Many presenters are using images horribly in their presentations!


From pixelated visuals to copyright images with watermarks clearly visible on them to many other disasters, presenters are coming up with unique ways to kill all the fun. Are you guilty of poor selection of visuals? Are your experiments at creating visual slides turning into disasters?


Lucky for you, we have put together a complete list of dos and don’ts for adding images to slides. You won’t believe how a little care while handling images can make your presentation a visual success. Ready for some introspection? Compare yourself with these 11 yardsticks to determine your visual literacy:


Visuals in Presentations: Best and Worst Practices


Sin 1: Using pixelated or blurry images

It’s not that presenters do not see that the image in their slide is of poor quality but that is the last desperate move they make when they can’t find any better visual in its place. Sorry folks, you have to search harder for that high quality image. If you have to shell out a few dollars, then do. But a blurry image casts a very poor impression.


Image Sin 1- Blurred picture


Sin 2: Tiny Images

Don’t use tiny images that require audience to carry binoculars. A high quality image lets you play up that visual on your slide, so go for it. For instance, in the Don’t slide below, the presenter has killed the action picture of football by using it up in such small space.


WHAT TO DO: If you have lots of text to incorporate, allocate half the slide to text and half to the image as you can see in the Do slide below:


Image Sin 2- Using tiny images


Sin 3: Overuse of visuals

These presenters are the ones who have taken the use-image-advice a bit too seriously. They collect as many images as can be fit into a slide and squeeze their content into the space left. Why do they do this? They find several relevant visuals for a single slide. For instance, in the Don’t slide below, the presenter has a slide on business goals and objectives of a start-up. All visuals used in the slide are pretty relevant and the slide would have been great if the presenter went with a single, big image.


WHAT TO DO: Choose one high quality image that sums up the main theme of the slide. Choose any visual that represents Goals and Objectives; it’s not necessary to pick an image for each of those goals. If you want to show each goal visually, dedicate a complete slide to each. Check out the difference:


Image Sin 3- Images kept haphazardly


Sin 4: Multiple pictures arranged poorly

Yes, there are times when the slide warrants multiple pictures. A campus view, various benefits of a product, trip collage, etc. require you to arrange multiple visuals aesthetically. This, however, requires basic design knowledge such as giving frames or borders to each image. The Don’t slide below is a bad way to arrange your images.


WHAT TO DO: Place your image along grids using the Gridlines feature (View tab) in PowerPoint. Or give them a frame using the default frames in PowerPoint (Format tab). The Do slide below is a good way to arranged multiple pictures in a single slide.


Image Sin 4- Ugly Collages


Sin 5: Cliparts that add no value, except shock value

If you haven’t heard so many presentation experts screaming their heads off calling clipart crappy and tacky, hear us now. These cartoonish characters add absolutely no value to your slide and make you look a tacky presenter too. An exception is always there, say designing a cartoonish slide is your purpose, but they don’t stand a chance in a corporate presentation. In the Don’t slide below, the clipart of suited professionals can still be forgiven but why not show your awesomeness like the Do slide shows.


WHAT TO DO: Nothing, just forget about clipart. Any visual would look better than it.


Image Sin 5- Tacky cliparts


Sin 6: Watermark Images

This is the worst sin of all. Even if you make the image small enough to hide the watermark, many in the audience would be quick to spot it and trust us, it’s the worst thing that can mar the reputation of a presenter.


WHAT TO DO: Need we say anything here? Please buy the image; don’t attempt to blur or remove the watermark even if you know how to do it.


Image Sin 6- Copyright Visuals


Sin 7: Pictures with headache-inducing backgrounds

Unless your objective is to perform a hypnosis session or cause excruciating pain to audience’s eyes, never choose a visual that has swirls, rainbows and other distracting elements in the background. Moreover, the content fails to stand apart from the background making it very difficult (practically impossible) for the audience to read the content. The Don’t slide below is a perfect example of what not to do.


WHAT TO DO: Choose an impressive visual that covers the whole slide. If you want to show growth, there are hundred options you can choose from- towering building, bar diagram, growth of a plant from sapling to tree, ladder steps, etc. If you have lots of text to accommodate within the slide, add a transparent layer over the complete image and then place your content. As you can see in the Do slide below, the image and content complement each other to create a professional, sophisticated presentation slide.


Image Sin 7- Jarring background colors



Sin 8: Amputating people while cropping images

Don’t be merciless while cropping images. Place yourself in the shoes of the person you are cropping. Would you like to see your photo with one arm missing? Obviously not. But yes, cropping an image to make it fit within the slide and to accommodate text at the same time is indeed tricky. As a presenter, you have to cut off portion of an image without making it look awkward. How do you that?  


One tip that all professional photographers give, while composing an image or cropping it post production, is to “never crop at joints”. Don’t cut off the person’s feet, fingers, and at the points dissecting any body part. See the Don’t slide below; the image composition doesn’t give due respect to the CEO.


WHAT TO DO: If the image itself is poorly composed, you need to take it again or choose a different picture. In the Do slide below, a different image has been taken and it’s taking up the same area without any need for cropping.


Image Sin 8- Bad cropping of photos


But what do you if you have a large-sized image that covers the complete slide space? Chop off all body parts left and right so that you can show the faces? Let’s take another example. Check out the Don’t slide below which has been brutally cropped to fit the content. Even the head and the crucial handshake signifying partnership has been hacked for convenience.


Now, check the Do slide- you only need to minimise the photo, crop the unnecessary portions (not the limbs, please), give it a nice frame (Go to the Format tab and check out the default Picture Styles) and tilt the photo to make it stand out and relevant to the slide. Not bad, uh?


Image Sin 8.1- Poor cutting of photos


Sin 9- Badly stretched photos

This sin is unforgivable and makes your slide an eyesore of the worst kind. Even if the stretched photo is of a high quality! What was the presenter thinking? We know. The presenter has a picture of a certain dimension, say in a portrait style, but wants to display it in the landscape format. So he stretches it to accomplish his mission knowing the damage he is doing to the image and the complete slide.


The Don’t slide below is an adaptation of a similar slide I came across on a presentation sharing platform. This also happens when a presenter chooses a shape and uses the Picture fill option in PowerPoint to fill the area with an image. If the image has a different aspect ratio than the area of the shape, PowerPoint will stretch the photo to fill the area, distorting the image in this process.


Image Sin 9- Stretched photo


WHAT TO DO: If you use the Picture Fill option in PowerPoint and the image gets stretched, follow these simple steps:


  • Click the stretched photo
  • Go to the Format tab on PowerPoint ribbon
  • Under the Crop dropdown menu, choose the Fill option (see the screenshot below)

PowerPoint will resize the image while maintaining the original aspect ratio of the image:


How to resize images in PowerPoint correctly


You can now drag the photo to adjust the required portion within the area. This might not work in your favor because you can’t have the teacher, student as well as the book within the small rectangular shape.


Check out what we did in the Do slide again. We cropped the photo and removed the white space in the image, chose a white background so that the image gels in smoothly, drew a circular outline around the image and placed our content alongside the image. You can try this or some other design trick, but stretching won’t do. Even a slight stretching distorts the image and is easily noticeable casting a bad impression on the presenter.


Sin 10: Using irrelevant silhouettes or other images

Silhouettes aren’t all that bad. They can be used if you want a visual element in your presentation but don’t want the audience to be distracted by the details. But adding silhouette just for the sake of it distracts the audience even more.


In the Don’t slide, the silhouette of a businesswoman doesn’t say anything. In a slide already having one visual element- a line chart- adding the silhouette is unnecessary and makes it difficult for the audience to read the chart values.


WHAT TO DO: Choose an image that adds value to your content. If it doesn’t, simply scrap it. The Do slide looks much better and cleaner with simply the graph:


Image Sin 10- Irrelevant silhouettes


Sin 11: Image with a thick outline

Creativity sometimes misfires and gives an unpleasant look and feel to your slide. One such creative effort is giving very thick border line to an image. The frame becomes as heavy as the image itself making one wonder what is more important- the image or the frame. Even if you picked the same from PowerPoint’s default Picture Styles, it doesn’t mean it is suitable for your presentation. In the Don’t slide below, the frame seems to be jumping from the slide and is too harsh on the eyes.


WHAT TO DO: If you wish to give it an outline, don’t keep the width of the line more than 1 point. Pick a light color for the outline if the background is dark. In the Do slide below, we encapsulated the image within a circle so that it doesn’t look jutting out of the slide. The outline was also chosen white and the width was kept at 1 point. The color of the text was picked as white to have a soothing contrast and not as jarring as black and red.


Image Sin 11- Using very thick borders


BONUS TIP 1: Characters in the image should look within the slide

Now this is a small error that dilutes the impact of a slide. It’s a basic human behavior to look where others are looking. This knowledge of eye movement should guide you while choosing images for your PowerPoint presentation too.


If you have an image looking out of the slide, the audience tends to look there too and returns to the slide to read the content. For a brief second or so, you disconnect with the audience. If the image, instead, looks into the slide towards the content, the audience first looks at the image and then reads the content, their attention focused within the slide. This is exactly what you want. The Don’t slide below is an example how you should not be placing your image.


WHAT TO DO: You can move the image to the other side of the slide like we did in the Do slide below. Else, you can flip the image within PowerPoint using the Rotate feature. Select the image, go to the Format tab, locate the Rotate dropdown menu and click Flip Horizontal. That solves the problem too!


Image should look inside the slide, not outside


BONUS TIP 2: Maintain consistency of images throughout the presentation

You should not be using a clipart on one slide, an image on another and an illustration in a different slide. Avoid too much variation as it breaks the smooth flow of a presentation. It makes you look like an amateur presenter.


There can be countless other ways to screw your slides. To save your skin, show your presentation to your family member or close friend before putting it online or broadcasting it before an audience. Trust us, you’ll be saved from many embarrassing mistakes with this exercise. If you have come across any other visual disasters, share with us in the comments below.


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