15 quick actions you can take to clean up your slides

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quickAlright. So here’s the deal.  You’ve got a presentation to do in a few hours, and you’ve pulled together a couple of slides. It’s the best that you can do considering the amount of time and resources that you have. If you had more time, you could have gone through the 8 steps. Let’s face it – slides that get the job done, takes time.

And time – you don’t have right now.

So what do you do? Well, I’ve put together a list of 15 quick actions that you can do to make sure you’ve got a cleaner, more effective deck of slides – given the little time you’ve got on your hands. Some of them take only a couple of minutes, so go through the list and do what you can.

Action #1: Remove custom animations and transitions

If the custom animations and transitions in your presentation are there merely to make it look more dynamic or fun, then get rid of them. Animation and movement have a purpose in presentation design – usually it is to help you stress a point, or emphasise a trend pattern or allow you to pace your content. If it’s not doing any of these things, then trash ’em.

How to remove custom animations from your slides:

  1. In newer versions of PowerPoint, there is a button on the toolbar that allows you to see the custom animations you have on a specific slide. Click this button, and then delete each one.
    customanimation
  2. If you have too many animations in almost every slide and you don’t have enough time, then go to Slide Show > Set Up Show and check the ‘Show without animation’ box.
    setupshow

Custom animations and transitions are distracting. Period.  Remove them: your audience won’t be distracted, they will thank you for it and they won’t think you’re a fool.

 

Action #2: Remove your logo from the master slide template

If it’s an external presentation to clients or customers, you don’t need to tell your audience which company you’re from on every single slide. Come on, don’t be so full of yourself. And if it’s an internal presentation to your colleagues, then, everyone already knows where they work, obviously. If you really need to, you can have your logo appear on the first and last slides.

How to remove your logo from your slides in 1 minute:

  1. Go to View > Master > Slide Master
  2. Find the template you’re using
  3. Remove the logo
  4. Close Master.

You will have more real-estate on your slide to work with. Your slides will look a lot cleaner and you can maximise the use of space by using full sized images, or even expanding your charts and graphs for maximum legibility.

 

Action #3: Get rid of all clipart

Seriously. Get rid of them.

How to get rid of clipart on your slides:

  1. Go through your slides one by one.
  2. If you find a clip art. Get rid of it.
  3. Replace with high quality images instead. See the resource below for ideas on where to get images quickly.

Your presentation will no longer look like it’s been pieced together like a quilt. Your slides will no longer look cheap and unprofessional. Need I say more?

Bonus Resource

How to find beautiful images for your next presentation (Rob Biesenbach)

 

Action #4: Use the same font throughout (unless you’ve done it for creative purposes)

It’s usually bad practice to copy and paste slides from previous presentations or from other people’s presentations. But sometimes, your boss may have sent you packs to consolidate. Or maybe you are compiling a pack from various members of your team and they’ve each sent you parts of the presentation. Whatever the reason, sometimes you may end up with slides in which the fonts used are different. Here’s how you can change it once so that the entire slide pack uses the same font.

How to ensure the same font appears throughout your PowerPoint pack in 1 minute:

  1. Go to Format > Replace Fonts
  2. Select the font you want to be replaced in the “Replace:” drop down menu.
  3. Select the font you want it replaced with in the “With:” drop down menu.
  4. Click ‘Replace’.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 7.11.22 PM

It will look a lot more consistent. All the slides will seem as if they belong to the same pack and not like it’s been pieced together from many sources.

 

Action #5: Use a consistent font size for your slide titles (unless you’ve done it for creative purposes)

This is only if you’re not already doing something creative with your design. If your presentation follows the “title on top, content below” format, and you don’t have time to do something more effective with it, then at least make sure that the slide titles are all consistent from one slide to another.

How to ensure a consistent font size for all your slides:

  1. Find a slide with a header in the right size.
  2. Click on the outline of the title box (you will notice if you hover over the outline of the title box, the mouse pointer icon changes to a cross-hair icon)
  3. Double-click on the ‘Format paintbrush’ button on the toolbar.
    paintbrush
  4. Go to the other slides and click on the title area. Do this for all the slides.
  5. Click on the ‘Format paintbrush’ button to deactivate it.

Your presentation pack will look a lot more consistent and your audience will not be distracted by the inconsistent header size.

 

Action #6: Make sure your slide titles fit on one line

Your audiences’ eyes will have to track a lot of distance if they have to read two entire title lines. While they’re doing that, they’re definitely not going to be paying attention to what you’re saying. So best to keep your titles as short as possible.

How to make your slide titles more effective (shorter):

  1. Go through your slides to find two liner titles.
  2. Shorten them so they fit into one line.

Shorter titles will make it easier for your audience to focus on your key ideas, and more importantly follow what you’re saying.

 

Action #7: Use the same style and layout for your images throughout the pack

If your images are stretched to full size, then make sure they’re like that throughout the slide. If your images are black & white, then make sure they’re all black and white. If they have a frame, make sure they all have the same kind of frame. If there is a variation in the layout, try to repeat that variation throughout the pack – so that it doesn’t look out of place. The key here is to keep the look and feel the same throughout.

How to ensure a consistent look and feel for the visual elements in your pack:

  1. Go through your pack and choose one visual style for your images.
  2. Ensure that all the images in your pack follow the same style.

The presentation will have a consistent look and feel throughout. The audience won’t notice a thing out of place – which is the whole point of it all – their focus will be on you and not on tiny things that distract them.

 

Action #8: Add a background box for text that is hard to read against a background of a similar colour

Sometimes, if you have a text box on top of an image with a similar colour, it may be hard to make out the text. No matter where you move the text box, the text is not fully legible.

How to make the text on a image more legible in 3 minutes:

  1. Add a rectangle shape to your slide.
  2. Make sure that there is no outline for this shape.
  3. If your text is a bright colour, choose a dark fill colour for the shape (black is usually the best choice).
  4. Adjust the transparency level to a level in which you can see the image below, but also have enough ‘solid’ness to help make the text legible.
  5. Extend the shape so that it is slightly bigger than the text.
  6. Arrange the text so that it sits in front of the shape. You can do this by cutting and pasting it on top. (CTRL X and then CTRL V).

Your presentation will be a lot more legible and your audience will not have to struggle to make out the text on your images.

 

Action #9: One idea per slide

Understand that there is a limit to your audience’s cognitive load. There is only so much that they can absorb at any one time. If you try to tell them too many things using a single slide, you run the risk of losing your audience’s attention. Each slide should be a new idea or a different aspect of an evolving idea. For example, instead of having one slide describing 3 reasons why your service is far better than that of your competitors…. have three slides. Every idea deserves its own space.

How to get more of your message across by spending 3 minutes per slide:

  1. Go through each slide.
  2. See if there is actually one key message for each slide.
  3. If there is more than one key message, consider creating additional slides for each additional message.
  4. If it’s necessary to have multiple points on one slide for other reasons, then consider using Action #11 to help your audience digest your points better.
  5. If it’s way too much information on your slide and you don’t have time to transfer them out to their own slides, then consider Action #13.

 

Action #10: Recolour your charts to highlight your key point

When importing or generating a new graph or chart for your presentation, always remember to ‘avoid defaults’.  PowerPoint or Keynote will generate graphs for you, but they have no idea what your point is. They don’t know if you want to talk about the month in which your company’s sales took a plunge, or whether your main point is about the main group of people using your app. They don’t know the context of your message either. All they know is that this data translates to this graph or chart. It’s your job to tell the story that helps you make a point. In order to do that, it’s best to make some changes to the colours used in your graph or chart, so that your point is emphasised more strongly.

How to help your charts and graphs tell a better story in 10 minutes:

  1. Think about what you want to convey through the chart.
  2. Remove any distracting elements (too many gridlines, bright borders, etc.)
  3. Isolate the element or the item within the chart that emphasises that message.
  4. Use a strong solid colour for that element.
  5. Select all other elements within that chart and use a complementary colour to make sure the main element stands out.
  6. If you have a few different messages for the one chart, then make duplicates of the slide, and repeat steps 1 to 4 for each of them.

Bonus Resource:

How colour can make your PowerPoint charts more digestible (PowerPoint Ninja)

 

Action #11: Pace your points

Sometimes, you may have a number of points on your slide each deserving elaboration. Maybe you have a chart that you would like to build gradually. Or you might want to show a table of numbers and then proceed to highlight different parts of the table to help you make a point. In all these cases, it’s best to pace your points using custom animation. And this is one of the few reasons why you should use custom animation.

How to pace the points in your slide in 10 minutes:

  1. Find a slide in which you want to pace.
  2. Select the element you want to talk about second.
  3. Use custom animation to make that element appear on the slide (try not to use anything too fancy).
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for other elements according to the flow of your presentation.

This will help your audience follow you as you speak, rather than be distracted with the numerous things on your slide while you speak about one aspect/part.

 

Action #12: Make sure everything on your slide is aligned neatly

It’s important to have all the elements on your slide neatly aligned. If something is off, people will not only notice it, they’ll get distracted by it. Let’s say there are 3 rectangle shapes on your slide. Instead of manually trying to adjust them so they are aligned horizontally or vertically, make use of the in-built functionality within PowerPoint or Keynote to do it quickly and accurately. Even if it looks right to you, it’s always worth doing this to make sure.

Steps:

  1. While holding down the SHIFT key, click on all the objects or elements you want to align.
  2. Go to Arrange > Align or Distribute and select the align option that you need.Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.14.32 PM
  3. Repeat the process for all other slides as well.

Bonus resource:

Align Objects (Microsoft Office)

 

Action #13: Remove anything that doesn’t need to be on a slide and put it on a handout

If you find that there is just too much detail on a slide, then consider extracting the detail out and pasting it onto a handout document. Sometimes, you may find that there’s a lot of information you want to give your audience. You know that the information will be useful to them, but having this information up on a slide may not be the most effective way to get it across.

How to extract information to create a handout document in 25 minutes:

  1. Find slides in your deck that are text heavy.
  2. Remove all text that can be put into a handout and paste it into a word document.
  3. Examine the information you’ve pasted in the word document and group them into meaningful segments.
  4. Arrange the segments in the same order as you would present them.
  5. Make a note in your speaker notes, or add a sign on slides which make a reference to information in a handout.

Your presentation will be a lot cleaner and lighter, and your audience will have some useful information to bring with them.

 

Action #14: Check your legibility (design for the last row)

Always remember to design for the person seated on the last row. I’ve seen presenters use font size 12 in their presentations. As a rule of thumb any text in font size less than 24 is too small. For body text, try using 28 to 32. And for titles, 38 to 44.

Bonus resources:

Selecting the correct font size (Think outside the slide)

Do your slides past the glance test? (Nancy Duarte HBR)

 

Action #15: Ensure that the order of your slides is right for conveying your big idea

Particularly when the pack you’ve put together is a result of combining a lot of slides from other packs or from different sources, you may end up with a flow that isn’t quite effective.

  1. Go to View > Slide Sorter
  2. Look at the order of your slides and answer these questions:
    • Will this flow make sense to the audience?
    • Can I change the order or remove any of these slides so that it becomes a more effective presentation?
    • Am I using any stories or anecdotes to convey my messages? Is there ample opportunity in this flow for me to do so?
  3. Change the order accordingly.

Bonus resources:

Finding the right flow in your presentation (Slide Rocket)

The importance of flow in a presentation (Ethos3)

Getting the presentation structure right (Presentation Process)

 

So there you have it. Actions you can do (most of which take less than 5 minutes per slide) to clean up your slides. The key word here is action.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything on this list. Use whatever time you have, pick a few from this list and help your presentation get the job done.

What would you add to this list? Let’s hear it in the comments section.

Special thanks to Corbett Barr from thinktraffic.net who brought my attention to this blog post format  in his post 21 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Set Your Blog Up for Massive Success which he borrowed from Adam Baker who posted the awesome  24 Quick Actions You Can Do Today That Can Change Your Financial Life Forever.

Image source: thanks to the amazing work by Burns!
Written by Dinesh Rudra