How can I pimp my PowerPoint?
March 31, 2008 10:17 AM   Subscribe

How can I pimp my PowerPoint?

I've been around PowerPoint since 1.0. I've been pleased with Powerpoint 2007, but I'm always looking for more ways to add more visual polish. And, by polish, I mean Apple Keynote quality polish (which I use at home but cannot use at work). From my search, all I've found is tacky templates and low res, jagged, inflexible proprietary add-on programs.

What resources/programs are out there that can help me add visual polish to the following areas?

* Shape creation/manipulation. Especially 3d. The closest I've gotten is "Perspector." However, it doesn't give me the ability to do gradients and soft shadows. Powerplugs is appalling.
* Charts (bar, pie) and flow charts (omnigraffle-esqe)
* Diagrams
* Animations
* Text manipulation (a word-art on steroids? 3d would be great!)

I looking for the following attributes:
* Anti-aliasing
* Flexibility to customize colors/soft shadows/transparency/lighting. Gradients are a must
* Ability to customize shapes, curves, bevel, etc.
* High resolution (vector if possible)
* Compatibility with Powerpoint

I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. Usually, to achieve the look I want I have to do some heavy Photoshopping. I'd rather not go to all this trouble to achieve a clean, elegant, look.

Any Powerpoint vets out there that can give me a few advanced tips? Thanks! :)
posted by colecovizion to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried just exporting a Keynote presentation to pdf (or ps)? The few pages online I could find talking about it indicate that there might be some loss of quality and the file size might be quite large, but it's one option.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:44 PM on March 31, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, philomatholic, I've tried doing that. It appears ok at first, but the minute you start editing any of keynote specific objects, it dumbs it down to the Powerpoint (aka Atari 2600) graphics. I need something that is a little bit more edit-friendly.
posted by colecovizion at 12:59 PM on March 31, 2008

Best answer: Last year I started boning up on specific presentation techniques that would allow me to declutter my charts and found a lot of excellent suggestions from the Excel users on the web (google Excel clean, for example) and, in particular, Edward Tufte. Many of the techniques suggested avoiding the "enhanced" features of Powerpoint (3D, gradients) so I won't go on about those since that's not what you asked. I will, however, give you the best advice I found.

Forget PS and head over to Illustrator. It's a tool designed for making a silk purse out of a pig's ear of a PP chart, easily. Everything hence is my experience of PP 2003 which may have improved in 2007 so YMMV.

1) Copying charts from Excel/PP (if you use that) into Illustrator is a doddle, just a copy and paste. On paste everything is converted into shapes and vectors, and editable text, that you can quickly lock, recolour/add gradients (most importantly for me, desaturate, because PP seems particularly bad at producing decent colours - the textile swatches are great for this), and rearrange, group at will. Changing bars on a chart is simple, for example. Just select one of the bars with the direct-selection tool, select/same/fill colour, and all the other bars with the same colour are also selected. You can then use the eyedropper to recolour them all with one click.

Once you've finished editing the charts (or whatever) use the Flatten Transparency feature at its best vector settings and then copy/paste to PP using Windows Enhanced Metafile option. What you have now is a chart that has superb typography (which is where PP fails miserably IMO), is crisp, doesn't hurt your client's eyes when they look at it, and doesn't degrade when you resize it to fit your other content.

2) Illustrator CS3 can produce smart charts. It can also export in a myriad of formats.

3) With practice Illustrator can fulfil pretty much everything else on your list save possibly for animations, but then I've not got in-depth with it to know that for certain. If you find a nice map of Iceland (EPS or non-vector) you want to edit for your presentation, slap it in to CS3 and use the livetrace/paint options to get it the way you want.

Postscript: the only problem I've found with having gone this route is now everyone wants me to produce their reports for them :)

Post-postscript, which is outside of the remit of the question but which, I think, deserves a followup: your term "visual polish" and mine probably differ wildly, but I would like to say something on this. If what you want are clean easy to read presentations, then you really should forgo the 3D, gradients, and pie-charts where possible. Depending on your audience (I write reports for senior management, for example) all adding fancy graphical flair does is obsure the message you're trying to give. Instead of a 3-layered 3D chart, three separate non-3D charts might be preferable. Pie-charts should be generally avoided (although they are used extensively in business) because humans are bad at determining accurately angles of a multi-sliced pie. A bar chart could be used instead (I replaced many pie-charts in my reports last year with simpler bar-charts). Last, if anything, try to reduce your palette instead of increasing it, particularly if you're providing handouts of the information to your audience.

Anyway, apologies for the rant, and I hope this information was of some use. If you would like me to send you some example before and after shots of charts I've "cleaned", mail me on and I'll stick something together for you.

Best of luck.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 1:19 PM on March 31, 2008 [8 favorites]

Seconding Edward Tufte and urbanwhaleshark's rant. In that spirit I've also found Garr Reynold's Presentation Zen website highly informative and helpful. They both changed my entire perspective on fancy PowerPoint and "PowerPoint culture."
posted by barchan at 1:56 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi urbanwhaleshark. Thanks for all the guidance, it was spot on. I'll have to check out the charting options in Illustrator. I've always been toying with the idea of using Illustrator, so now might be a good time to investigate it more. Ideally, I'd like my work flow to be "assisted" a little more because it can be time consuming doing everything "custom."

I want this type of flexibility so that I can reduce the visual complexity in a practical way. I realize that people can get crazy with charts and 3d, but I also think there are ways for it to contribute to the design. In the case of the charts, I tend to use very little data so that the message is clear.

Thanks for your advice. I'd really like to see any samples you're willing to show me. There is always something to learn! I'll email you separately.
posted by colecovizion at 2:25 PM on March 31, 2008

I should point out that I've not used the smart charts Illustrator can deliver, mainly because setting it up was going to take more time than my existing options. I just thought it was kinda neat. Like yourself I was looking for ways to reduce the amount of time it took to produce reports and ease workflow, while still maintain a high level of quality. In the end, due to the huge sets of data involved and the size of the reports I was having to generate each month, the compromise of Excel, Illustrator and PP has done the trick. Now I've got the key skills for each application learned it takes around a day to build a 20 page presentation.

One last thing. During my investigations it also became apparent that one of the issues I needed to be aware of was that someone would have to take over my responsibilities in this area at some point (holiday/hit by bus), so it was important that I try and use existing technology (Office) as much as possible so those covering my work wouldn't be hit by a wall of problems trying to put this stuff together. As such I've tried to clean the charts in Excel as much as possible before throwing them through Illustrator and into PP. This means that they can use those charts as-is to get them out of the door asap (Excel to PP), and use the Illustrator option as an "extra" should they see fit.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 3:07 PM on March 31, 2008

Hoping not to derail things too much, but if you're looking to improve your powerpoint work I would recommend Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson which concentrates on the message and the delivery of it, rather than the tool/graphics used.
posted by sdevans at 4:58 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Door repair   |   What is in "punch", England early 19th C Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.