Monday, July 31, 2006

Why is shadow text so popular on PowerPoint slides?

PowerPoint has a text feature that gives a shadow to text that is placed on a slide. I see it used regularly and it seems to me that the purpose in most cases is to make the text stand out more. But most times the shadow effect does not solve the problem because the presenter or slide designer doesn't understand what the real issue is. In most cases, the reason text is hard to see on a PowerPoint slide is that there is not enough contrast between the text color and the background. This can be caused by poor text color selection or choosing a background that has graphics of different shades that makes it nearly impossible to select any text color that would be seen well. A recent set of slides illustrated this issue. The slide title was in a dark sand color on a dull blue graphic background. Adding a black shadow did absolutely nothing to make it better. Selecting a brighter yellow color would have been a better way to make the title stand out. Next time you are tempted to use the shadow feature, think about why you are using it and whether color selection is the real issue you should be addressing. In my book "Guide to PowerPoint", we discuss the different text effects and which ones are best to use - click here to get more information. If you want more information on selecting colors with enough contrast, you can also check out my video "Customize the Look of Your Slides" which shows you how to create your own PowerPoint template - click here for details.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

PowerPoint Tip: The Challenge with White Backgrounds

I am often asked what color background someone should use for their PowerPoint slides. Many organizations use a white background because it prints well. That's fine if you only print your presentations, but if you will be projecting your presentation, a white background can cause problems. Here are a few observations from a recent presentation that used a white background. The room was well lit, and turning down the lights wasn't really an option since it would have made the room too dark for the audience to stay awake. Strong room lighting washes out colors, so the text color, even black, appears washed out and harder to see when using a white background. Second, a white background is the dominant color the audience sees, which is quite bright and can tire their eyes, making it harder for them to devote their full attention to you and your message. And finally, it is very hard for a projector and screen combination to create a true white color (it is one of the hardest colors to project properly). In the recent presentation, the combination of the projector and screen created a mottled faint blue effect instead of a true flat white. In my experience I have found that a dark background with white letters for text works best in different lighting situations. In a brightly lit room, the background will be faded, but the contrast of the white text with the faded background still seems to look better than using a white background. If you want to use a light background, I suggest you consider off-white colors such as beige, taupe, light sage, light blue or cream (we give examples of these colors in "Guide to PowerPoint", available at If you are concerned about how a dark background will print, use the "Pure Black and White" print option and the printout will convert the background to white, all text to black and graphics to grayscale, giving you a pleasant looking handout. The challenge of a white background and what your alternatives are if you are forced to use a corporate template that has a white background are topics I will cover Friday on my web tutorial Customize the Look of Your Slides - find out more at

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Automatic hyperlinks on PowerPoint slides

If you are going to use a web site URL on a PowerPoint slide, be careful of the automatic link feature. What happens is that after you enter the web site name (ie., PowerPoint recognizes that it is a web site and automatically turns the text into a hyperlink to that web site. The problem is that by turning it into a hyperlink, it also affects how that text is displayed. The default for hyperlinks is usually dark blue text underlined. This causes the text to stand out from the other text on the slide when usually all you wanted to do is give your audience a reference to a useful site. It can also cause the text to almost disappear as I saw recently when someone was using a black background and the dark blue text was almost invisible against the black. To remove the hyperlink and restore the look of the text, right click on the text and click on Remove Hyperlink from the sub-menu that appears.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

PowerPoint Banned at Conference

I am in Orlando at the start of the annual NSA Convention. In the same facility, a conference for education in an industry was just wrapping up. Knowing that this industry uses PowerPoint a lot, I stopped in to the show office to inquire about the conference and topics that would be relevant in the future. A couple of the organizers were in the office when I walked in. I explained that I was with another meeting, explained my area of expertise in using PowerPoint and asked to know more about their meeting. Both of them looked at each other and chuckled. Seems that in the opening keynote address, a senior official of the organization "banned" PowerPoint for the conference. When I asked why, they explained that it was because so many of the PowerPoint presentations were so deadly. In my opinion, this is another example of misguided thinking. If you were in an organization that created poorly written reports that were not clear and concise, would you ban word processing programs as the solution? Of course not, that's ridiculous. But it seems that when it comes to PowerPoint, instead of recognizing that the organization needs training on how to use the tool properly, some ban it as a solution. It is a solution to poor presentations, but a very poor one if the true objective is better communication that enables better decisions.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where does your audience focus on your PowerPoint slide?

If you have a dark background for your PowerPoint slides, where does the audience focus? I suggest that they will focus on the brightest spot on the screen if there is one. This is why using a background graphic that contains a bright spot, like a star or sun spot on a black or dark blue background, can be distracting to your audience. I saw a recent set of slides where the template used was a blue graphic background of the globe and a green graphic background for the title. The problem was that in the middle of the green title graphic background was a bright single spot of white with star burst lines coming from it. On every slide, your eyes were drawn to this spot, regardless of what else was on the slide because it was by far the brightest element on the slide. Be careful when selecting graphic backgrounds. There can be small elements that will end up drawing attention away from everything else on the slide and your audience will not focus on your message or graphic support as much as they should. I see so many backgrounds that are poorly designed from the audience impact perspective - they may be nice from a design perspective, but if they distract the audience they they aren't effective in my opinion. So I am doing a one hour web tutorial titled Customize the Look of Your Slides, which will show you how to create your own PowerPoint template that is pleasing to your audience. You can get more information at .

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

PowerPoint Tip: What to look for in a travelling projector

I have been asked twice recently about what specifications or features I would consider when purchasing a projector to take with you to present to small to mid sized groups (2-100 people). Since this is likely of interest to more than the two people who asked, I thought I would share my response in case you are considering a similar purchase. There are three criteria I stress above others: 1) 4 lbs or less weight - you will notice & feel every ounce as you carry this equipment in airports or in buildings. Don't let anyone tell you that a 5.5 lb projector is just a little more than a 4 lb one - it is almost 38% heavier and your arm will tell you after only a few trips. 2) minimum of 2,000 lumens brightness - lumens is how they measure how bright a projector is and with at least 2,000 lumens, you will be able to present in almost all lighting situation without having to turn down any lights. This is important because as soon as you turn down the lights, people don't pay as much attention to your presentation. 3) native XGA resolution - this resolution matches the native resolution of most laptops built in the last 5 years and matching resolution will give you the best picture when projecting. Don't be convinced that a lower priced SVGA projector will properly project an XGA signal because it won't. For a projector with the above specifications, you should expect to pay in the area of $2,000 (US dollars). Some other criteria to keep in mind if you are looking at a number of projectors and all of the above are basically equal: a) look for one with a carrying case included; b) multiple inputs (RCA, SVHS, etc.) in addition to the computer input to give you more flexibility for displaying different video sources; c) zoom capability so you can make the image bigger without moving the projector back from the screen; d) keystone correction, either automatic or manual, so you can have a straight picture even when tilting up to project. A good reference site to compare specifications and see product reviews is They have good information on every projector and you can see when the projector was first shipped and whether it is still active or has been discontinued (recently discontinued projectors can sometimes be the best bargains). If you are considering purchasing a portable presentation projector, I hope the above ideas help you select one that will enhance your presentations for years to come. If you want more information on presenting, along with tips on setting up your projector to present and how to solve five of the most common projection problems, check out "Guide to PowerPoint", now available at .

Friday, July 07, 2006

Five Ways to Transform Your Overloaded Text Slides

The most common complaint of audiences about PowerPoint presentations is that the slides are loaded with text and the presenter simply reads their slides to the audience. In the presentations I review, I see this all the time. I am not suggesting that you should never use text, because I think text is essential to many messages. What I am suggesting is that by adding more visual impact, your audience will better understand and remember your message. If your slides are text heavy, consider these five ways to transform some of your text slides into more graphical and meaningful slides.

Transform Tables of Numbers into Graphs
If your slide contains a dense table of numbers, consider if a graph would better highlight the point you are trying to make. Too often I see presenters attempt to point out the important figures in a data table with a laser pointer – and the audience gets lost along the way. Instead, figure out what the data is supposed to be saying – is it a trend, a comparison between two data sets or a comparison of data within one set. All of these can be better illustrated with a graph. Make sure that your graph still includes text highlighting the key point so that the audience has no doubt about the message of the slide.

To read the other four ways to transform your overloaded text slides, click here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Don't Make Your PowerPoint Slides Like The Circus

School is over for our kids, so we took them to the circus in town this afternoon. Here are a couple of ideas from today's performance that can help presenters. The first is something not to do. Twice during the show, they had two acts going on at the same time, one in each of two of the three rings. I was unable to watch both (who would), so I jumped between the two and missed most of the great tricks in each. When you create your PowerPoint slides, make sure that you are not competing for your audience's attention with what is up on the screen. Your slides should enhance your message, not compete with it (yes, this means get rid of the twirling clip art and flashy animation effects). Second, it was interesting to watch the clown that they had who came back in on a regular basis. He certainly had a knack for getting the crowd involved and entertained through the skits he performed. The lesson I took was how important it is to be engaging with our audiences, and one of the best ways to do that is through our use of stories. Stories take our audience on a journey and have an ability to hook each person into our message. Think of what stories you can use from your own experience that would illustrate a point at the same time as engaging your audience.