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You’ve probably seen clothing that’s marked “one size fits all.” Unfortunately, it rarely does. The same is true of PowerPoint presentations. And it’s true about more than just size. It’s also true of fonts, colors, embedded objects, and projection vs. print quality. So, how do you make sense of it all?

Size

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 as well as 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. But 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 dpi. It’s easy to do—open your image in a photo editor (e.g., Paint, Photoshop) and save the file to 75 dpi. JIFF and PNG formats work well.

You should also take advantage of features that are available in PowerPoint (e.g., 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 “wide screen” videos. (16:9 means that for every 16 inches in width in a display, there are nine inches in height.) However, the default for PowerPont 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. (Visit our site to download “OnCue Tips.PPTX,” a file with dozens of handy tips for making better PowerPoint presentations.)

Fonts

There are as many tips on which fonts to use as there are fonts, so we’ll stick to three simple ones:

  1. Use only common fonts—If you copy a presentation that uses an uncommon font onto a computer that doesn’t happen to have that uncommon font, the computer will automatically substitute a different font. Often with bad results.
  2. Use few fonts—Don’t overdo it with fonts. Two or three different fonts are plenty.
  3. Don’t use all caps—Using all caps here and there is okay for EMPHASIS, but using all caps everywhere will make the text very hard for your audience to read.

Colors

As with fonts, it’s a good idea not to overwhelm your audience with too many colors—stick to a few basic colors. Using the pre-defined color schemes in PowerPoint will accomplish this. 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.

Embedded Objects

You can embed videos in PowerPoint, but can doesn’t always equal should. Most veteran speakers have learned the hard way that an embedded video that plays perfectly on a laptop will stagger or 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, just as shorts, a polo shirt, and a sun visor would stand out at a formal dinner.

Likewise, a generous amount of white space may be great for print pieces, but ineffective when projected onto a large screen.

A presentation that looks great on a PC screen may look completely different (and not in a good way) when projected onto a high-lumen screen. And the dark backgrounds that tend to look great on a computer screen seldom work nearly as well when they’re printed out.

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.

And finally, there’s a consideration that doesn’t fit into any of the above categories, but it’s important nevertheless. Hooking your laptop directly into a projector is a great convenience, but it’s also a potential problem. When you do this, you’re asking your laptop to power itself and the projector. That’s going to soak up a lot of processing power. If you have a newer, powerful laptop, you’re probably okay. If you don’t, you may run into some fits and starts as your processor tries to keep up.

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If presenters follow these simple guidelines, they’ll boost their odds for creating a great presentation with PowerPoint. To get a head start on the next presentation, go to the Event Planners page on the website to view and download a free PowerPoint guide from OnCue Staging.

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