At Presentation Summit 2012, Nolan Haims, Director of Presentation at Edelman (a large PR firm) gave a session called “In the Trenches” about how to design presentations for quick changes and high-end results. His department is responsible for designing presentations that the firm uses to get new clients. Not only do they have to be top quality, but they often need to be changed at the last second. As a result, he has learned how to design presentations in a way that allows for quick changes.
Anyone can benefit from this skill, but you’ll find it especially valuable if you create presentations for others or your presentations need to be approved by others.
Here are a few of the points he made.
Design natively in PowerPoint
By designing in PowerPoint, you allow for quick changes. If you design an image in Photoshop and include text in the image, when you import it into PowerPoint, you can’t edit it. Instead, if you need that image, bring it in without the text and add the text in PowerPoint. Then, you’ll be able to edit it when necessary.
Don’t use custom fonts and don’t embed fonts. Embedding fonts is a way to use custom fonts so that others who don’t have the font can view it. But occasionally, an embedded font can lock up a file (and not all fonts are embeddable anyway). When you don’t use custom fonts, you increase the chance that your presentation will look the way you want it to look on any computer.
Use theme colors, so you can change the look by changing the colors. I explain this concept in a blog post, “Create a theme in PowerPoint that changes colors.” You may use a certain set of colors and then be told to change all the colors. If you use the theme colors, you can easily create a new set of theme colors and make the change in a few minutes.
Do you sometimes have to print the slides? Some people present from printed slides and others use the slides in a handout (usually with added notes). If you design templates using PowerPoint drawing objects, everything will print crisply; you won’t have to worry about the resolution of bitmap (also called raster) images. Everything will also look good on screen. You’ve certainly seen bitmap images projected onto a screen that looked grainy. Yes, sometimes you need bitmaps — just be sure they are high-resolution. But when you use PowerPoint drawing objects, you will always get perfectly sharp results. That’s because PowerPoint creates vector images, determined by equations rather than by dots.
Embed charts. Don’t link charts or use images of charts. The reason for this is to make it easier for you to change the underlying data and therefore the chart that displays on the slide. However, you may need a link to allow for quickly changing data — but links are prone to being broken, especially if you move your presentation to another computer. Embedding a chart can make the presentation file large if the underlying spreadsheet.; there can also be security issues. I show 3 methods of adding charts to PowerPoint that are based on Excel data in this YouTube playlist.
Embed videos. You can only embed videos in PowerPoint 2010 and later, but embedding videos will greatly reduce the times that the video doesn’t play.
Use PowerPoint image editing tools. Part of your design probably involves bitmap images such as photos. If you edit the photo in PowerPoint, you can make changes. Does someone want the image to be lighter? Easy! For more details, see my post, “Photo-editing features in PowerPoint 2010.”
When you need to import images…
Of course, sometimes you’ll need to use bitmap images. Use PNGs instead of JPEGs, JPEG is “lossy,” which means that it loses data when you compress it. Theoretically, PowerPoint knows when you have compressed an image within PowerPoint and doesn’t re-compress it, but in some situations, over time, an image can lose info and degrade. Use hi-resolution images of at least 150 dpi (dots per inch). Always test an image in slide show view — and if possible, projected on the screen.
Use vector graphics as much as possible. In practice, this often means using Adobe Illustrator to create graphics that you can’t create in PowerPoint. You can export them in WMF, EMF or EPS format. Nolan recommends the EMF format because it does a better job than WMF for curves. When you convert an EPS file to a PowerPoint drawing object (by ungrouping) and ungroup it a second time, you get lots of tiny line segments, which are hard to work with.
Top tip and free gift: Gradient boxes
One of Nolan’s top tips for getting a Photoshopped look in PowerPoint is gradient boxes. These are white or black boxes that go from 0 to 100% transparency. I cover the basic principle in my post, “How to get a Photoshopped look by fading in an image.” But Nolan uses these boxes (mostly black ones) at the edges of slides and under text to make the text clearer over an image as well as to make an image blend in with the rest of the slide.
Do you see how the edges of the above slide are slightly darker than the center, creating a vignette effect? Nolan has created a vignette image (yes, done in Photoshop) and given me permission to pass it on to you. Download it here. For a slide that is mostly dark, add this image to further darken the edges and make the center more striking. You can even change the color in PowerPoint!
What techniques do you use to make sure slides are easy to edit at the last minute?