PowerPoint: THE Presentation Designer Program

What is presentation design? At Synapsis Creative, we see it as a multi-faceted and multi-talented niche in design. PowerPoint Presentation design incorporates graphic design with multimedia presentation and an understanding of audiences.

At the heart of presentation design is versatility, combining communication and design principles across their various platforms and applications. This is all driven by the flexibility of our favourite design software – PowerPoint.

Jump to PowerPoint Myths and Misunderstandings

Jump to PowerPoint Design

Jump to PowerPoint Marketing

Jump to PowerPoint Presentation

Jump to PowerPoint Features

Jump to PowerPointers, Tips, and Hacks

PowerPoint has become synonymous with presentation design and our company ethos is built on pushing the creative limits of this often misunderstood and underappreciated program. Let’s dispel some misconceptions and set the record straight.

PowerPoint Myths and Misunderstandings

When we tell people that we design and deliver in PowerPoint, we’re met with all kinds of reactions – from the incredulous to the apprehensive. People have varying experiences with PowerPoint, but what we found over the years to be the most common experience is people’s misunderstanding of the program.

One critical example that we’ve wasted a lot of time contemplating is blogger, Geoffrey James. This poor misguided soul harbours a lot of hatred towards PowerPoint without properly understanding how to use the software. He’s written a lot of articles proclaiming mistruths and uninformed opinions about PowerPoint, opinions we’ve bumped into regularly, so let’s clear the air once and for all and demonstrate just how useful PowerPoint is as a complete suite for design and communications.

First and foremost – ‘Death by PowerPoint’. This a commonly thrown-around phrase that ultimately demonstrates PowerPoint’s dominance. Whenever people are speaking about ‘death by PowerPoint’ they’re really discussing the boredom and numbness they feel from poor presentations.

PowerPoint is a presentation aid, but it has become so synonymous with presentations, that it bears the sins of this medium. A poorly written and badly presented presentation is not the fault of PowerPoint; but understanding a thing or two about presentation design (and public speaking) might go a long way to preventing ‘death by PowerPoint’.

It’s an ongoing battle PowerPoint battles every day across classrooms, boardrooms, and conference halls around the globe. Researchers have explored PowerPoint’s efficacy in education and training, its impact on audience memory and engagement – and the overall consensus is that PowerPoint helps audiences absorb and retain what they’re being presented – if used correctly.

A massive study from Brigitte Hertz (2015) summarised it perfectly. “The apparent user friendliness of PowerPoint might disguise the fact that presentations with the program are in fact complex. It is not PowerPoint itself which causes some bad presentations, but the choices and behaviour of the presenters who must deal with all the new possibilities and requirements inherent in this program.”

PowerPoint Design

Like any good presentation, PowerPoint offers users multimedia capabilities. Users edit and create for Print, Illustration, Presentation, Video, Interactivity all in one program because presentations are always much more than simply what’s being said – it’s a complete experience that captures and retains audience attention.

Comparable to PowerPoint is Adobe’s now-defunct Creative Suite, which offered a library of programs for editing, creating, illustrating, animating, and so forth. Each one requires a great deal more training to understand and costs far more than PowerPoint. The beauty of designing and delivering in PowerPoint isn’t just that it’s far easier to use and lets us compress files easily, but it’s also a piece of cake for our clients too. They can make edits and small amendment, add notes, or test any file with ease. Plus, there’s never an issue opening files because all our clients have Microsoft Office in their computers.

One client that got to experience the versatility and flexibility of PowerPoint’s way of working is Westpac Bank. In announcing Westpac’s partnership with Mastercard, we created a national campaign with branded collateral, printed material, digital and screen displays, and an intranet page with animated explainer video. All designed in PowerPoint and delivered within two months.

Westpac’s Change and Communications Manager – Matrix Consumer, Archana Jayaranjan, told us, “With a lot of our deliverables, given the longevity of the program, we really needed a tool that would let us manipulate throughout, just to keep the content up to date,” she said.

“PowerPoint actually gives us the ability to make those changes after Synapsis Creative did the creative legwork. For example, the infographic was a really nice gesture from Synapsis Creative, and being able to manipulate that into something that we can update makes it really easy for us, especially when we’re regularly dealing with quick, reactive changes.

“Additionally, some of the feedback from the explainer video – people could not believe it was made in PowerPoint and when you mention it to people, they’re really surprised by the quality and output of PowerPoint. It was a really great decision to use PowerPoint as a tool for building our creative assets.”

PowerPoint for Marketing

From a marketing and communications perspective, PowerPoint offers managers a centralised contact point for designing, editing, and sharing with their team. The program’s versatility and ease-of-use streamlines design and approval processes, offering consistency in messaging and branding throughout the business.

Designing in PowerPoint provides the ability to easily transfer assets across different format, specifications, media, and audiences. In this digital era, this means having a single program for creating content specified for every traditional channel and social media platform used for reaching the right audience.

Whenever we provide designed marketing collateral to clients, they can comfortably edit and repurpose the designs with updated content or new formatting, breathing new life into the design and adding longevity to their marketing investment.

Marketing and communications managers often spend a significant amount of time chasing approvals, requesting edits and changes, and working hard to ensure all comms are aligned with company branding. By reducing the time design time traditionally spent on those edits and changes, marketing and communications managers can spend more time focusing on creating that brand ethos. PowerPoint can facilitate the change necessary to a company’s structure and processes, so design and creativity can return to the heart of company communications.

For people thinking of starting their own business or developing their freelance portfolio, business and personal branding is the key to marketing your product, service or identity to audiences.  

Logo

Design is design. You can translate the idea of the business and brand philosophy over any medium. Using PowerPoint gives you access to vectors and assets using tools and shapes built into the program. You can play and re-work the design as you need, using PowerPoint to build the concepts over different slides as a reference. An added benefit of using PowerPoint is that you conveniently export this design into different file formats and file types. The logo will likely be the most difficult aspect of your branding because it will serve as your business identifier. Having a thorough design concept stage will give you options to choose from that help identify how best to translate your business.  

Font

Typography is a kind of visual language; it evokes a feeling or attitude towards your business. The psychology behind typography has been synonymous with the businesses who have popularised a particular text. A serif font, like times or times new roman, is considered trustworthy and authoritative because of its association with the New York Times and similar publications. Extensive brand guidelines can have upwards of three fonts, depending on the type of communication, the layout of the content, and audience. Keep it simple. Choose two fonts: a main and secondary font. Designing on PowerPoint allows you to have access to a variety of classic fonts and typefaces. If you ever want to expand or explore different types, you can always download fonts onto your computer.

Pantone

Colour psychology tells us that colours used for branding are integral for customer interaction. Many fast food industries use red and yellow because red is supposed to make you hungry while yellow makes you feel happy. Think of McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. All of these businesses take advantage of the colour red. While you’re probably not running a fast-food joint, choosing red and yellow might make people believe that. So colour is important in building the perception of your brand. Like choosing a font, choosing two colours will keep it very simple for you. For prominent brands like Nike, Acne Studios, COMME des GARCONS, and Chanel, they stick to a classic combination of black and white.  

Get Your Brand Off the Ground

You can create a powerful brand identity in PowerPoint using these three key ingredients. The benefit of designing in PowerPoint is that you can create a template for colours, fonts, and layouts so you don’t have to refer to a brand guideline. This is useful for smaller businesses who have a small design team or hire freelance designers. Designing your brand in PowerPoint also makes it easier to move assets into other Office programs, which is a huge bonus for some of your clients

PowerPoint Presentation

Obviously, this is PowerPoint’s bag. When you have a single program for graphic design, animating, presenting text (even kinetic typography), and interactive content – presentations become an audience-focused experience. Let’s just compare two slides to demonstrate the difference some PowerPoint presentation design can make.

Infographic

This infographic was created in PowerPoint, can easily be edited or incorporate excel data. Infographics (data visualisation) demonstrate how a balance of design and informational hierarchy can make complex information easier to understand.

The hierarchy of information simplifies and prioritises information in accordance with importance to help audiences gain an understanding quickly and comprehensively.

Data visualisation transforms facts and figures into something easily digested and pleasant to the eyes. By giving a graphical representation of data through elements such as charts, maps, and graphs, information thus becomes more accessible, making it easier to understand trends, patterns, and outliers.

This is the same essence as presentation design. Whether to inform, persuade, entertain, or a bit of all – presentation design conveys information in a way that captures and retains audience attention.

Presentation combines various elements:

Graphic Design

Animation and Video

Interactivity

Writing

While PowerPoint is a complete suite for design tools, people often forget that it’s a presentation aid. They often centre their presentation on the content and design of their PowerPoint slides without writing a good presentation to begin with. Presenter should not use PowerPoint as a crutch for lack of preparation or content.

PowerPoint offers a single source of creation and sharing that continues to evolve and update.

PowerPoint Features

Since its launch in 1987, PowerPoint has constantly been evolving and updating.

At the end of 2019, Microsoft added a new feature for Office 365 subscribers that allows users to export their slideshow as an animated GIF from PowerPoint. This has made it significantly easier to create GIFs that can easily be shared across social media as compared to other design programs.

This feature in PowerPoint works with all media supported in a slideshow, PPT animations, and PPT transitions, such as shapes, text, images, SVGs, videos, animated GIFs, and 3D models.

Inserting a GIF in PowerPoint is as simple as adding an image or picture. Users can find GIF files by inserting either ‘Clip Art’ (for PowerPoint 2010) or ‘Online Pictures’ for PowerPoint 2013 or newer, and then typing ‘animated’ or ‘gif’ in the text box. Ensure you’ve checked ‘Creative Commons Only’ to find images you can use free and legally. You can also visit this site for a sizeable library of animated GIFs.

PowerPoint Designer is feature added endless AI (artificial intelligence) generated options; suggesting layouts, theme styles, imagery, and colour palettes based on text and pictures.

The adaptability of PowerPoint files has improved significantly with the addition of this feature. Users now automatically get design recommendations based on the content they’ve already added.

This incredible capability has really changed the way we look at our designs. While we’ve always enjoyed the flexibility PowerPoint offers us and our clients, the addition of AI brings a new dynamic to what Synapsis Creative can deliver.

PowerPoint Designer’s recommendations mean clients can now produce computer-generated remixes of our designs in seconds. This means designs are more easily amended, therefore increasing marketing ROI. The motivation behind this added capability was to help users ensure their designs were consistently on brand but still easy to share, edit, export, and change.

PowerPoint Designer has streamlined and automated the creative process. Users simply open a blank presentation and enter words onto the slide. Designer then recommends a selection of high-quality photographs that reflect the text, as well as theme styles and complementary colour palettes.

Powerpoint Designer has also been integrated with Microsoft Research Perspective Engine. The software now recognises when a slide contains a large number that might be difficult to interpret and puts into context by automatically augmenting the text with a corresponding perspective.

For example: “Victoria is 237,629 km²” may be hard for audiences to interpret. However, adding “that’s about equal to the size of the UK” offers audiences some perspective. These relative measurements are now automatically generated through PowerPoint Designer’s AI.

Since its launch, Designer has now created over one billion slides for PowerPoint users. It has allowed businesses to use branded templates while offering theme ideas to those without them.

Designer’s AI is tailored towards improving the aesthetic of PowerPoint designs while improving users’ presentation skills through Presenter Coach.

Presenter Coach allows users to enter rehearsal mode and, while speaking, receive on-screen guidance. It highlights presenters’ pacing, inclusive language, use of filler words, and culturally insensitive phrases.

Presenter Coach also lets users know when they’re just reading off the slide (which is a massive presentation no-no). At the end of each rehearsal session, users are provided a detailed report with metrics for additional practice.

PowerPoint design is now more accessible with AI automating functions that would otherwise take time and skill. The development of Designer and Presenter Coach demonstrate synthesis between design and technology.

A lesser designer would be worried about being replaced by robots like an automotive plant worker. However, at Synapsis Creative, we’re excited to see how this ever-evolving technology will create a new world of presentation design possibilities. 

PowerPoint, Tips, and Hacks

Before any advice is offered on designing, creating, and refining PowerPoint, one critical piece of advice – Less. Is. More.

The amount of things we’ve left on the editing floor is obscene. Creating/designing/presenting should be more about what you take away than what you add – both as the artist and the audience.

Rule 1. Keep it short and simple.

Rule 2. Avoid bullet points.

This mind sound wild to anyone who’s ever seen a PowerPoint presentation, but it never helps a PowerPoint and should be avoided. Same goes for stock templates.

Rule 3. Always start with writing.

Whether it’s a moodboard for a design or a complete presentation with animation – put something down in writing first. It feels natural and makes your idea something visible. Even if it’s something as simple as collating inspiration, put it onto paper (or onscreen).

Choosing a PowerPoint background

When it comes to creating the perfect PowerPoint background, you have three basic choices: A photo, a pattern or a colour. Knowing which is right for your presentation means weighing your overall goals and deciding what type of design you’ll favour. Use the following tips to guide you as you choose what type of background to use.

Use a solid colour background if you:

  • want to create a minimalist look but plan on using a variety of images throughout your presentation,
  • need a design that is scalable across a variety of devices,
  • want to use strong, simple colours to create emotional appeal or
  • need to create a presentation with strong contrast between text and background for an audience with visual impairments.

Use a patterned background if you:

  • want a simple design that incorporates branding elements,
  • want to incorporate whitespace as a part of your background schema or
  • are aiming to evoke emotions using colours but feel that a solid coloured background is too simplistic.

Use a background image if:

  • you want a highly branded look for your presentation,
  • plan to use mostly text on slides as opposed to slide images and
  • know exactly what device your presentation will be displayed on and don’t have to worry about scaling problems.

When creating PowerPoint backgrounds, it’s important to differentiate between background images and hero images. A hero image is an image that occupies both the background and foreground of a slide. A hero image is used to convey a central message and catch the viewer’s attention. Unlike a background image, a hero image is meant to stand out and send a direct message about the content of your slide. Use hero images instead of background images if you want to create simple, targeted messages that your presentation audience can understand without fuss. Use background images if you’re presenting nuanced or technical information that needs to be explained in depth.

Focus on Complementing Your Content

Presentation backgrounds are designed to provide a grounding element for your slides. As you choose your background, remember that it must complement your content in order to be successful. Before you choose your slide background, think about the overarching theme and message of your presentation. Any background you choose should directly correspond to and complement the wider presentation.

That means that you should avoid choosing backgrounds just because they look cool or have strong visual appeal. A gorgeous background that isn’t related to the spirit of your presentation will distract viewers instead of impressing them. If you’re having trouble coming up with a background pattern or image, ask a design pro at your organization to create a bespoke background for you.

Backgrounds: Essential Aesthetic Choices

Knowing some basic design theory can help any PowerPoint presenter create stunning slide images and backgrounds. If you’re creating backgrounds for a presentation, it’s especially important to understand the value of negative space, focus areas and translucency. Knowing how to use these design elements will enhance the appearance of your presentation backgrounds and make all of your PowerPoint slides look professional.

Negative space

Negative space is defined as the area surrounding the main object in a photo or design. It helps to draw attention to the main subject of a composition and also provides a resting point for the eyes. As you design your slide background, think of how you can use it to create negative space around the focal point of each slide. Remember that the background is meant to draw attention to slide content, not detract from it.

Focus areas

Focus areas such as blurred lines help the main content of your slides stand out. Instead of using a crisp, clear image for your background, use a slightly out-of-focus or blurred image that helps text stand out to viewers. By using blurred lines in your background, you help draw the eye to important information and also provide a visual break for your viewers. If you like the idea of focus areas but want to mix things up, use the same blurred image on each slide, but alter the colour scheme to create visual difference.

Translucency or opacity

Translucency or opacity describe how well you can see through one design layer to the layer beneath it. If you’re utilizing an image for your background, you can use transparency to draw attention to text or other slide contents. Instead of imposing the text directly onto your background, create a box or bar on your page in a bold colour with 30 to 70 percent opacity. Then, place text on the opaque layer. This will help text stand out while allowing your background image to show through too.

When done well, PowerPoint backgrounds provide the perfect counterpoint to the main content of your slides. They draw attention to your content and create useful visual reference points for your audience. Of course, creating stunning backgrounds is easier said than done. Working with a professional designer is a great way to enhance the beauty and efficacy of your PowerPoint presentations.

Now some simple PowerPointers

Embed your fonts

: If you’re going to present your PowerPoint or share it with other, embedding fonts is crucial. You don’t want your audience or client complaining about missing fonts or poorly placed texts as a result.

It’s a couple easy steps, just click ‘File’ then ‘Options’. Go to the ‘Save’ menu and check ‘Embed fonts in the file’. Alternatively – if you’re sharing the file – you can always save and send it as a PDF.

Converting documents to presentation:

Since I’m always talking about the wonderful editability of PPT files, being able to quickly and easily convert other formats into PowerPoint will save you some time and sanity.

This is especially true for Word documents, since Microsoft can easily convert files within its program suite. When you convert from Word, each paragraph formatted in Heading 1 will become the title of a new slide, each Heading 2 will become the first level of text, and so on.

Create a presentation from an existing document by clicking ‘Home’, then ‘Slides’, followed by ‘Slides from outline’. You can also convert directly in Word – just open the document you wish to convert and in the ‘File’ menu and under ‘Send To’ click ‘PowerPoint’. If this option isn’t available in your version of Word, you can add it manually to the Quick Access Toolbar under ‘File’ then ‘Options’.

Select separate bodies of text and other objects:

If you hold down ‘Ctrl’ while highlighting text, you can select two separate sections at the same time.

This will help you edit text quickly, underline or bold certain terms or phrases, or change the colour of non-sequential words. This also applies to selecting other objects like images or geometric shapes.

Easy alignment of images and objects:

I’ve discussed the importance of symmetry and the value of using grids previously, so for all you that missed it.

You can select all of the objects you want on a slide by clicking on one of them, holding ‘Shift’, and then selecting the rest. In the menu click Arrange > Align or Distribute > chose the type of alignment you want. You can also choose Align Left, Align Right or Centre. For horizontal alignments, you can also choose Align Top, Middle, or Bottom.

If your objects aren’t evenly spaced from each other, choose Draw > Align or Distribute > Distribute Vertically or Horizontally. To make sure you have a good overview of your content and how it’s organized, select the Grid/ Gridlines/ Guides option in the View menu.

Adding audio

: This is relatively simple but add a new level of depth and richness to your PowerPoint presentation.

Click the ‘Insert’ tab, followed by ‘Audio’, then ‘Audio on my PC’. Choose the audio file you wish to use, click ‘Insert’, and then ‘Play in background’. This way, the audio will play in the background of your presentation. Otherwise, you can choose an option that plays the audio only when you click on a specific slide.

Fade animation:

If you don’t have the time or skill to craft intro and outro animations, ‘Fade’ is a quick cheat code for clean and simple transitions. You can also use ‘Fade’ for the elements within the slides, but don’t overdo it – one ‘Fade’ per idea or section is more than adequate.

Movement as a language:

Animation can really help you highlight certain elements of your presentation. To create a unique motion path, select ‘Add animations’, followed by ‘Motion paths’ and then ‘Custom paths’. From here, you simply draw freeform the path you want the element to take and hit ‘Esc’ when done. You can also use existing motion paths and edit with the green (start) and red (finish) buttons along the path.

Reduce your presentation size:

If you’re going to share or present your PowerPoint, it won’t hurt to compress everything. We wrote a whole guide outlining numerous ways to do so.

Invisible hyperlinks:

If you want to surprise audiences with embedded hyperlinks to landing pages and social media platforms, use an invisible hyperlink. Simply insert a geometric shape and format it to ‘No fill’ and ‘No line’. Select your shape and click ‘Ctrl’ + ’K’. Paste the link into address box and hit ‘OK’. Viola! No need for the typical hyperlink-blue text; just a simple shape or image that links to an external site. You can also use this technique to build an interactive menu or table of contents.

Convert your presentation into a video:

I have written several blogs on the benefits of video, but it’s a very simple thing to do in PowerPoint and can really help you audience engage with your content. Simply click ‘File’, then ‘Save and send/Export’, and then ‘Create video’. Be sure to rehearse and have your content down pat, otherwise your slide timing won’t align with your presentation.

Why not try your hand at drawing?

During your presentation, you can circle, underline, draw arrows, and make other marks on the slide to help create emphasis or demonstrate connections. If you don’t have a tablet and stylus, you can use your mouse cursor by clicking ‘Ctrl’ + ‘P’ and, to stop, click ‘Ctrl’ + ‘A’. This method is great for drawing, underlining, and highlight, but isn’t ideal for handwriting.

Combine geometric shapes:

After inserting and selecting the shapes you wish to combine, click ‘Merge’ and you’ll have a series of options. ‘Union’ simply joins the two shapes into one. ‘Combine’ is similar to ‘Merge’ except you get an empty space where the shapes overlap. ‘Fragment’ combines the shapes but gives separate areas within the three compartments. ‘Intersect’ is the opposite of ‘Combine’ as it removes everything except the intersection of the shapes. ‘Subtract’ removes from one shape whatever’s covered by the second.

Blank screen trick

: I’m still discovering new hacks in PowerPoint and this one is so simple and fun for playing with audiences and reclaiming their attention. While in ‘Slideshow’ view, you can make your screen go completely black (by pressing ‘B’) or entirely white (by pressing ‘W’) – this is a cheeky way to make people think your presentation has bugged out and will likely get their attention for moment.

Do a live poll of your audience

: An interactive poll is a great way to keep audiences engaged while ensuring they’re actually paying attention to your presentation. Live interactive polls are great for webinars or conferences.

Our favourite app for embedding live interactive polls into PowerPoint is Sendsteps. This app uses text messaging and web platforms to collect audiences’ votes/responses, which are displayed instantly in your PowerPoint presentation.

Before the presentation, you create the questions, customise how the chart looks, and how your audience can respond. During the presentation, invite the audience to respond by visiting a webpage or texting. After the presentation you have access to an online dashboard that reports your
findings.

Zoom to draw in focus:

\In ‘Slideshow’ view, you’ll see a magnifying glass in the bottom left corner. Click it and then click the part of the slide where you wish to zoom in. After you’re done, click the magnifying glass icon again to zoom out. This is especially useful for making data visualisations and charts more dynamic while highlighting key facts or figures.