The Secret Life of PowerPoint

 

I’ve rarely come across a designer who welcomes the opportunity to work with PowerPoint, or any Microsoft product for that matter. Most find their home with Adobe programs, and for good reason. InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, and their Creative Suite (CS) brothers and sisters have benefitted from literally decades of R&D that helps creative professionals to build and create. There is almost nothing you can’t do with these programs given you have the right capabilities. Then, enter the Microsoft product: clunky, restrictive and short on aesthetics.

Surprisingly, I find that PowerPoint is consistently in the top four programs that I work with. What I once opened begrudgingly as a favour to a client, I now work with all the time. It’s really important to my clients that they have well-branded and well-communicated slide packs, for a variety of reasons. Like it or not, PowerPoint is the program that consistently works the best for them: they can edit the pack themselves after I’ve finished with it, they can send it to other people to collaborate with and most of all, they are familiar with it.

Firstly, Important Things happen in PowerPoint

Whilst I’ve certainly encountered them over my career, I haven’t had a meaningless PowerPoint document sent to me since I began Amadeus Brand. If a client has given it to me, there’s a good chance it’s really important to them and can potentially add a lot of value to what they are trying to achieve.

A PowerPoint pack, or Slide Deck, can be vitally important for a bunch of reasons. My client may need my help because they are:

Delivering a presentation 

Whilst I don’t fear giving a presentation or public speaking as much as death, it’s not my favourite thing to do either. If my client wants help with a slide pack for a presentation they are giving, I want to make sure the visuals do everything they can to make them look as good as they possible can when they're up in front of an audience.

This means:

  • Keeping content clear and concise (I never shy away from recommending cutting down the copy on wordy slides)
  • Translating some text into easy-to-digest graphics, such as icons
  • Assist with storytelling through the use of photography and other imagery
  • Creating order and yes, beauty, for the audience. Our brains crave visual prompts and absorb and retain information far quicker than through words alone.  

Asking for money 

Many people put their hearts and souls into getting their start-ups or small businesses off the ground. If they have secured time in front of an investor, you bet I’m going to want their Pitch Deck to look spot-on. They need to look like a well-oiled machine (even if I know for a fact they often go to work in their tracksuit pants), and through the use of careful and considered branding we can build a story, even if the story is still young.

Summarising critical information and data for key decision-making 

I’ve learned a lot from my husband, a management consultant, about the rigour that goes into establishing a business strategy. There are lots of spreadsheets, graphs and models. I get a bit scared when I think of the important decisions that get made every day from the output of non-designers using PowerPoint. Thankfully, my husband is pretty good at it, but for others, it can be challenging to communicate vast amounts of data in a visually clear and compelling way.

Pitching for new business

I’ll be honest, I still lay my proposals out in InDesign and probably always will. But my clients need a living, breathing document that they can customise for each new pitch. They may need to borrow content from previous documents with the ability to add in new information for new pitches. There will be standard slides which tell a ‘Brand Story’ and outline who they are, what they do and how they do it. There may be standard information pertaining to pricing as well as key graphics that might outline things such as process. But, much like Pitch Decks, they all need to look incredible. I’m sure I could get a better result by using InDesign and Acrobat, however, this is not the language that many of my B2B clients speak – and when they ask me for it in PowerPoint, I know I need to work with it, not against it, to make it look as great as possible.

Insider Top-Tips

It’s never going to be InDesign, but the more I work with PowerPoint, the more pleasantly surprised I am by what it can do. Here are some hacks that I use all the time.

Images

Images are not linked in PowerPoint like they are in Adobe programs. Which means I can cut and paste vector graphics from Illustrator or transparent PNGs from Photoshop, click ‘Paste Special’ > 'Paste as PDF' in PowerPoint and Voila! No saving unique files into a directory to link. I find this improves my workflow and allows me to be quite spontaneous in creating graphics. I ensure I compress all images prior to saving and sending, which helps to keep the file size down.

Fonts

The availability of fonts in PowerPoint (or any Microsoft program) is almost a deal breaker, but there are some solid choices which will render properly on everyone’s machine without defaulting to Times New Roman, or worse still, Calibri.

Body Copy

Arial
Georgia
Franklin Gothic

Headings

Franklin Gothic
Rockwell
Baskerville Old Face
Century Gothic
Tw Cen M

Even better, let loose and choose a non-Microsoft font that better represents your brand, but only do so if you are (a) happy to PDF before sending or (b) are 100% sure your audience’s machines will have the same font - or risk the inevitable default to Times New Roman. There are some options available to embed fonts, but so far I’ve not seen any evidence of this working flawlessly, especially on Microsoft Office for Mac.

Pre-formatted graphics and flowcharts

There are definitely some to avoid, but pleasantly, there are many which I find myself using again and again. Opt for clean, simple lines and avoid any drop-shadows, gradients or 3D effects. Sometimes I even create native graphics (such as the one below) in PowerPoint and export to use in ‘proper’ design programs (brilliant for plotting site maps for website projects):

And finally, five ways to a great PowerPoint presentation

1.     Colour Palette

Nothing screams mediocre like the pre-built PowerPoint colour palette (YAWN). PowerPoint allows you to set up a unique colour palette really easily (see image) by selecting 'Customize Colors', where you can define colours by RGB, CMYK or HEX codes. As a good rule of thumb, I like to use: 2 dark colours, 2 light colours, 1 bold colour, 1 neutral and 1 contrast.

2.     Typography

I’ve just said that nothing screams mediocre like the pre-built PowerPoint colour palette? Well, I lied. Calibri does. Before you start your presentation, take a moment to choose a font that is not Calibri, such as the much better options listed above.

3.     Imagery Style

Don’t forget imagery in your presentation; a picture really can tell a thousand words. Icons and simple graphics are really good for telling a story in as little words as possible. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you not to use clipart though (don’t I?!). You can find some really great low-cost options over at Shutterstock or iStock, or support independent designers and illustrators a bit more directly through sites such as Creative Market.  

4.     Splash Pages

I find that an easy, low-involvement way to do this is by creating full-page ‘breaker’ or ‘header’ pages. Pop in a heading or a quote in quite a large font size (say, over 40pt), and create an even more professional look and feel by tightening up the leading (white 'space' between lines of text). Go to 'Line Spacing Options' and in the 'Line Spacing' menu select ‘Multiple’; something around the 0.9 mark generally does the trick.

5.     PNGs

PNG’s are brilliant in PowerPoint as you can place graphics with transparent background directly onto coloured backgrounds or graphics. I do this a lot with reversed out logos on top of graphics in front pages. It's a small, but very nice, touch that can give your presentation a really professional feel. You can create these really simply through an online provider like Canva, or even Microsoft Picture Editor.

Is PowerPoint a key tool in your business arsenal? How do you use it best? I'd love to hear in the comments below!