I was watching a YouTube video recently on nutritional supplements (long story!) and saw the speaker had used this title slide. I immediately knew what was wrong with it and how to fix it. So as an educational opportunity, I wanted to share my step-by-step process.

These types of title slides are common among non-professional designers:

  • Lengthy title that is center-aligned
  • Lengthy speaker biography that is crowded and hard to read
  • Clip art photo slapped artlessly on the page
  • Gradient background (or some template background) for that extra pop!

It looks amateurish, doesn’t it? And yet, it could look very professional if you know what to look for and how to fix it. Let’s go step-by-step fixing this title slide.

1. Alignment
Always pay attention to alignment. That means everything on your slide should share an invisible border with at least one other thing on your slide. Center alignment is a killer because it destroys your alignment. On this slide, nothing really lines up and so everything seems to be slapped on messily.

I’m always going to align my text on the left. There are some times you can break this rule, but most of the time your slides will immediately look better with left alignment. I’m going to place the picture off to the side for now (we’ll deal with it later).

2. Text Variety
Right now the text looks overwhelming to read. That’s because it’s all the same size, so the eye doesn’t know where to land. Instead, we want to give the eye clear landing spots by using variety and contrast in text treatment.

In the title, for instance, we have four lines of text with no contrast. We can introduce contrast by 1) bolding some keywords and 2) italicizing the emotional words.

In the biography, we can bold the speaker’s name and make the font larger. The rest of the text we can make smaller, and white, so it whispers.

There are several calls-to-action in the biography, including two URL’s and a Facebook page. I 0nly want to highlight one of them. Otherwise, they are all competing for attention. I’m going to use a technique where the last line (call-to-action) has the same text treatment as the first line (speaker’s name) like a set of bookends. Finally, we don’t intuitively know what “FB” means, so I’m going to replace that with a Facebook icon.

Do you see how adding variety to the text treatment makes it easier to read and more visually interesting?

3. Integrate the Picture
The presenter is on the right track to add a picture to the title slide. Pictures engage audiences, and especially pictures of people. But its placement is awkward, just wherever there is some blank space on the slide. It looks “bolted on”. Instead, I want it to be integrated more naturally with the page.

The rule of thumb is I want people to see the picture before looking at the text. There’s a ton of brain research behind this but basically we want to engage people emotionally (picture) before engaging them logically (text). The eye naturally starts in the upper left, so I’m going to place the picture in the upper left. Then it will naturally read left to right to the title.

I’m also going to rework the title a bit more, adding even more contrast, by making the emotional words smaller and adding some color. See how things really start to pop when you have contrast and variety in your text? See why it’s such a mistake to have all the text the same size and color?

4. Gradient Box
There’s a bit of a hard border between the picture and the text. The picture has a white background that ends suddenly. It feels like a harsh transition. One handy tip I like to use is a semi-transparent box that goes from fully transparent on the left to fully dark on the right. I’ve created a video showing how you can make these.

The effect is to marry the text and picture better. You also have a darker background for the text to stand up against (I turned the larger title text white).

5. Color
The layout is better. But now I’m thinking about color. Right now we have a gray background. Gray can be used artfully but it also tends to be a somewhat depressing color. Maybe that’s the mood this speaker wants to set. But since she’s talking about anxiety, worry and food cravings, depressing doesn’t seem to capture it.

There is a ton of research showing that different colors subtly create different moods in the audience. I want to be more purposeful here. What mood do I want in my audience, and what color can help to set that? You can see how different colors convey different moods:

Any of these colors creates more of a mood than the gray, and makes the slide look more professional. Any of these colors makes the slide “prettier”. But the choice comes down to: what mood do you want to set?

  • Blue makes you feel calm and that’s not what we’re trying to say.
  • Purple conveys prestige or luxury, again not what we want.
  • Green is also a calming color, and suggests health and growth and vitality. It’s a reasonable choice for a talk about health.
  • Orange makes you feel a bit fidgety, and maybe even a little hungry. Bingo! Anxious and hungry is the topic of our talk, so let’s go with that!

6. Textured Background
Most slides have a solid color background, and that’s fine. Some use a gradient fill to add some more polish. Still others go for a template background, which can often be too much.

But I like to add textured backgrounds. Gradients seem a bit artificial, while textures feel more organic. Gradients seem like you’ve seen them before, while textures feel new and creative.

There are lots of places to find textures and I created this video showing how to make textured backgrounds. But just go to sites like Pixabay.com or Compfight.com and search for “texture”. Or use a search term like “cloud” or “paint” or “sand” or “water” to get some interesting photos with texture.

I found this texture at Pixabay.com and just recolored it using Picture Tools > Format > Color in PowerPoint. There’s a sense of chaos in the randomness that reinforces the idea of anxiety, panic and worry that complements this presentation’s topic.

By the way, Pixabay is my favorite new site for finding pictures because they have lots of high-quality pictures, you can use them free even for commercial purposes and — best of all — you don’t even have to add the author’s attribution. You do have the option to pay the author, but it’s voluntary.

Good luck with your presentations and check out my book Speaking PowerPoint if you found this useful! Or, if you want your staff to learn to use PowerPoint this well, consider having me in to conduct an onsite workshop.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


The National Security Agency is in the news for this horrendous PowerPoint slide explaining the PRISM data-collection program. I wanted to do a slide makeover to show you how to save this slide. And it won’t be hard. This slide will be completely transformed in just SIX STEPS!

1. Visual or Text?
First, this slide is meant to be presented to an audience which means you need to make a choice. Will this be a picture slide? Or a text slide? You can’t have it both ways. Research by Richard Mayer, as well as John Sweller, demonstrate that mixing pictures, extensive text and voice is the least effective way to communicate.

In this case, I’ll choose to make this a picture slide. I will use text just to help guide the audience to key points I’m making on the slide.

2. Concrete or Abstract Picture?
I see we have a Sankey diagram with circles representing countries. The problem is the audience needs to read the text in the circles to recognize the country. That takes time and slows understanding.

Instead, I’m going to use outlines of countries and try to place them in a physically accurate spatial arrangement. Now the audience can recognize the countries instantly without needing to read the circles. I’m still going to keep the text, so I can direct the audience’s attention to different parts of my slide as I’m presenting to them.

You might think the text labels are unnecessary. Won’t most in the audience be able to recognize Europe versus South America without the text? Probably. However, research finds that when people look at familiar icons, some percentage of them cannot recognize what it stands for, so it’s a best practice to add a text label next to a picture icon. However, it’s a judgment call. You could probably do away with the text labels completely and reduce clutter even further.

3. Highlight what’s important
It’s not immediately clear where the audience should look on the Sankey diagram. And because of that, the diagram seems more cluttered than it actually is.

Instead, I’m going to use darker colors to highlight the areas I want the audience to look at. Everything else will be colored gray so it recedes into the background. Now it’s easier to spot North America as the focus of this slide.

4. Slide title
I want the slide title to be informative and so I’m going to summarize the main point of this slide in the slide title. In addition, there’s a lot of clutter in the title area: logos for internet companies, logos for government agencies. I’m going to reduce the clutter by removing the internet company logos completely (for now) and move the government agency logos to the right.

It still looks pretty cluttered, so I’m going to use color borders for the title and footer, which gives me a clear white space for the slide content.

5. Logos
The slide creator obviously wanted to keep these company logos, perhaps to reassure the audience they have the biggest companies working with them. But they add a lot of clutter without adding a lot of information! We can reduce the size and put them at the bottom of the slide, but it’s still a lot of clutter.

One technique I learned from John McWade at Before & After Magazine is this: each of these logos is recognizable. Even if you only showed a sliver of the logo, you would recognize it. So what if we reduced these 10 logos to slivers and placed them at the bottom of the slide? I’m not 100% sold on this approach, but I think it’s better than having all the logos floating around taking up slide space.

6. Explanatory text
The slide is looking better. But what about all that explanatory text that was on the original slide?

We don’t want to add it back because it creates a slide with text and pictures, a sure audience killer. One option is to delete the bullet points and the speaker just covers this as talking points. But there are two potential problems remaining.

One, some of this content looks really important! For instance, I didn’t know phone calls are routed along the cheapest routes, rather than the most physically direct routes. It seems we need to highlight that point on the diagram, without capsizing the rest of the content. We can do that by adding a dotted line showing an example route between South America and Africa, showing it being routed through the United States. We add the key phrase “Cheapest Path” because we’ll cover that point next, speaking the phrase “cheapest path” as we introduce the topic. We also place it BELOW North America, so the eye goes there second.

The second issue is this slide deck may be sent around later and be read without a presenter. Generally, I advise against this. It’s difficult to create a self-explanatory slide that can be presented. But it’s also an unfortunate reality of our busy business world. In that case, add explanatory text in very small gray type. Now the audience will not be tempted to read it as you’re presenting, but it will be readable when you email the deck around later.

Look at the starting slide again, then the finished slide. Big difference, right? You can see how using just a few simple principles leads to clearer PowerPoint slides. Ugly slides aren’t PowerPoint’s fault. They are the slide creator’s fault. And now you know how to fix them.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

 


This is a great graph makeover by presentation designer Andy Arrow. The ideas expressed in this video are the foundational stuff of great graphs.

Some main principles

1. Clarify the graph’s main message in the title

2. Take what’s important and move it higher on the slide

3. Use colors to highlight what’s important and subdue everything else

Great graphs don’t just happen. They require thought and skillful use of design principles. Thanks to Andy Arrow for this thoughtful and practical educational video.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


It’s easy to create tables in PowerPoint. But it takes some thought and design skills to create a really attractive and effective table. In this blog article, I want to show you some principles for creating better tables.

This post was inspired by instructional designer Craig Hadden at Remote Possibilities, who asked for my comments on how to approach this table.

In particular, Craig wanted my ideas on how to solve the contiguity problems. That is, how to eliminate the checkerboard effect, where highlighted cells are adjacent to non-highlighted cells, creating “holes”. 

First, let me tell you what I like about this table.

1. It’s well-conceived. The main point is you can create a great presentation by starting with a presentation title that combines a question and/or an action and/or mentions the audience directly. This table provides examples of presentation titles and indicates which approach(es) each demonstrates.

2. Smart color choices. The light blue background holds the table together without being obtrusive. The gray lines whisper in the background while helpfully guiding the eye across the table. The overall mood is calm, confident and visually elegant.

In the interest of helping you build your table design muscles, here’s how I would approach this table.

Step 1: Say NO to “Yes”. Each cell is either highlighted (“Yes”) or non-highlighted (“-”). But this table uses text for the highlighting. Reading is slow and doesn’t take advantage of things like color and contrast which the visual system can process instantly. And instead of using the repetitive word “Yes”, which requires the reader to scan up to the column header to see what the “Yes” refers to, you can insert that word directly into the cell. Now we have a table like this.

Step 2: Address contiguity. Now we deal with the contiguity issues. Actually, Craig has done a nice job of minimizing the contiguity problems already. But since there is only one row with all 3 cells highlighted, contiguity problems cannot be 100% avoided . There will have to be some rows with 2 cells highlighted and some with 1 cell highlighted, guaranteeing some checkerboard effect.

But here’s where it gets interesting. I notice the table has two different rows where both “Action” and “Mention” are highlighted. Strange. But there’s no row where “Question” and “Mention” are combined. Now I see what Craig has done. He has selected example titles, not only for their value to the reader, but to avoid the checkerboard pattern.

It occurs to me that we could include an example of every type of presentation title — a total of 7 possible combinations. Now the contiguity problem has not been solved, but there is a predictable logic to it.

Step 3: Discourage side by side reading. One reason contiguity is a problem is the cells, butted up against each other, encourage the reader to compare them side by side. A dark box next to a light box makes the checkerboard effect very obvious.

But what if we increase the distance between the cells? We can do this by using circles instead of squares, separated with a healthy dose of whitespace and a vertical line. Instead of the full word in the circle, we only have the first initial. Now the reader is encouraged to read across and not read up and down.

Step 4: Intelligent chunking. Finally, we make this table intelligible by grouping the rows into 3 groups: titles that use all three approaches, titles that use two approaches and titles that use just one approach. We use heavier lines to separate each group and remove the horizontal rules within each group.

Now the contiguity problems are completely solved. The heavy horizontal rules limit contiguity problems to whatever is in that section, where the blank cells have a logical and predictable order.

My thanks to Craig Hadden, for allowing me to use his table as an educational example. What do you think? Leave your comments below.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.


The measure of a chart is how quickly it conveys the message while being visually pleasing. Conveying the message is, of course, the main point of the chart. Visually pleasing is also important because it enhances your credibility.

Here’s the Chart of the Day from Silicon Alley Insider. As an educational exercise, let’s critique this chart.

I would give this chart high marks. The message is clear: there’s a clear difference in increasing/decreasing email usage between age groups. To facilitate the message, this data is laid out in an up/down orientation, which is exactly right for communicating rising/falling forces. So the graph visually communicates the message. Ease of reading is assisted by adding the data values to the bars and by keeping the axis titles close to the bars. Overall, this is easy to visually digest, inspect with a few quick eye sweeps and understand.

The graph is also visually pleasing, with a cheerful blue for the bars and relatively subdued gray-blue for the horizontal rules. There isn’t a lot that could be improved.

In the interests of helping you build your graphing muscles, here is how I’d approach this graph.

Graph Makeover - Chart of the Day How Much Time People Spend with Email

1. Graph title. First, I’d write the graph title so the main message is clear. This is for the audience’s benefit, but it’s also for my benefit. If I don’t know what I’m trying to say, then my graph is doomed to failure. So write out your graph’s main point as a full sentence.

2. Color. Second, I’d color-code the negative values red. This has three benefits: it groups the graph into two distinct visual groups, it conveys negativity, and it attracts the eye to look at the negative values instantly.

3. Spacing. Third, I’d adjust the spacing between the bars to 50%. This brings the bars closer together and the eye doesn’t have to make a “running leap’ to go from bar to bar.

4. Remove “mumblers”. Finally, I’d remove the “mumblers” (the unnecessary details that clutter the graph).

  • Remove the repetitive word “Age” on the axis labels. We do use the words “Age” in the first and last bars but that’s all we need to clarify we’re talking age groups
  • I normally also suggest removing the y-axis completely if you’re putting the values directly on the bars. But in this case, I’d keep it. The negative/positive value may be confusing to the reader at first, so the y-axis helps them to become oriented quickly.
  • Remove the horizontal rules completely, which add unnecessary ink to the graph and occassionally bump into the data labels. Alternately, you could keep the rules but soften them to a light gray or a dotted line, so they’re whispering in the background.

Graph Makeover - Chart of the Day How Much Time People Spend with Email

Even though I normally remove the horizontal rules, I kind of like the second graph with the horizontal rules. The lines act like highway markers and as you pass each one you’re reminded how long that particular bar is. But really, any three of these graphs would be easy to understand and visually pleasing.

And that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? The personal satisfaction of building something that’s beautiful to you. Which is your favorite?

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.