Create a timeline agenda in PresentationZen style

Olivia Mitchell, who writes the Speaking about Presenting recently wrote a blog entry, “How to do an agenda slide like Garr Reynolds.”

Note: There’s a special offer at the end of this tutorial, so read on!

Here’s the presentation, which is posted on The timeline agenda is on slides 7 through 12.
Slides (in PDF) from Safari Webcast

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: japan zen)

One of the comments on the Olivia’s blog was, ““It’s easy to make an agenda slide like this.” Hmm…not so easy if you’re not a powerpoint expert. Is this available in Powerpoint, and if so, can you provide a step-by-step on how to make a slide like this?

So, Olivia asked me to write out the steps. Because this presentation was on, which doesn’t show animation, each step is a separate slide. You could put the entire timeline on one slide and add each component with an Appear animation. To do so, choose Slide Show> Custom Animation. (In 2007, choose the Animations tab> Custom Animation.) Select the object that you want to animate. In the task pane on the right, choose Add Effect> Entrance> Appear. (If the Appear animation is not on the list, click More Effects and you’ll find it there.)

Garr Reynolds, who writes the PresentationZen blog and wrote the book, PresentationZen, is a famous PowerPoint designer. I’m not a famous designer, although I love to design slides. Reproducing his timeline was a great exercise and I recommend copying the work of great designers, just as art students sit in a museum and copy the great masters. You’ll learn a lot about design: about the colors they use and especially about the attention they give to detail.

Here are the 6 slides in my version of the timeline.


Garr Reynolds has several design trademarks:

* Zen-like colors
* Unusual fonts
* Simple, clear slide layouts

I did this presentation in PowerPoint 2007, because two of its new features made the process easier. One is the background; this type of radial gradient background is a feature of 2007. However, Garr’s original is even more subtle than the 2007 default. The second feature is greater flexibility with shadows. I’ll also provide instructions for 2003.

I slavishly copied Garr’s colors, using an eyedropper program. An eyedropper gives you the stats of any color that you point to on your screen. I used a program called Colourificator, but other free eyedroppers are available on the Web.

The colors

A good practice is to set up your theme colors (color scheme in 2003 and earlier) before you start. I have instructions in my “Try design variations” tip. This makes formatting PowerPoint objects very easy as you work. You’ll get more consistent results with less effort. My colors’ red-green-blue stats were:

1. Spring green: 155,187,89
2. Ruby red: 191,47,0
3. Dun: 179,174,144
4. Dark moss green: 75,75,20
5. Light teal: 75,172,198 (I never used this)
6. Garr orange: 255,128,0

You only have 4 color options in PowerPoint 2003.

The background

Start a new PowerPoint file using the default blank template. In 2007, click the Design tab> Backgrounds group> Background Styles drop-down list, and choose one of the options from the bottom row. These options are based on your theme colors, so one should be just what you want. However, you can choose Format Background and choose another color from the Color drop-down list. The Format Background dialog box is already set with a radial background with two gradient stops and the From Center option. Slides that you add will also have this background.

In 2003, you don’t have a true radial gradient, so you need to use a trick:

1. Open the Slide Master (View> Master> Slide Master).
2. Click the Oval tool on the Drawing toolbar at the bottom of your screen, hold down the Shift key to ensure a perfect circle, and drag a large circle across the slide.
3. You’ll probably need to reduce the zoom to be able to cover the entire slide, so click the Zoom drop-down list and choose 50%.
4. Use the corner handle of the circle to adjust its size until the entire slide is covered.
5. Double-click the circle to open the Format AutoShape dialog box.
6. On the Colors and Lines tab, click the Fill Color drop-down list and choose Fill Effects.
7. In the Fill Effects dialog box, click the Gradient tab.
8. Choose the One Color option.
9. Click the Color 1 drop-down list and choose the color you want, or choose More Colors and specify the color.
10. In the Dark/Light slider, drag the box slightly to the Light side. This will create a gradient of white with your chosen color.
11. In the Shading Styles section, choose From Center.
12. In the Variants section, choose the variant that shows the white in the center.
13. Click OK twice to return to your slide. Go into Slide Show view to see if you like the result. You may want to adjust that Dark/Light slider a little to get just the look you want.
14. Return to the Slide Master. In order to see where the slide is, you’ll need to make the circle semi-transparent. Double-click the circle and drag the Transparency slider on the Colors and Lines tab to about 50%. When the presentation is done, change the transparency back to 0%.
15. Return to Normal view (View>Normal).

The timeline

The timeline is just a horizontal white line plus two perpendicular lines. Notice that the horizontal line is a little above the middle of the slide, which gives it the feeling of being supported by the space below To draw the lines, do the following:

1. Choose Home tab> Drawing group> Shapes, and choose the Line tool. (In 2003, choose the Line tool from the Drawing toolbar.)
2. Press Shift as you drag across the slide to ensure that the line is perfectly horizontal. Draw a short vertical line on one end.
3. With the line selected, make sure that its middle is at the endpoint of the horizontal line. Use the arrow keys to adjust if necessary. (Press Ctrl while you use the arrow keys for finer increments.)
4. With the line still selected, press Ctrl + D to duplicate the line. This gives you a line of the same length and direction, but it’s slightly below the first one. Drag it to the other endpoint and use the same method to ensure that its midpoint is at the end of the horizontal line.
5. Double-click one of the lines to display the Drawing Tools Format tab. From the Shape outline drop-down list, choose the white color. (In 2003, select one of the lines and choose the white color from the Line Color drop-down list on the Drawing toolbar.) Select the two other lines and press F4 to repeat the change.

The Start/End text

The Start and End text make it clear that this is a timeline for the presentation. The orange color is a Garr Reynolds trademark. So is the use of the interesting font, in this case, a funky typewriter text. I just used Courier New, but you can find a free font called Carbontype on the Internet that’s closer. Look at slide 5 of his presentation on SlideShare and you’ll see just how funky it is! It looks as if it was typed on an old, very dirty Royal manual typewriter. I’m old enough to remember cleaning the ink from the letters of a manual typewriter, but I digress…

Click the first slide in the Slides pane on the left and press Ctrl + D to create a new slide (Slide 2).

Insert a text box near the left side of the timeline. In 2007, go to Insert tab> Text group> Text Box. (In 2003, choose Text Box from the Drawing toolbar.) Type Start. To format the text, select it (the text, not just the text box). In 2007, the Mini toolbar appears at the cursor. There you can use the Font drop-down list to change the font (I used Courier New), the Font Color drop-down list to change the color (orange), and the Font Size drop-down list (I set the size to 20 points). Click the Bold button to make the text bold. In 2003, select the text and use the Font, Font Size, and Font Color drop-down lists and the Bold button, all on the Formatting toolbar, to format the text.

Click the border of the text box and use the green rotation handle to rotate the text counterclockwise slightly. Then press Ctrl + D to duplicate the text box and drag it to the right side of the timeline. Select the text and type End. Adjust the placement as desired.

The first agenda item

Duplicate Slide 2 to create Slide 3. In 2007, choose Home tab> Drawing group> Shapes and choose the Rectangle tool. In 2003, click the Rectangle tool on the Drawing toolbar. Hold down the Shift key and drag a square on top of the left side of the timeline. Use the Up and Down arrow keys until the left-middle handle is on the timeline to ensure that the square is vertically centered on the timeline. Use the Left and Right arrow keys to place the left side of the square on top of the left vertical white line.

In 2007, double-click the square to display the Drawing Tools Format tab. Type 1 (the number). Use the Shape Fill drop-down list to set the color (dun). Use the Shape Outline drop-down list to set the outline (white). Select the text. I set the color to white, the size to 72, and the font to Aharoni.

Choose Shape Effects> Shadow> Shadow Options to display the Shadow category of the Format Shape dialog box. In 2007, you have many more shadow options than before. I set the Transparency to 62%, the Blur to 9 pt, the Angle to 45°, and the Distance to 5 pt. Then select the text and click the dialog box launcher arrow on the right side of the WordArt Styles group to open the Format Text Effects dialog box. Click Shadow and use the same shadow settings for the text as for the square. Click Close.

You have fewer options in 2003. Select the square and click the Shadow Style button on the Drawing toolbar. Shadow Style 6 works OK. If you want, you can click Shadow Settings to open the Shadow Settings toolbar and move the shadow a little. You can also change its color to give it a softer look.

To add the caption use the Line tool to draw a short vertical line from the top-center of the square. Select the square to check where its top-center handle is and adjust the location of the vertical line to meet it. In 2007, double-click the line to display the Drawing Tools Format tab. Choose Shape Outline> Weight and choose the narrowest weight, 1/4 pt. The line should be white, or perhaps a light tint of the green color.

In 2003, double-click the line and use the Format AutoShape dialog box to set the color to white (or a faint green). Interestingly, in 2003, you have a 0 pt width option, which creates a hairline width.

Draw a horizontal line that starts at the left side of the square and touches the top of the vertical line. Format it like the vertical line. You can use the Format Painter to do this. In 2007, click the vertical line, choose Home tab> Clipboard group> Format Painter, and then click the horizontal line. In 2003, click the vertical line, click the Format Painter button on the Standard toolbar, and then click the horizontal line.

Insert a text box and type Introduction. I used the default font (Calibri in 2007 and Arial in 2003), 20 pt size, and white color. Use the arrow keys to align the text box with the left endpoint of the horizontal line and to place it just above the line.

The second agenda item

Duplicate Slide 3 to create Slide 4. Copy the first square and place the copy to the right. Change the text to 2. Add lines and a caption, Presentation Zen Approach. Place the caption so that it extends more to the right of the vertical line than to the left.

The third agenda item

Create a fifth slide and duplicate the second square. Place it to the right and drag its right handle to stretch it until it leaves a small space at the end. Double-click it and change its fill to ruby red. Add the caption lines and the caption, How design thinking can help. Place the text so that it extends more to the right of the vertical line than to the left.

The last agenda item

Create a sixth slide and duplicate the first square. Move it to the right side of the timeline and resize its width until it fits in the space that’s left. Move it as necessary. Change its color to the dark dun color. PowerPoint 2007 offers not only the theme colors but tints of those colors, giving you more flexibility. Add the caption lines and the caption, Q & A. Here, you have to extend the horizontal line a little further to the left than to the right.

Customize for your own presentations

Of course, you’re not giving Garr’s presentation, so now that you’ve learned something about graphics and design in PowerPoint, make a copy of the presentation and adjust the timeline for your own agenda.

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