PowerPoint 2007 has the new “Office Fluent Interface” – otherwise known as “The Ribbon” – and showcases the new graphics engine with its Smart Art, Themes and one-click complex formatting of text, diagrams, charts and pictures. The competitors all look tired and dated in comparison, and that goes especially for the templates they supply to get you started. Lotus Freelance, for instance, hasn’t changed in ten years. The latest version was released in 1998 as part of SmartSuite 9.8 and hasn’t been updated at all. IBM has all but given up on it, switching its effort to badge-engineering OpenOffice code and marketing it as Lotus Symphony.
When you create a new presentation, think carefully about how it will be delivered. If it’s to be displayed onscreen then consider the aspect ratio of the target display. Many modern computers and projectors have widescreen displays capable of 16:9 or 16:10 ratios (instead of the older 4:3), which are a better match with the way we see the world around us and give a more immersive experience. However, if you show a 4:3 presentation on a 16:9 display, you’ll see black bars down the side or, worse, the image will be stretched to fit, distorting both text and pictures. Conversely, showing a 16:9 image on a 4:3 display gives black bars top and bottom (the letterbox effect) or a squashed and distorted image. If you know your target hardware has a widescreen display, you should use it to its best advantage. If you’re unsure, or the hardware isn’t under your control, stick to 4:3, but try to avoid distorting the picture when presenting. Black bars are preferable. You can change your mind and resize the presentation later, but the images may well get squashed, and it takes time to go through and resize them.
Advice on what colours to use in your presentations hasn’t changed much, but the modern trend is towards lighter backgrounds in pastel shades, particularly simple graduated fills, and away from darker or busier backgrounds. Blues work well as backgrounds because our eye interprets them as being further away than reds or greens. Red text is particularly hard to read and should be avoided. Make your text stand out from the background as much as possible by using bright text on a dark background or dark text on a light background. PowerPoint 2007’s Themes all include text and background colours in complementary pairs from which you can choose.
The rules for choosing fonts are pretty much unchanged, too – stick to simple fonts with clean lines, as fancy fonts make things harder to read. A sans serif font works well for main text, although you can use a font with serifs for the headings. Use one or two fonts only and use them consistently. You need them to get your words into the minds of your audience with the least effort.
Similarly, be consistent in your use of font attributes and capitals. Use only bold and italic for emphasis and use those sparingly. Never use underline, as it reduces readability, and ALL CAPITALS should be reserved for the very occasional heading, never for bullet points. Headings should generally be in title case (each word capitalised) and the main text in sentence case (capital at the beginning of sentences only), but don’t end bullet points with a full stop – they’re points in a presentation, not sentences in an essay.
PowerPoint 2007 makes creating diagrams exceptionally easy, and Smart Art is a doddle to use. Got a boring slide that’s just bullet points? Want to illustrate the relationships/differences/similarities/trend between these points? Right-click in the text and choose Convert to Smart Art, choose a diagram type from the pop-up gallery and you’re done. PowerPoint will create blocks of the appropriate size and shape, colour them to match your chosen Theme colours and then fill the blocks with your text, sized to fit. Want to add an extra bullet point? Click the fly-out panel on the side of the graphic and add/remove/edit/rearrange the words, and the diagram will change as you type.