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Tricks for Making Your Slides Look Their Best


In the 4th grade I asked my mom if I could go to summer school.  One of the teachers was teaching an acting class over the summer and I wanted to go in the worst way.  She agreed and I played my first role ever – Mr. Allen.  I took more acting classes in high school and college and acting in several community theater productions in recent years.

Stage actors have a number of tricks that they use that the audience may not notice, but which help the audience stay in the moment of a play.  For instance, actors don’t  turn around and talk to the person behind them on stage.  If they did, it would make it harder for the audience to hear them.  Instead, actors turn their body and face slightly toward the direction where the person is standing, but they keep three fourths of their body and face pointed at the audience.  When actors pivot to leave or change directions, they turn their bodies in the direction that keeps their face and front side toward the audience longest so they minimize the time their back on the audience.  When they motion with one hand, they use the hand that is the furthest from the audience to keep from obscuring the audience’s view.  These actions are subtle but help to serve the audience.

Likewise, as I’ve worked to create better slides, I’ve found a few little tricks that I think serve the audience better.  They’re very subtle but they make for a more polished presentation.

Different Shades of White

White Background with an Object and Two Words

One of the techniques I like to use is to have a picture of a person or object on a white background and then put one or two words next to the picture such as in this client example.  What I found through, whether using a paid photo sites or particularly on free photo sites, is that not all white backgrounds are the same.  For instance:  Some white pictures are shot against a white background while others have had the background removed and replaced with pure white.  Still others have no background just the object.  And others are a combination:  for example, white a pure white background might be inserted, then reflections or shadows are added.  Here are three examples of those different types of white backgrounds.

Picture Shot on a White Background

Background Is Removed and Replaced with Pure White – Compare to the Next Photograph

You Can See the White Background Inserted When You Put the Photo on a Colored Background

All Background Is Removed So You can Put on Any Background – See the Next Picture

Notice How There Is No White Around the Object Like There Was with the Red Bow Above

This Is a Combination in that the White in the Top Left is Pure White but the Reflection and Shading Have Been Added

Where the subtly comes in is when you have a person or an object photographed against a white back drop and the picture you use doesn’t cover the whole screen.  For instance, in the photo below, notice the shadow to the right of his feet.  When I put this photo on a white slide, you get a distinct line where the shadow and the photograph ends and where the white slide begins.  I didn’t like that sharp contrast.  So I created a white triangle and covered the bulk of the shadow.  What’s left was a more subtle shadow that didn’t have a harsh break on the slide.

Notice How the Shadow Ends Abruptly to the Right of the Man in the Photo

This Is the Version of the Slide with the White Triangle Inserted

I know a little obsessive right?  But I think noticing this subtle change adds extra polish to your work.

Go All the Way to the Edge and Beyond

When I’m not using a photograph against a solid white or colored background, I like to take the photo all the way to the edges of the slide so that the picture fills the entire slide.  Depending on what the image is and the point I’m trying to make, sometimes I’ll go well beyond the edges and position just the part of the photo that I want to show up in the slide.  Here are some examples.

This Photograph Fills the Entire Slide

This Photo Went Beyond the Edge of the Slide – See the Next Photo

This Is the Original Photograph Used in the Slide Above. Expanding the Size of the Photo Beyond the Edges of the Slide Allowed Me to Have a Bigger Snake and to Use One Snake Rather than Two

I prefer the way the slide looks when the photo goes to the edges or beyond over defaulting to the way Microsoft inserts a photo in PowerPoint.   Compare for yourself.  Which do you think looks better in the two slides below?

Default from PowerPoint

Photo Enlarged to Fit the Slide

Black in Back

Sometime however, because of the proportions of the photograph, I’m not able to go to the edges or beyond without losing key elements in the photograph.  When that happens, then I use a black background for the slide.  When you project the slide on a screen, the light doesn’t pass through the black of the slide and it creates an illusion that the picture does fill the slide screen.  Below are two photos.  One taken during a presentations and the other is the slide as it appears in the deck.  Notice how the picture taken during the presentation looks like the picture is the only thing on the slide?

This is the Actual Slide with the Picture in the Center. Notice the Black Background Showing on the Sides

Sorry this Picture Isn’t Clearer, But This Is the Part of the Presentation Where I Show the Slide Above. Notice How the Black “Sides” Blend in with the Screen

Again, it’s a subtle difference, but it enhances the overall look and feel of your presentation.

Now It’s Your Turn Again

What tricks have you figured out in working with photographs on slides?  What are the subtle things you’ve done to improve the quality of your presentations?  Do share in the comments below!!