What’s the best slide size for your next PowerPoint presentation? That’s a question only you can answer. But since you’re here, we’ll share our insights.
To start, we have to understand that the default slide size in PowerPoint 2016 is 16:9. Since its introduction in the eighties, 16:9 has become the standard ratio for monitors and presentation. To unlock its potential for your presentation, we must ask where it came from and why we use it.
So where did 16:9 come from?
That’s a good question, and a great story. See, the first films were made in 4:3 ratio. Until the invention of television, all films were shown in this square format. In fact, the first TV’s were built with 4:3 screens to show 4:3 film. As TV sets became more common in the fiftie’s, cinemas struggled to sell tickets. That’s because they were selling the same ratio people got at home for free. Cinema needed something new.
After smell-o-vision failed to sell tickets, movie producers looked at the bigger picture. As long as TV screens were stuck in 4:3, viewers were stuck watching small, square pictures. The producers saw an opportunity, and created Cinerama. Using 3 projectors on an enormous screen, Cinerama stunned viewers with a widescreen ratio of 2.59:1.
Cinerama was popular, but pricey. To film a movie for Cinerama, directors had to use 3 cameras shooting in 4:3 at the same time. Still, audiences had gotten a taste for widescreen. They were hungry for more. To satisfy them, movie producers started to experiment with new cameras and widescreen formats. This resulted in a range of ratios, like the 2.76:1 of Ben Hur and the 1.85:1 of The Ten Commandments.
When the first widescreen TVs were being developed in the eightie’s, engineers wondered what size they should make the screens. After all, there were so many sizes to choose from. In the end, an engineer named Dr. Kerns H. Powers discovered a ratio to suit all ratios.
That ratio was 16:9.
16:9 could be large enough to accommodate each of the major movie ratios, and small enough to squeeze in old square movies. Soon after , it became the standard for televisions. Soon after that, it became the standard for modern monitors. And that’s the story of why we see it everywhere.
And why exactly do we use 16:9?
Well, that fits into a broader question: why do we use widescreen? We use it because it’s closer to what we see in real-life. This lets us lose ourselves in movies, by letting our eyes explore sweeping landscapes and small details.
Are there even any other options?
Of course! The options are up to your imagination. In fact, many directors and designers still use small, square ratios like 4:3. The small size lets them draw our attention to tiny details. A great example in film is The Grand Budapest Hotel. In the film, Wes Anderson used a 4:3 ratio to evoke the feeling of old films and focus on the small details of his sprawling story.
Well what’s that got to do with my presentations?
Think of what you want your audience to feel in your presentation. Now think of what Wes Anderson achieved. Could you create a similar feeling with a smaller focus? Of course you could! Try pulling focus by putting key points in the centre of the screen. Then, switch to widescreen when you really want to wow the audience. It’s the perfect one-two punch in PowerPoint.
So…what’s the best slide size?
As we said, it’s up to you. Experiment with different sizes to create different effects. Got an old photo of your agency to emphasise your age? Try placing it in 4:3 with a retro black border. Want an epic introduction? Add black bars above and below your slide for a block-buster feel.