Mastering PowerPoint Backgrounds

The slide background is one of the most important aspects of your presentation, and it’s the one people most often overlook. A lot of people seem to think of it as a bulletin board onto which we put different types of information, like text, titles and pictures or charts. But in fact, it’s a blank canvas and we should be thinking about how to paint a complete picture.

Before going any further, we should mention that it’s our abiding belief that no one should ever cram a ton of disparate content onto a single slide. If the content on the slide is a chart, make the whole slide about that. Don’t make it small and try to cram all the things you’re going to say about the chart, too. You’re going to be there to tell them what the chart means, so what are those bullets about?

Same goes for pictures. A lot of times we see people use a banner title, text or bullets to the side, and a picture on the other side. Why not just size that picture to 1024 x 768 and call it a day? It takes a heck of a lot less time to design that way, and it’s more visually engaging.

There’s more logic to this one-concept-per-slide rule. If you put all the text you’re going to say onto the slides, people can flip through the deck and get the gist but not the detail or nuance you intend to bring. Persuasion is in the details, and you can’t persuade if they’re not paying attention to you. Show them the data, show them the pictures and the big quotes and statements, but don’t show them those bullet points!

Okay, so a bit of a diatribe there, but it’s for a purpose: slide backgrounds form the basis of your slides’ ambience. If we can’t see it because of all those bullet points and text, we miss out on the visual engagement.

So if you take the slide simplicity approach, you can then focus on darker background colors with subtle gradients, contrast the dark slides with pure white with colorful charts and graphics, and fill in the rest with full-size pictures that say 1000 words.

Try it out and see what you think. We usually use darker slides for things like heavy or profound quotes, objective slides and other transition points in the deck, while using the lighter slides for presenting information and data. The big concepts—the references or allusions to history or literature or sports, etc., the philosophical beliefs, the success principles—we leave to pictures. Show the image, tell them why the image illustrates what you’re talking about, and move on. Simple, effective, and easy on the eyes.

What you’ll see as you move through a 20+ slide deck put together this way is that it is dynamic, presents content in its most efficient manner, and rarely if ever gets boring. The dark-to-light contrast, the variety of information, and the pictures really break it up for the human mind, and that only means good things for your presentation.

Question: How much attention to you pay to slide variety when you develop presentations?

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