Cropping an image accurately can be tricky, especially when PowerPoint is trying really hard to suggest possible cuts alongside snap lines it thinks are useful. My solution, drag the image to a huge size (without distorting its aspect ratio), crop, and shrink it down again.
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The coding of my app requires me to descend into the detail of font and screen sizes: SlideMagic 2.0 renders slides on the screen (HTML), in PDF, and in PowerPoint. It requires some fiddling to get things to look exactly the same in all three of these channels.
This post by Geetesh Bajaj explained nicely why things can go “wrong” in PowerPoint. Switching from “4:3” to "16:9 onscreen” mixes up all the font sizes. Why? Font sizes are expressed in terms of character height. The “16:9 onscreen” mode keeps the width of the screen, just makes the height smaller. The result, all text looks way too big.
Recently, Microsoft added the “wide screen” setting. This is the one to use. The height of the screen is kept the same, the width is made longer.
Microsoft is on a roll, and now that I am turning temporarily into a developer, I appreciate them even more with very powerful code editors, and repeated decisions to open source their software (the entire Windows platform engine is going open source), and make other sensible decisions (moving to the Chromium browser rendering engine inside Edge).
The office apps are no exception, and I took some time to play around with PowerPoint on my new iPad.
The app looks and feels fantastic (I have something to aspire to), and all the basic design features work flawlessly. I find it easier to find my way around coming in “cold” then the keynote app for iPad. The small screen encourages you to design simpler slides, and spend less time adding stuff that is not essential to your story.
In 2018, things are still not perfect though. But most shortcomings are to blame on the iPad form factor, not Microsoft:
Presentation design is a creative process that needs space, a big screen, accurate placing of objects (fingers are less good here than a mouse). An iPad is just not a focussed design interface.
File management is still cumbersome on an iPad. Finding that deck from last week, opening a spreadsheet side by side, copying an image from the web browser, things that take a second on a computer are not intuitive on an iPad.
Because of the form factor Microsoft has cut down the features for PowerPoint on iPad. In itself, this is great (I am also focusing the features in my app), but, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very hard to have the same application on different platforms with different feature sets, especially if you are working with collaborators on different devices. “Please create this bar chart”, is emailed to the analyst working on an iPad in the taxi who then discovers that data charts are not really supported. It also hard to create custom themes and colour schemes.
So my verdict is basically the same as in previous review: a beautiful application that is an extension of the computer version: best used for delivering presentations to small audiences, and make emergency slide edits.
Now that iPads become very powerful the logical thing to do for Microsoft, to switch to a full blown 1-in-1 copy of the desktop application as soon as it recognises that the user has hooked up a bluetooth keyboard and (let’s see if this will ever happen), a bluetooth mouse to the device.
For a number of reasons, keyboards do not follow an alphabetical layout, including increasing typing speed by promoting the use of alternating hands, and/or preventing jams of hammers in mechanical type writers.
I feel that many of today’s presentation (and all other productivity) software is still in the ABC phase. Functions are grouped logically so you can more easily find them the first time around. Instead, they should be grouped in the way you actually use them:
How often are they required?
What features are typically used together?
The resulting user interface might not be logical, but will be very useful. Work in progress.
Now and then, I go back and analyse the inroad that mobile devices have, and have not made, on mobile devices, after the state of euphoria we all had back in 2010.
As a viewing device, phones and tablets have made great progress. In a significant number of face-to-face and small conference table meetings, people are using mobiles and tablets to present theirs slides.
As a creation device though, things are not that advantaged. And now that we have apps that do perfectly fine job at creating presentations on a tablet, we can no longer blame it on technology. Here are some reasons why it is (and will remain) difficult to create presentations on a tablet (let alone phone):
Presentation design is a creative process that requires a big, bold, clutter-free work environment. This means it will always work better with a big screen, a nice big desk to work on, and a quiet environment. Trying to type things on a small screen in a crowded cafe, or in the back of the taxi will never create brilliant presentations.
The default work setting for creating a presentation is the office, and, when given a choice, the small tablet is inferior to the laptop or desktop computer.
File management is still tricky on small screens. Having 3 presentation decks open, plus 2 spreadsheets, plus the dashboard with last quarter's results in the BI system, plus a stock photo site, plus 4 old emails with attachments that contain slides, is by definition hard to manage on a tablet.
Cooperation among colleagues requires compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, corporate network and file systems. This means that pretty much the only app that can work is the Microsoft Office suite, which is actually pretty good on mobile devices, but still is too steep a learning curve for the average Office user on a desktop/laptop.
So, I see little change in the the way presentations are created for the foreseeable future. Laptop/desktop for creating, mobile for emergency last minute edits and presentations in small groups.
The same is true for computer coding and spreadsheet modelling I think. Writing will have more success on mobile devices, if it is limited to simple documents without complex chapter structures (see a recent post by Fred Wilson). Email and corporate messaging has gone mobile completely.
I am curious what we will see in a few years from now.
I am a huge fan of the improvements Microsoft has been making to PowerPoint over the last few years, it now outshines Keynote.
One thing though, is bothering me: after every recent update it is very hard to say "no" to the question whether Microsoft can record every single one of your clicks to make the program even better. You can simply accept or learn more.
On a Mac, I managed to make the window go away by repeatedly clicking on the red cross in the top left corner of the pop-up window, hopefully that registered as a "no".
I am dusting of my coding skills that were pretty much put on hold in the early 1990s and have started to program macros to automate the mechanics of the template store: creating individual slides and thumbnails for PowerPoint and Keynote in different aspect ratios of these design.
Things in the Microsoft Office ecosystem run smoothly ("VBA"), for Mac, a lot less so. Applescript is a language that aims to automate pretty much everything you can do in Mac OS. It has been around for a very long time, but it is falling short.
At first sight, the language looks very friendly, almost human-like. And here is a problem: human language is ambiguous. It is incredibly hard to use it to program computers. When I look at example Applescript code, it looks very easy to adjust and re-use, but it is an incredibly pain to get it actually working and iron out the last bugs. Writing macro scripts will never be something that the average Apple user will do, so you might as well stick to a programming language that an engineer can work with.
The second problem is the what Applescript can actually do. As Apple put development of Mac OS on the back burner and gave priority to its iOS devices, the functional power of Applescript has been watered down. Old tutorials online show functionality that has been removed in later versions of Keynote.
Now, I am not saying that all esoteric features should be supported in a scripting language, but I am struggling to get the most obvious and basic one that anyone wants to use a Keynote script for: batch conversion of PowerPoint files into Keynote.
I am not giving up, and will look for a solution. Let me know if you have any recent experience with Applescript and Keynote.
In financial statements, the most recent financial period is put first, and next to it is the previous period for comparison: 2017 - 2016. To the frustration of some accountants and CFOs, I insist on putting the years the other way around: 2016 - 2017.
- The eye is used to moving left to right when looking at time series data
- It makes tables match line or column graphs that are in the presentation
- It makes it easer to compare data across 3 years or more
I am not trying to change the reporting practices for financial statements. In the annual accounts, the current year is the most important one. It needs to be accurate and is usually shown with far more digits (precision) than I would use in a presentation. A comparison to last year's numbers is almost an extra, not the main purpose of the page.
Every financial document has its own purpose and own audience: spreadsheets, financial statements and presentation decks. And among presentation decks you can distinguish between quick and dirty documents to discuss (early results), detailed financial information for the investor community, and more generic financial slides for a general company presentation. Different purpose, different slides.
Slowly, slowly, I am moving closer to the goal of creating a searchable slide bank bank that is actually useful. Here are the various steps that I have gone through:
- Designing a slide template that looks good/professional AND blends in easily with existing corporate PowerPoint templates
- Creating a "boxy" design language that is easy to manipulate and edit, even for non-designers
- Cutting down the universe of slides to come to a collection of basic slides that can cover almost every possible common business concept that is out there
- Anticipate the majority of possible search queries to find layouts for every possible angle
- And now: find a smart grouping slides that creates a really smart way of suggesting related/similar slides
Below is an example of a product page in the store now:
Now that I have automated subscriptions, plus sorted out the search algorithms it is time to clear the last automation hurdle: VAT management globally for both consumer and enterprise customers (the EU has created a nightmare for small digital content stores as it is going after tech giants such as Apple). After that, all attention will be focussed on adding more slide content.
I recently answered this question on Quora about presenting to your own CEO. I think the "what if you had to present a prototype of the iPad to Steve Jobs" is a good mind set. Your presentation should be very good, but a different kind of good than a deck for an external audience. Very clear, brief, and action oriented. (Click this link if the Quora embed is not visible)
Tables can carry more data than a data chart and as a result can be less effective in a presentation. For some situations though, there is no point trying to avoid using a table in PowerPoint. For example, when investors want to see the quarterly numbers, they expect to see a table.
The way you format tables can make a huge difference in how your chart looks. When done well, a table can actually be an effective presentation slide. Have a look at the simple P&L table below.
This might look like a super simple slide design (it is), but a lot of thought and little tweaks have gone into its design. Let's take them one by one:
- Colours have been adjusted to your own colour template, not the standard PowerPoint colours
- Fonts have been matched to your current template (table can be stubborn sometimes and stick to Arial)
- Instead of dark lines around boxes, I used lines that match the background colour, making cells a light colour of grey to stand out (or dark, black if you use that background)
- Totals are bold, and a bit darker
- The row labels are right aligned
- The row labels are a bit darker than the cells
- The data cells are right aligned
- Numbers are rounded to the same amount of digits, so the dots line up
- There are not too many digits in the table, enough to convey the data, but not too much to make it cluttered. If the numbers get too big, switch to thousands or millions.
- There is a bit of inset in each cell, the text does not touch the edges
- All the rows have the same height
- All the data columns have the same width
- The column headings are centered
- The unit of measure is put at the top of the chart, not repeated inside the data values
- The table covers the entire frame of the presentation template
- Double check by hand/calculator: the numbers add up...
Excel can be an excellent starting point for a table. Pull the data values you want to show with the correct rounding into a new worksheet (tables for presenting are different from tables for analysing). Think hard about what rows you want show, consolidating/combining values that do not add to the overall message of your slide. Then copy-paste the whole thing into PowerPoint where it will show up as an ugly table. Go through the steps above to clean things up. Alternatively, you can apply a lot of similar formatting already in Excel, making your spreadsheet tables good enough to put straight on the projector. This is handy when your numbers update frequently.
It is tricky to create an infinity symbol (or lemniscate) in PowerPoint, it is a shape that needs to overlap with itself and requires Escher-style (impossible) layering of shapes. The only way to do it is cheat, and construct the final shape of many individual shapes that are grouped together cleverly.
I managed to get it done, and you can see the final result here (hmm, those arrows point the wrong way around though):
I don't have the exact workflow anymore that I used (I made some destructive edits), but below is a screenshot of the PowerPoint file in slide sorter mode that I used to create the shape, starting with 2 circles and a square.
Over the past few days I converted all the slides in the SlideMagic store from PowerPoint 4:3 into PowerPoint 16:9, Keynote 4:3, and Keynote 16:9. That was quite a bit of conversion and uploading work... As a result I got an even better understanding of the differences between PowerPoint and Keynote. Here is the 2018 version of the comparison.
Overall both programs are excellent, as you would expect from software that has been around this long. Bugs have been ironed out, and both programs have "learned" from each other to get to a good workflow. So the differences are not that major.
Where PowerPoint is stronger
- Workflow for advanced users. I can customise the top tool bar with the functions I use most (aligning, distributing, moving things to the back, etc. see my full list of toolbar short cuts here). Also in Keynote it can get confusing at high speed to change colours of text and shape fills, too many clicks, and too many opportunities to get it wrong. The interface looks elegant, but it slows you down.
- Data chart editing is better in PowerPoint with the full power of Excel behind it
- Stretching of (groups of) shapes is predictable in PowerPoint: you can distort aspect ratios. Keynote is more restricting and protects the novice designer with stretching images. But, it does the same for large groupings of objects, as soon as you have a few connectors inside, it is no longer possible to stretch complex diagrams across the page, without also increasing its height. This cost me a lot of time to clean up my flow chart template for example. I could not understand when Keynote decides it is OK to stretch, and when not.
- Complex connector diagrams run more smoothly in PowerPoint. Keynote is "smarter" and helps you pick/decide/suggest possible connector lines between shapes, but because of that, it is harder to convince it to something you want against its own suggestion. In more complex diagrams this becomes a problem.
Where Keynote is stronger
- Cropping of images is more intuitive in Keynote
- For the first time I really worked with the file manager (duplicating instead of "save as") and went into the version history of Keynote, no need to worry about saving, which was actually really convenient.
There are some charts which PowerPoint can make and Keynote not, I found out the hard way with my conversion effort:
- Slides that use 3D positioning of objects and text distortion
- Slides that use bevels and 3D lighting/shading. I am sure it is possible by carefully selecting the gradients, but there is no 1-click solution
Both of these are not crucial to presentation design. In fact, too much 3D fire power in the hand of the layman designer might not beneficial to the quality of the slides. Below are examples of charts from my template store which are not available in Keynote because I simply could not covert them. (Click the images to be taken to the template store).
Although you could consider them a presentation cliché, puzzles can work really well in a presentation:
- Show how things fit beautifully
- Show how your are missing (hopefully just one) critical piece
- Show that you finally managed to plug that last gap
Puzzle shapes can also work great when you use them in combination with images. You can go back to this blog post about making Photoshop-like image cut outs in PowerPoint.
Stock image sites are flooded with millions of puzzle piece designs, but they are not very practical for the average PowerPoint designer (especially late at night working for tomorrow's deadline). Almost all these puzzles pieces are vector objects or images that are impossible to edit in PowerPoint. Moreover, all these puzzle pieces have wildly irregular shapes that make them hard to fit in your slide composition that requires exactly nine of them.
This PowerPoint puzzle slide solves the problem for you. The pieces inside are fully editable PowerPoint shapes, you can change their colour, you can put text in them, you can reconfigure and piece them together as you see fit. Yo'u can download the finished slide by clicking the image (An Apple Keynote version is available as well).
You can try to create the pieces yourself if you want, I used simple square shapes and circles, either joining or subtracting the shapes. Circles and squares might not be the most realistic shapes, but they are very practical when have to piece things together. There is a little bit of math homework to do to determine which type of puzzle shapes you actually need, and which ones you can create by rotating existing pieces.
You can create very beautiful compositions by just using basic shapes and a few colours. Below is a presentation slide with concentric circles, and an image that shows how it is constructed. Feel free to borrow the design approach, or you can download the finished slide here.
This technique was often used by the Swiss graphics designers in the 1960s. You can use the slide concept below in a number of ways: show some sort of layering, show multiple layers of security or protection, show a whirl or rolling dynamic. You can take the labels of and just use the circles.
Quotes can add credibility to your presentation. If experts, celebrities, and/or customers agree with you, you must be right. But, not all quotes have equal weight. They have been overused in many PowerPoint decks. (Anyone can find a picture of a serious-looking person and get her to say what you want her to say in a few mouse clicks).
Here is a check list:
- The person needs to be relevant and credible (third tier social media "experts" do not carry much weight)
- The person needs to be identifiable ("Senior marketing executive at major high tech firm" can be anyone and is most likely you)
- The quote needs to be interesting, cut the buzzwords and marketing language, cut the cliches ("Wow, these guys really have a targeted value proposition that resonates with my medium-term return on investment objectives")
- The text needs to be long enough that it is specific, and short enough that it reads like a headline. A full page of verbatim will not come across
- The quote needs to be relevant, a generic motivational quote might not help close that enterprise software contract.
Quote slides are (and should be) pretty simple: a nice big image with a big text overlay. Still there are some things to watch out for. Below is a quote slide that I have added to the SlideMagic template store. Let's go through the design process.
- The image should have a calm background with enough "white" space for text. You don't need to be a Photoshop guru to extend the background of an image in PowerPoint, it is easy to add a black or white box next to images. You can use the colour picker to match the precise colour, or use semi transparent overlays for the best effects
- Make the quote symbol stand out. Regular quotes are too small, and the layout does not look good, as the quote pushes the start of the paragraph in. There are endless ways to do it and I settled on this one. One big quote at the beginning of the paragraph with a text indent. Take some time to find a quote in a good font. In the above slide, the text font is the Microsoft Office standard Calibri, but the quotes of this font don't look that "fat", I used Arial.
- This slide is a framed image slide, which gives me the opportunity to add a big headline at the top of the slide with the main message (the headline can say "Customers are really happy", the quote can say "With product [x], I no longer need to use a pencil".
Most investor or sales presentation have some sort of slide about the competitive environment. (Here are earlier blog posts about how to present the competition). Usually, people use tables, or 2x2 / 3x3 matrices to show how they are different.
The chart below might a completely different take on the subject. The Blue Ocean strategy concept developed by INSEAD argues that is often better to define an entirely new market rather than battling with all the existing companies that go after well-established market segments. You can download the slide here.
Sometimes the simplest slides can be the most effective ones. This slide layout shows a big arrow crashing into a wall to visualise your obstacle or roadblock. The wall image is framed, while the arrow is bleeding of the page, adding an extra movement effect.Edit to text in the arrow and/or on the wall to show your audience what it stuck. The text in the arrow will automatically tilt in the right 3D angle, and both the wall and arrow will colour in your primary accent colour. Please copy this slide into a presentation that uses your own corporate presentation colour theme.
I am gaining a lot of experience now in translating PowerPoint designs into Keynote. This chart is only available in PowerPoint and not in Keynote, because the latter cannot tilt objects in a 3D space. The same problem arises with charts that rely heavily on bevels or other 3D lighting effects, which is not obvious to do in Keynote.
Here are some examples of PowerPoint slides that cleverly use layering to create a "woven fabric" effect. Why clever? Take the circle for example with the arrow flying through. Part of the circle needs to below the arrow, part on top. The solution? Cut the circle in half... The interwoven arrows have small square blocks in the right colours pasted in the relevant junctions, and the spiral was a bit tricky, placing small black cut outs on the junction with the blue arrow.
I think people are spending way too much time on creating corporate presentation documents for internal company meetings where the objective is to get your colleagues to agree on something that needs to happen next. Not every meeting is your all company annual sales kick off.
Presentation cliches can be effective visual shortcuts to get your point across. People have seen them before, instantly connect to the concept, and you can move on. The challenge is to make your slide look decent, maybe even referring to the cliche in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Below is what I tried to do to the infamous tip of the iceberg slide.
- Don't try to make it look too photo realistic, but rather use an abstract simple geometrical shape, and use the presentation accent color (instead of white against a dark background)
- Keep the slide very simple, but the depth effect is actually created with clever layering of (partly semitransparent) shapes and image crops, it took me some head scratching to figure out
- Shift the whole composition to the side to leave some more space for text, if you need it.
All in all, this chart looks better than a boring list of bullet points that describe some looming threat you want to warn your colleagues about. Just resist the temptation to fill that empty piece of arctic ocean on the right or the crisp polar sky with text.
If you want, you can download the tip of the iceberg slide here.