“Words are all I have to take your heart away”
“Lord Polonius: What do you read my Lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.”
Sorry for this cheesy opening. But the only intention behind pinching the line from Bee Gee’s song and Shakespeare’s play was to underscore the importance of words in our life. Words carry a lot of power. They still do. There is a romance to this four-letter word- WORD. But when it comes to presentations, words take the audience heart and brains away, in a totally different way.
In presentation design, words become Text. Lots of it. Words become Bullet Points. Lots of them. All these together create a deadly effect on audience called “Death by PowerPoint”. Although a Word document is best suited to the printed word, a slide also needs some kind of textual content. You need a powerful headline in the title slide to draw in the audience. You need some warm-up content in introductory slides to set the context. And you need hard-hitting facts to pitch your point convincingly.
This post doesn’t tell what content you should be putting in your slides; you as industry experts are the best judge of that. And it goes without saying that you should have as less content as possible in a slide (best is 1 message per slide). This post talks about Design- Designing of text for maximum impact. Yes, we will cover a bit of Typography- the art and technique of designing the printed word, as well as simple text alignment rules to follow for the most aesthetic look and easy readability of your content.
It’s time to bring back the power of words in presentations!
Typography Tip #1- Increase the Font Size of Key Words
Oh-too-simple, right? You probably knew this already but have you always followed this design practice? If yes, that’s great. If not, remember the simplest design tips can make the biggest difference to your slide. Make the most important word(s) in your presentation title stand out, just by increasing its font size or changing the color. Force your audience to notice the words that you want them to notice.
Bonus Tip: Do not increase the font size of words in a bullet point sentence. That will look awkward. Just change the color of the words to highlight them.
Typography Tip #2- Combine Fonts to Match Personality of Words
Now, this isn’t too basic. Here, your creative intuition and aesthetic sense comes into play. But this is where typography becomes interesting. Try your skills at designing by mixing and matching different typefaces or font families. See which fonts look good together. More importantly, do they add value to the content? The fact that there are thousands of free fonts available online doesn’t mean you have to use them. If the default fonts available in PowerPoint do the trick, what better? You won’t have to save those downloaded fonts as images (you can’t edit them later on too). Most important rule- Whatever fonts you choose to mix, it should not affect the legibility and readability of the content.
Take for example the slide below. The word “Power” deserves a masculine font. A Sans Serif font. What’s the difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts? The easiest way to distinguish the two is that Serif fonts have a tale at the end of the letters (e.g. Times New Roman) while Sans Serif are without those (e.g. Century Gothic). Sans Serif fonts are more readable as compared to serif fonts.
“Story” on the other hand deserves a more personal, handwritten font. Want to know the fonts we used here? For Power, we used the masculine Chub Gothic font; while for Story we have used Actonia font. Both are available on dafont website for personal use.
Typography Tip #3- Rotate Important Words for Added Emphasis
Another way to emphasise certain words is to break the normal reading style of a sentence. You can tilt the word, make it all caps and change the color to force the audience to pay full attention to that word. Notice how rotating the word Skyrocket in the slide below also complements the personality of the title.
Typography Tip #4- Play with Letters in Your Title
If there is a possibility to play with the individual characters in your word- misplace a word with icon for instance- nothing better. It not just shows your creative side but speaks volume of your design skills too. Not all words, however, lend themselves easily to such design manipulations. So don’t fret if this tip doesn’t come handy in your next presentation. But do look out for opportunities for such an effect.
Check out the slide below- since startup is about launching a new product, service or idea into the market, a rocket icon is the perfect replacement for alphabet ‘A’.
Typography Tip #5- Change the Color to Highlight Key Words
All the above points targeted emphasising words in titles. What about the body content? Here’s one way to make the content more interesting and easy to digest for the audience. Highlight the important points by giving them a different color. Try not to have full sentences in bullet points. Pick the important message from that sentence and from the short message, choose one or two words that hold all the meaning. Give them a different color for quick reading.
Typography Tip #6- Align Starting and Ending Point of Lines
A very clean and sophisticated design practice that many graphic designers love to follow. Give the most important word(s) in your presentation a large font size and then try to adjust the remaining words so that the point where each title line begins and ends is perfectly aligned.
In case, you are not able to achieve that perfectly alignment because of a small margin, check out the trick #10 that will you help you expand or squeeze words and get that perfect alignment!
Typography Tip #7- Make Articles, Joining Words Insignificant
Nobody needs to read the, an, a, from, with, on, or other such joining words of a sentence. So, you can play around with them to fit your design purposes. Now, in the slide below, the words “with” and “the” were superfluous and becoming a hindrance in following the previous typography tip. But, by inverting their position, the alignment problem was easily solved. Also, check how the sub-heading with special highlight on “Public Speaking Lessons” complements the title and the image. In a split second, readers know what is in it for them. That is the power of words!
Typography Tip #8- Make Interesting Taglines from Your Presentation Topic
If your presentation title is becoming a bit too long and losing its impact in the process, try making some interesting tagline from it. In the above example too, “Connect with the Audience” became a tagline that highlighted the benefit audience will derive from the presentation. The tagline could be a startling statement like in the example below. “Gone in 8 Seconds” is a sarcastic statement based on a research finding that human attention has shrunk to 8 seconds, even below that of goldfish! Play it up using typography tweaks you learnt above and let your previously long headline become the body copy.
Typography Tip #9- Give Interesting Text Effects (Glow, Shadow, Reflection)
PowerPoint has in-built text effects to help you spice up your presentation content. Select the text you want to highlight, go to the Format tab Drawing Tools, locate the Text Effects menu and check out the visual effects you can apply to your text- Shadow, Reflection, Glow, Bevel, 3-D Rotation, and Transform.
Are your words not that legible owing to poor contrast between the text color and background? A busy background sometimes interfere with the readability of text in the foreground. You can add a transparent layer behind the text or try the Glow visual effect. In the example below, the white on bluish background was fairly legible but was not standing out. The Glow effect solved that problem and also turned the text into a visual art.
Give your text a mirror image effect using the reflection feature. Make sure it is applied to one or two words not a complete sentence as the reflection will fall on the other lines and make reading a pain. In the example below, the reflection effect suited perfectly to the text. You can apply it on any keyword that you want to emphasise.
BONUS TIP: You can control the size, transparency and distance of reflection too (or any other text effect for that matter). Click Reflection Options... at the bottom of the menu. A window opens on your screen to the right allowing you to modify the properties of the reflection (transparency, size, blur, distance). Each text effect can be customized in this way.
Typography Tip #10- Increase Character Spacing (Kerning)
In design language, the space between the individual letters of a font is called kerning. Some fonts are designed to be condensed while some are too spacey. The character spacing in each font is intentional as that defines the personality of a font. You may, however, feel the need to increase or decrease that spacing to achieve a particular effect.
Check out the example below: we have doubled or tripled the default kerning to make the words “Vision 2020” spread out across the length of the slide. This gives the slide overall a sophisticated look.
Here’s how to increase the kerning in any word:
- Select the text you wish to customize
- Go to the Home tab
- Open the Character Spacing menu (see the screenshot below)
- Choose the option you require- Very Tight, Tight, Normal, Loose, Very Loose
- To want specific adjustments, click the More Spacing... option
- Specify the value depending on your requirement in the By window
Typography Tip #11- Pick Title Colors from the Image
Smoothly blend your text into the slide background by picking the colors from the images used in slide or the background color itself. The trick is to use shades of the same color to give a harmonious look and feel to the slide. The practice of using shades and tints of a color is called as monochromatic color scheme. Learn about all color schemes here.
In the example below, we have added white to the monochromatic colors to create a little contrast and used the darker shades to highlight our keywords.
Aligning Text- Centre v Left vs Right
Have you ever before paid attention to the text alignment in your slide? Probably not. But from now onwards, try out different variations of slide layouts and text alignment to create a better viewing and reading experience for the audience. Here’s how to be sure whether you should align your text left, center, right or combination of these:
Align your text center when the slide layout involves visual elements arranged in a top to down fashion. See the slide below and imagine the same text aligned left and right. Appears a little odd, right? The audience will probably notice the heading and the faded visual in the background first. The eye will move from top to middle to bottom.
In the bottom section, they might now just glance from left to right and read the three strategies or they might take each individual block of text and read from top to bottom- see the icon first, name of the strategy and then the description. Center is the way to go in such a scenario!
Notice the title “Inclusive Business Strategies”- some of the typographic tips mentioned above have been applied to place maximum emphasis on the word inclusive.
Now, let’s alter the slide layout forcing the eye movement from left to right. In the slide below, the image grabs attention first, followed by the title, and the body content. Notice how the headings of the three strategies have been capitalised and used a different color to make them stand out. Although fact states that capitals is tougher to read as compared to lower caps, you can still go against the rule when the words are not more than 3 to 4.
Here’s a variation of the same slide. We have removed the body content and kept only the headings. This time we have changed the case to “Capitalise Each Word” and this has been done not manually but using PowerPoint built-in Change Case feature:
Go to the Home tab, open the Change Case menu and choose the option you like:
Change the slide layout again, this time making the direction of reading right to left. The text will also fall towards the right making the slide look harmonious.
Left, Right & Center Aligned
Some slides require a combination of different alignment styles. For instance, in the slide below, the text has been placed alternatively- to the left of the circle, next right and then left again. Place your text accordingly.
If you did the opposite of that, many might not even notice but it would not give as coherent a look as the right alignment will give. As we said in the beginning, small things go on to make your slide look professional and smart.
So, did you learn something useful? We would love to hear your feedback in the comments below. Don’t forget to…