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PowerPointing with the Best of Them


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Date Created: January 2nd 2008
Last Updated: February 26th 2009

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The Elements of PowerPoint
Going Outside PowerPoint to Create Presentation Elements

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The Elements of PowerPoint

When you open PowerPoint, it presents you with a blank canvas that you color with your ideas and your message. The brushes and paints used to transform this blank canvas into an amazing interactive medium are its elements of composition:

  • Text
  • Background, images, and info-graphics
  • Shapes
  • Fills, lines, and effects
  • Sound and video
  • Animations and transitions
  • Interactivity, flow, and navigation

If you’ve heard or read any of those “Death by PowerPoint” cries in the media these days that bemoan the lack of aesthetics in PowerPoint presentations shown all over the world, you need to make friends with all the elements of PowerPoint so that you can use these elements more effectively to create more aesthetic PowerPoint presentations.

In the following sections, I explain more about these individual elements and then follow it up with how they team together to form an entire presentation workflow. I discuss each of these elements in greater depth in separate chapters throughout this book.


Text is the soul of a presentation — it relates to content like nothing else. Your text could be in the form of titles, subtitles, bullets, phrases, captions, and even sentences.

A barrage of visual content might not be able to achieve what a single effective word can say — sometimes, a word is worth a thousand pictures. Text is significant because it means you have something to say. Without explicit text, what you’re trying to say might not come through as strongly as you want.

Too much text is like too much of any good thing — it can be harmful. For example, a slide with 20 lines of teeny-weeny text just doesn’t work. The audience can’t read it, and the presenter doesn’t have time to explain that much content! Anyway, if you’re cramming so much text on a slide, you’ve already lost the focus of your presentation.

Backgrounds, images, and info-graphics

PowerPoint uses three types of graphical elements:

  • Backgrounds: The backdrop for your slides. Backgrounds need to be understated.

    You can create a great presentation with a plain white background. On the other hand, artistic backgrounds are a great way to bring a presentation to life.

    The new themes in PowerPoint 2007 also let you recolor background graphics by applying new Theme Colors. These are explained in more detail in Chapter 3.

  • Pictures: Images that you insert in slides. Pictures share the stage with text.

  • Info-graphics: Images that combine visuals and text to make complex information and statistics easier to understand. Info-graphics include charts, tables, maps, graphs, diagrams, organization charts, timelines, and flowcharts. You can also create info-graphics in a separate program, such as SmartDraw or Visio, and bring them into PowerPoint later.

Images and text always work together — collectively, they achieve more than the sum of each other’s potential. However, images need to be relevant to the subject and focused; using an unsuitable visual is worse than using no visual at all. The same rules apply to info-graphics, as well.

PowerPoint provides many ways to present images — from recolored styles, effects, and outlines to animations and builds.


Simple objects such as circles, rectangles, and squares can help you explain concepts so much better. PowerPoint looks at the entire shape concept in a different way through its Shapes gallery. The shapes within the Shapes gallery seem like regular lines and polygons, but that’s where the similarity ends; they are very adaptable in editing and creation. Shapes can also function as building blocks and form the basis of complex diagrams and illustrations.

Fills, lines, and effects

Shapes, pictures, and even info-graphics in PowerPoint can stand out from the slide by using as assortment of fill, line, and effect styles. Most styles are found in galleries on the Ribbon tabs.

Sound and video

PowerPoint provides many ways to incorporate sound: inserted sounds, event sounds, transition sounds, background scores, and narrations.

PowerPoint was perhaps never intended to become a multimedia tool — nor were presentations ever imagined to reach the sophisticated levels they have attained. Microsoft has tried to keep PowerPoint contemporary by adding more sound capabilities with every release. This version finally makes it easier to work with sound in PowerPoint by adding a whole new Ribbon tab containing sound options.

As computers get more powerful and play smooth full-screen video, viewers expect PowerPoint to work with all sorts of video formats. But that’s a far cry from reality. In Chapter 11, I look at workarounds that keep PowerPoint happy with all sorts of video types.

Animations and transitions

Animations and transitions fulfill an important objective: introducing several elements one at a time in a logical fashion to make it easier for the audience to understand a concept. Keep these guidelines in mind when using animations and transitions:

  • Animation is best used for a purpose. An example would be using animation to illustrate a process or a result of an action.

    If you use animation without a purpose, your presentation might end up looking like an assortment of objects that appear and exit without any relevance.

  • Transitions can be either subdued or flashy depending on the flow of ideas being presented. In either case, they need to aid the flow of the presentation rather than disrupt it.

Animations and transitions are covered in Chapter 12.

Interactivity, flow, and navigation

Amazingly, interactivity, flow, and navigation are the most neglected parts of many PowerPoint presentations. These concepts are easy to overlook because, unlike a picture, they aren’t visible:

  • Interactivity, in its basic form, is the use of hyperlinks within a presentation to link to

    • Other slides in a presentation
    • Other documents outside a presentation (such as Word files)

  • Flow is the spread of ideas that evolves from one slide to the next. Flows can be smooth or abrupt.

  • Navigation aids interactivity. It is the way your presentation is set up to provide one-click access for the user to view other slides in the correct order.

    Navigation is mostly taken care of by using the PowerPoint Action Buttons, but you can link from any PowerPoint object to move from one slide to the next.

Interactivity and linking are covered in Chapter 13. Good flow concepts are influenced by proper use of consistency and animation. Consistency is covered in Chapter 4, and animation is covered in Chapter 12.


Going Outside PowerPoint to Create Presentation Elements

Although you might believe that all the elements of a cutting-edge presentation are accessible from within PowerPoint, that’s not entirely true. Professional presentation design houses don’t want you to know the secret of using non- PowerPoint elements in your presentation — this knowledge is often the difference between a cutting-edge presentation and an ordinary one!

Examples of non-PowerPoint elements include the following:

  • Images retouched and enhanced in an image editor, such as Adobe Photoshop

  • Charts created in a dedicated charting application

  • Music and narration fine-tuned, amplified, and normalized in a sound editor

  • Video clips rendered in a custom size and time in a video-editing application

  • Animations created in a separate application, such as Macromedia Flash

When these non-PowerPoint elements are inserted inside PowerPoint, most of them can be made to behave like normal PowerPoint elements.


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