You’ve probably seen clothing marked "one size fits all," but unfortunately, it rarely does. The same is true of PowerPoint presentations.
Size problems can occur in two different forms. The first is file size. If you use a lot of pictures, for example, your PowerPoint file can quickly grow to a size that will bog down its performance and make it difficult to transfer from one computer to another, especially as an email attachment.
You can avoid this size problem by compressing the media in your presentation. Even amateur photography tends to produce image files that are several megabytes or larger. These images have a resolution far beyond the needs of a PowerPoint presentation, even when that presentation is projected onto a large screen. Try reducing your images to 75 dots per inch. It’s easy to do- just open your image in a photo editor (such as Photoshop) and save the file to 75 dpi.
You should also take advantage of features that are available in PowerPoint (charts, shapes, graphical elements) rather than importing objects from other applications.
The second size problem is one of aspect ratio. With videos, it’s common to find a 16:9 aspect ratio, the standard for widescreen videos (16:9 means that for every 16 inches in width in a display, there are 9 inches in height). However, the default for PowerPoint is 4:3 (4:3 is the equivalent of 16:12, so you can see the difference between 4:3 and 16:9 is significant).
Thus, if you import video or other media with a 16:9 aspect ratio, you’re likely to get some unexpected- and unappealing- results. Fortunately, with a few clicks, you can change the aspect ratio of your PowerPoint presentation to match your media.
There are as many tips on which fonts to use as there are fonts, so we’ll stick to three simple ones:
- Use only common fonts.
If you copy a presentation that uses an uncommon font on to a computer that doesn’t happen to have that same font, the computer will automatically substitute a different font- often with bad results.
- Use few fonts.
Don’t overdo it. Two or three different fonts are plenty.
- Don’t use all caps.
Using all caps here and there is OK for EMPHASIS, but using all caps everywhere will make text very hard for your audience to read.
As with fonts, it’s a good idea not to overwhelm your audience with too many colors. Using the predefined color schemes in PowerPoint will help you stick to a few basic colors. If you decide to create your own color schemes, try to familiarize yourself with the color wheel so you’ll know how to use complementary and analogous colors. Also, experiment with textures in your backgrounds. Texture can add emphasis without having to add another color.
You can embed videos in PowerPoint, but that doesn’t mean you should. Most veteran speakers have learned the hard way that an embedded video that plays perfectly on a laptop will stagger, drop the sound or not play at all when used on projection equipment at a conference, which is exactly the wrong time to find out there’s a problem. If you have embedded objects, test them in advance on the exact equipment your presentation will be played on. If you run into problems- and if you leave enough time- your video production team may be able to offer a solution.
Projection vs. Print Quality
It’s also important to consider your medium. A dress that looks great at a formal dinner would stand out like a sore thumb at a golf tournament.
Likewise, a generous amount of white space may be great for print pieces, but ineffective when projected onto a large screen. And, a presentation that looks terrific on a computer screen may look completely different (and not in a good way) when projected onto a high-lumen screen. Newer versions of PowerPoint recognize this potential problem and allow users to change background colors with a single click. Font colors will even adjust automatically to be visible against the new background color.
These aren’t creative decisions- they’re application decisions. Make sure your design matches your medium.
Follow these simple guidelines, and you’ll boost your odds for creating a great presentation with PowerPoint.
- Jim Tzitzura
Jim Tzitzura is a founding partner at OnCue Staging, an audio-visual company that works with event and meeting planners worldwide.