How to always have the best looking PowerPoint?
November 1, 2012 5:25 PM   Subscribe

How can my powerpoints always be the best looking in the class? Also how to easily create graphs for powerpoints?

I'm doing a master's degree and some of the groups always have really professional looking presentation. I'm sure it is putting us at a disadvantage no matter what our content is.

Does anyone know of any good solutions where I can find very simple, free, and practical PPT templates that would make the presentation better? Also do you know of any resources online that would help me easily create graphs and charts that would look good on a powerpoint? I am looking to go beyond the basic stuff that comes with powerpoint. I'm using 2007. Prezi is not an option in most cases so I can't use that. Thanks.
posted by locussst to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
slide:ology is a great resource when it comes to creating slides. It's not free, but it's relatively inexpensive based on the used and new prices listed on Amazon's website.
posted by rylan at 5:39 PM on November 1, 2012

Dave Paradi has a lot of good advice on his blog.

Beyond Bullet Points would be worth looking at.
posted by Lexica at 5:54 PM on November 1, 2012

Less text.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 6:08 PM on November 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

You can create good-looking graphs in Excel using real data, and import them into PowerPoint.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:09 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly? They're probably using Keynote. The premade templates offer a lot. I regularly got higher presentation grades in grad school because my keynote presentations were just nicer by default. Your peers could also have a photoshop savvy person in their midst and that's helping too. Can you get access to a Mac anywhere?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:29 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding slide:ology. However, if you don't want to spend money on the slide:ology book, there's the Presentation Zen website:

Here is a link to what research has on powerpoint:

Depending on your field of study, the "assertion-evidence" structure may work well for you.

Good luck!
posted by Prof Iterole at 6:30 PM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Use the resources others mentioned, but also: for the next 2 or 3 presentations, budget 2-3 times your normal amount of time for slide design. I know that's a lot of time, but the fact is that no amount of nice templates and design tips will make your presentation look good if you just grabbed a template and dumped slides into it. You're going to have to take those templates and tips, and really learn to use them. That means giving yourself time to play around with them, see what looks good, and learn to create that professional appearance. Honestly, your classmates who make really good-looking presentations probably took the time to learn all of this.

After you've done this a couple of times, you'll get the hang of it and learn how to do those tweaks that make a presentation look really sharp. So you'll take less time to create those great presentations, and eventually the time it takes might be only as much as it's taking now.

Also, do you have anyone in your group who's into design as a career or hobby? The best way to get this done is to give it to someone who likes visual design.
posted by Tehhund at 6:33 PM on November 1, 2012

Most presentations can be vastly improved by simplicity and consistency.

Stick with ONE font and make sure you choose one that's clean and legible. Limit yourself to three or four point sizes -- titles, headlines, body copy. If it takes longer than 5-7 seconds to read your slide, you have too much text. If everything on that slide is really important enough to put on screen, break it down to more slides.

Limit your color palette to avoid looking circus-y; you can use tints of your primary colors for more contrasts. If you use clip art, stick to one style -- don't mix cartoons with realistic, for example. Don't use animation to "spice it up", use it to emphasize important points.

Strip charts to their bones so that the point you want to make is obvious at a glance. You don't need labels on every data point or stacked along each axis, especially if you're going to talk to the context. Label what you want the audience to remember.

And if you're doing it right, you should be spending at least as much time developing the visual side of your presentation as you do the verbal side. What they see should be memorable reinforcement of what you say, not simply reiteration.
posted by peakcomm at 6:57 PM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Full-width images with no borders when you need images. One sans-serif font in exactly two sizes, white on black backgrounds—Arial is a good choice. Speak your bullet points, don’t read them. Put your text in the top halves of slides instead of at the bottom.
posted by migurski at 8:53 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen: blog and book.

The Economist has some good examples of quite complex data presented graphically - for example on their daily chart page. I believe they might be using R as a charting tool - it can do some clever stuff.

If you want to make interactive charts - rendered as Flash within Powerpoint but using Excel for your data - then Xcelsius might be a good match.
posted by rongorongo at 2:54 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that Keynote presentations always look better than PowerPoint.

You also should look critically at other people's presentations--student presentations in class, professors' lecture slides, and public talks, too. When you see a presentation that looks tacky or amaterish, see if you can put your finger on what isn't working on those slides. When you see a good-looking presentation, try to identify what they are doing right. Don't just think, oh, that looks good; notice how they use alignment, white space, fonts, transitions, etc. (The many excellent resources linked above will help you learn to recognize the important elements.)

Feel free to approach speakers whose slides you admired (anyone: students, professors, or guest speakers) and compliment their slides and say that you're working on improving your own presentations, and ask what template or font they used, how they achieved a certain effect, or where they found their images. For profs and other students, ask if you might have a copy of their PPT file (or just a few key slides) to study and emulate.

Personally, my socks were knocked off by a presentation at a scientific conference with black text on plain white and lots of white space, and I've never gone back to fancy templates. White on black if the room lights are going to be completely off, black on white if the lights are going to be on. Done. This saves a lot of time, too, but is admittedly less fun. :)
posted by BrashTech at 4:54 AM on November 2, 2012

And Prezis seem show-offy to me, and watching then makes me feel carsick. :P I think also that one should really master PowerPoint or Keynote before attempting Prezis. Even experienced presenters can create some really terrible Prezis.
posted by BrashTech at 5:02 AM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

A few graph/chart tips:
Do them in excel, and be sure to remove all the borders and background fills so that the images blend with your slide.
You don't have to match the font of your graphs to the font of your presentation, but it should at least be non-clashing. Excel default is Arial, and that's a fine font to use in your presentation as well (even if you don't, another sans-serif is a good choice).
The excel default colors are very recognizable as "these are excel's defaults". If you have a template, you've probably got new default colors for fonts/accents/etc; consider matching your chart colors to this palette.
Make the font size larger than you think you need to, for all the text on the plot/chart (axis values, axis labels, legends, titles). As an audience member, it's incredibly annoying to see a plot but not know which information it's showing.
You've got two import options. If you just copy-paste, it will be imported as an editable plot; in some contexts this is great, but it tends to change the apsect ratios, shifts white space around, changes line-wraps on the title text, and generally irritates me. The simpler your chart is, the more likely that feature is to be helpful. I prefer to copy the excel plot and paste-as-image. If it's the wrong size or aspect ratio or looks weird, I go back to the excel window to edit it, and copy paste-as again. YMMV.
I say all this from a technical/science presentation background, but it would apply for any pie chart of profits just as well.
posted by aimedwander at 6:43 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out Note & Point for some inspiration. You'll see a lot of commonalities among great looking presentations here: big, bold sans serifs, interrupter slides with single keywords, iconography where it is useful to convey ideas, no cheesy stock photos of business dudes shaking hands.
posted by thirdletter at 7:21 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might take a look at Prezi. It's a different and interesting way of doing presentations. My guess is that you'll spend a lot of time on it, but it may be worth it if you think your style needs a little help.
posted by cnc at 10:24 AM on November 2, 2012

Further to my above mention of R have a look at Anthony Damico's 2 minute tutorial that shows you how to graph simple plots using the tool. (he has a series of these). What makes R appealing?
a. It is free.
b. There is a culture of making code available online so that others can re-use it - think of any conceivable type of chart and somebody will have written a library to generate it.
c. You have a great deal of visual control over how your results look - and the format they get exported in.
d. The system can input from Excel, CSV files, relational databases and most other places where raw data might be hiding.

Disadvantages: You are going to have to spend some time learning the system - but if you are doing a Master's degree in something which requires a lot of quantitative information to be display perhaps it is worth it.

Oh - and in terms of books to inspire you: a classic is Edward Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information
posted by rongorongo at 3:42 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late, but fwiw I just saw an amazing-looking presentation, and the presenter later told me that he bought a template on Graphic River.
posted by blazingunicorn at 3:56 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Making powerpoint look great has to do with a) being a perfectionist and b) starting with a decent template.

The easiest route to b) is to find a friend with Keynote, find a template you like, export it as PPT and send it to you. Start with that - it's usually going to be pretty OK to start with and PPT can do everything and stay simple. You can also build a decent template in powerpoint but it takes more time.

A) is more of a challenge. For graphs, for instance, the only really acceptable way to do it is to build the graph in Excel, format it extremely simply and well in Excel, and export it as a PNG that will not have to be resized in your presentation. For tables, the only way to really make it nice is to build the table in Word, format it perfectly, and again export it as an image that will be used in your presentation. A lot of being a perfectionist in this context means simplifying what you try and do natively in PPT.

Of course all of this is an incredible pain, because pretty much nothing in the presentation is live - but that's the price you pay for a good looking presentation.

OH - last advice - pre-define EVERY bit of styling in the Masters and stick to it throughout. Consistency is king.

(I've done thousands of heavily graphical and tabular-data based decks that have been consistently well-received.)
posted by mikel at 7:12 AM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remember that when you're out of college, that PowerPoint isn't always the best thing anyways. Edward Tufte is the best-known living person on the topic of data presentation, and he's consistent on this one; powerpoint is a really good slide projector, and should *supplement* the best presentations, not become the presentation.
posted by talldean at 2:41 PM on November 9, 2012

Stephen Kosslyn has done research, and written several books, about how to make effective PowerPoint presentations.
posted by knile at 5:51 AM on November 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

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