint Plus – Part Two: Yes, You DO Need To Draw Me a Picture.

PowerPoint is a visual tool.  Using it to project copious amounts of text onto a wall is not an effective use of the tool.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, every word that appears on a PowerPoint slide should serve a specific purpose.  If the text does not directly address the point, it should be omitted.  As you create your presentation, look for ways to condense the text and find more economical ways of making your point. Remember.  You are the presentation, PowerPoint is the tool.

The Rule of Six aka The 1-6-6 Rule aka The 6-6-6 Rule

If you’ve done any research on designing PowerPoint presentations, you’ve probably encountered the infamous “Rule of Six” or one of its countless variations.  This “rule”, which has been floating around for at least a decade, suggests that presentations should be created with one primary idea per slide, no more than six bullet points per slide, no more than six words per bullet point, and no more than six all-text slides in a row. On the surface, these don’t seem to be bad suggestions, but they work better in theory than they do in practice.

Think about it.  Under this “rule”, it’s recommended that your presentation contain thirty-six consecutive bullet points, so long as each bullet point contains no more than six words and the bullet points are spaced out equally over six separate slides.  HOGWASH!  POPPYCOCK!  BALDERDASH!  It is never acceptable to present thirty-six bullet points in a row.

So what are you supposed to do???  

Remember.  You’re the expert.  Your presentation is on a topic in which you are well-versed.  Your audience is there to hear what you have to say, not read a bunch of bullet points.  Design your presentation so that it is an aid, not an impediment.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Bullet Points

This is where the fun begins.  If you’re not supposed to use tons of text, what are you to do?  Images. Images. Images.  It can be challenging to find images which convey your ideas, but well-selected images will serve you (and more importantly, your audience) far better than a screen full of bullet points ever could.

If you’re presenting on a progression of events in chronological order (either in the form of a timeline or a step-by-step instruction), it’s pretty simple to use images to tell your story.  It’s a little more difficult to find images to express complex concepts, and sometimes it simply can’t be done.  But, more often than not, there is an image that can help get your point across.  If nothing else, the use of an image as the slide background can help set the mood for the concept you’re introducing and provide you with a fresh canvas on which to present your ideas. (More on that later)

When possible, use images that you have created, either in the form of photographs you’ve taken or images you’ve designed a graphics editing program.  But if you need to get images from another source, there are plenty of resources online.  Try to avoid clip art and animated GIF’s.  Such images, like the Comic Sans font, may seem cute at first, but your audience will find it hard to take you seriously.  

If you have access to an image repository such as Shutterstock or Getty Images, then you’ve already got a wealth of materials at your disposal.  However, if you don’t have access to such a repository and don’t have the budget to purchase images, fear not!  There are many other excellent resources for images.  In 2009, the website Cats Who Code published a list of 50 sites to find free stock images that can be incredibly helpful.

Personally, my first stop for images is Flickr Creative Commons which contains images released for use under the Creative Commons license.  Check out this post for a step-by-step walkthrough of how to locate and download Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr.

Make It Cool!

Regardless of where you find them, images are a critical component of any great PowerPoint presentation.  If you’ve ever created a PowerPoint presentation, you’ve undoubtedly inserted an image into the slideshow, so I won’t bore you with the step-by-step on how to do that.  What I do want to mention, however, is that PowerPoint 2010 contains a wealth of image manipulation tools which allow you to apply some impressive effects to your graphics without having to use a complex high-end image editor.

To apply effects, insert an image into your presentation, click on the image, then go to the “Picture Tools | Format” tab in the ribbon.  In the Adjust section, click on the “Artistic Effects” dropdown to preview some of the effects available.  Once you’ve selected an artistic effect, click on the “Color” dropdown to enhance or modify the color of the image, or click on the “Corrections” dropdown to change the brightness or contrast of the image.

Be prepared to spend some time with this, not because it’s difficult, but because you’ll have so much fun playing with the different options that it’ll be hard to decide which enhancements you want to use. For the example below, I used the “Paint Strokes” artistic effect, applied 300% Saturation, then decreased the brightness and increased the contrast by 20%, all with a few clicks of the mouse.

Before After

This is a significant improvement over the original, but what if you I want to take it even further?  I like the idea of using this image on a slide, but I’d much instead of putting an image on the slide, I want the image to BE the slide!

It’s actually pretty simple.  To use an image as the slide background, RIGHT CLICK on the slide and select  “Format Background”. In the window that appears, click on the “File” button, select the image you want to use as your background, then close the Format Background window.

Then, it’s just a matter of making a couple of minor adjustments… You’ll need to suppress any background graphics on the slide. To do this, go to the Design tab, and make sure the Hide Background Graphics checkbox is selected. Then, adjust the font face, size, and color for any text on the slide and you’re ready to go!

Before After

And that does it!  The key here is to create or locate high quality images for your presentation and once you’ve added the images to your presentation, give yourself the liberty to explore and experiment with the multitude of options that are available to you.   Exceptional PowerPoint presentations don’t just happen.  They’re are envisioned, designed, constructed, and reconstructed.

I certainly hope you got something out of this which you might find helpful, and as always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.

~Rodney

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