Scan yourself a library of images

I love to scanPictures form the basis of storytelling and as presentation designers visual content drives our presentations. I can spend hours trawling through photographs, textures and backgrounds in stock libraries searching for the perfect image to enhance or illustrate my slides. There are occasions where I will take my own photographs, but I often get frustrated by my lack of technical expertise and equipment. You may not realise that you have a valuable tool at your fingertips in the form of a simple home office scanner. Scanners are relatively inexpensive machines that allow you to create your own unique images with items that are readily available to you. You can set your scanner to scan at high resolution, allowing you to zoom in and create interesting effects. You can fill PowerPoint auto shapes with scanned fabrics or textures and use crumpled paper and cardboard boxes for unique templates and backgrounds. Here is an autumn leaf I scanned alongside an autumn leaf from a stock library that costs close to $10. Autumn Leaf ComparisonMy motto is, if it’s flat, it can be scanned.

For more scanning inspiration, including a list of my top 20 items to scan, please check out my latest offering to Slideshare below:

The First 5 Minutes

The First Five MinutesMany years ago I attended some excellent training in facilitation skills. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from this training was the importance of the first five minutes in a training session. If you want to create an inclusive and open learning environment, it is crucial to get the participants talking within the first five minutes. This may be as simple as a quick group introduction around the room or involve a more interactive icebreaker. It establishes the type of behaviour you would like in the session, immediately breaks down any barriers and gets people exercising their vocal chords. They become active, not passive, participants. Now every time I prepare and deliver training I make a mental note to check that my participants have the opportunity to speak within the first five minutes.

The Art of Visual Communication

When was the last time you had a close look at the safety instruction card on an aircraft? Or went shopping at Ikea? Or even constructed a Lego kit? You may have noticed that the instructions are completely visual. Despite the absence of text, the meaning of the instructions is abundantly clear and easy to follow. Let’s take a look:Qantas Safety CardIkea instructionsLego InstructionsOften the most important information we need to communicate in life is done through imagery. Pictures transcend language, race and age and can be understood by people from all walks of life. Studies have proven that people think in terms of images and vision trumps almost every other sense. Here is a collection of signs I photographed today on a short walk during my lunch break. You can see that important information is communicated clearly without the use of words.Signs around the neighbourhoodImages attract attention and help us quickly comprehend and absorb information that might otherwise be lost in printed text. If a picture really is worth a thousand words, we should be challenging ourselves to present information in the most visual way possible.

PowerPoint…it’s not you it’s me

Graphic DesignYou may have noticed things have been fairly quiet in these parts. I have been completing a Certificate IV in Graphic Design and it’s been a huge commitment in addition to parenting and work. However it has been wonderful learning new skills and being around other creative like-minded people. I love being in a place where we can have in depth discussions about the finer points of printing on gloss v semi gloss paper!

I wanted to do formal graphic design training because I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated by the limits of PowerPoint. After completing 6-months intensive training in Adobe Creative Suite, typography and graphic design elements and principles, I feel much more equipped to create dynamic presentations. Perhaps the most exciting skill I’ve learned is the ability to make my own vector graphics. I’m no longer limited by the options available in stock libraries or the auto shapes in PowerPoint…the sky’s the limit.

Design by Committee

Working in a team can be great because you get the benefit of other people’s perspectives and creative input. Sometimes working in a team sucks…you have the burden of other people’s perspectives and creative input!

One of my favourite sayings is A camel is a horse designed by a committee, which originated with automotive designer Alex Issigianis in 1958. The term refers to projects that have too many designers with no single unifying vision. When you compromise between all the views of the project members you can end up with something that doesn’t meet anbody’s expectations. Depending on your work environment or the situation, it may be difficult to avoid being in a situation where you have lots of personalities and perspectives working on a creative project. My advice is to develop a strong vision, pitch it persuasively and involve others at strategic points.

If you have the committee blues, check out his great video by the team at Vooza:


Forbes shares presentation tips

ForbesA big thank you to Mark Fidelman for featuring me in his article for Forbes magazine: 20 World-Class Presentation Experts Share Their Top Tips. There’s some fabulous original tips featured in the article. One of my favourites is from Geetesh Bajaj:

Tip: Think analog before digital

Think analog before you begin creating your slides. Take some paper and a pencil and step far away from the computer. Visualize, conceptualize – close your eyes if it helps and think about your audience. Then think about your slides.


You can read the article in full here.

The anatomy of a slide

Make Great Tip for PowerPoint DesignToday I want to share a PowerPoint design tip with you. There are only three components to a great slide: shapes, images and text. It’s what you do with these components that can either make or break your slide.


Autoshapes appear a standard default blue when you insert them onto a slide, but they can be changed to suit your needs. You can adjust the shape’s size, line, fill, placement or transparency. Shapes are useful for ‘anchoring’ text to a slide or making text more visible if it is becoming lost on an image. Shapes are also useful for creating charts, diagrams or other interesting visual effects.


Images are the key ingredient for bringing your slides to life. They might be photographs, illustration/vectors or diagrams. Choose relevant, high resolution images that accentuate your message and fill the entire slide. There are many free images available to you under a creative commons licence, which means you can use the image if you abide by the terms of the licence and properly acknowledge the creator. I tend to take a lot of my own photographs and source others through commercial photo stock libraries, which allows me to get exactly what I am looking for.


Text should be used in moderation, it should be visible and the selected font should work well with the overall look of the slides. Most importantly your text should encapsulate the key message and sum up what you’re saying in as few words as possible. You can create interesting effects by varying the size and colour of the text, adding drop shadows or manipulating the text in PowerPoint’s Word Art feature. Although you can insert text directly into a shape, my preference is to place text into a separate text box as this give you much greater control over its placement and look.

The more you practice using these three elements, the more proficient you will become. I’ve included some examples below depicting the anatomy of these three elements at work.

And remember, it’s as simple as S.I.T.

The elevator test for presenters

A good way to approach a presentation is to spend some time thinking about the key messages you want your audience to remember. In other words, if I bumped into a participant outside of the venue and asked them what your talk was about…what would they tell me? If you start planning your presentation by defining your key messages, it’s easy to work backwards and structure your entire presentation to support these.

This is a version of the elevator test or elevator pitch, which challenges a person to provide a short and compelling summary of an idea or proposition to another person in the time it would take to complete a short elevator trip, approximately 30 seconds.

Often a great deal of work and craftsmanship goes into making something look or sound simple. It’s easy to waffle on, but takes focus to distil and refine your content into something persuasive and memorable. It reminds me of a wonderful quote from Mark Twain: ‘I would have written you a shorter letter if I had more time’.


Creating a Visual Resume

Have you considered that many of the skills we use to convey information in a professional setting can be used in other areas of our lives e.g. designing birthday invitations, creating a map to show directions to a venue etc. Recently I set myself the challenge of updating my resume so that it would be more of a visual display of my achievements and skills. I wanted to keep the document to one page only (reducing it from 3 pages) and distill larger amounts of information into key essential messages.

I created this visual resume in PowerPoint using auto shapes, text boxes and by inserting icons. To create a consistent effect, I used the colour picker tool to select a colour from my photograph to use in the rest of the document. I then saved the final product as a PDF document. I think this version is a much better reflection of who I am and the skills I have and I’m not sure that I could go back to the humble Word document again.

Make Great Tip

If you would like to create the effect of ‘dummy’ or latin text in PowerPoint 2010 when creating a document such as the one above, place your cursor in the text box and type in the following:


Then press enter and you will find your text converted to latin.

Seating for Success

One of the most influential features of a presentation or a training session is the way the seating is arranged in the room…yet it’s remarkable how many people leave the issue of seating arrangements to chance.  A well-arranged room creates the foundation for training and can remove distractions and powerfully influence the effectiveness of the training.

I’m a little pedantic about preparing a room in advance. I like my participants to feel a sense of anticipation when they enter the room and it also helps me to feel calm and prepared. I usually use one of three seating options: Café Style, U-Shape or Lecture.

1) Café Style Seating


A café style seating arrangement is where participants are seated around small tables with the trainer located at the front of the room. It’s great for small group work that requires a lot of interaction and discussion.

In a nutshell

  • A café style seating arrangement is more informal and generates discussion.
  • Participants can work in small groups and then return to the whole group.
  • The trainer moves between groups during lectures and activities.
  • The trainer can circulate easily and focus on smaller groups as well as the group as a whole.
  • There may be visibility issues for some people in the room.
  • This style of seating can encourage side conversations and perhaps lack of attention.

2) U-shape Seating


As the name suggest, the U-shape seating arrangement features a number or rectangular tables set up in the shape of a ‘U’ with participants seated around the outside. This set up is ideal for small to medium groups and puts the trainer at the front of the room (in the middle of the U) or at one end of the U.

In a nutshell

  • The U-shape seating arrangement encourages whole group participation.
  • It is good seating for trainer/participant contact.
  • There is good visibility for participants, although participants may feel a little exposed.
  • Seating can take up quite a bit of space for the number of people involved.

3) Lecture Style Seating


The lecture style seating arrangement is best used for formal presentations to larger groups when you want to maximise the space in a room. Chairs are placed in rows and face the front. There are no tables.

In a nutshell

  • Great set up for lectures that are being presented to large groups.
  • Good for audio-visual displays.
  • Reduces interaction as communication is mostly one way.
  • The trainer may have difficulty viewing the participants in the back rows.
  • There might be visibility / sound issues in the back rows.
  • Note-taking can be difficult for participants.
  • People in the back rows will be less likely to participate than those in the front.

 So how do you select a suitable seating arrangement?

Consider the following factors:

  • The size of the group and the size of the room.
  • The type of content ie does it involve group work or audience participation?
  • Are there participants with special needs (mobility, seeing, hearing)?
  • The furniture that is available to you.
  • Any audio-visual requirements and other teaching aids such as posters, flipcharts etc.

But above all, the most important factor is not to leave seating to chance!

May the font be with you

Have you ever designed a Powerpoint presentation on a Mac and then delivered it on a PC (or vice versa) only to find your text has been reformatted and your slides look like gobbledygook? Reformatting like this happens when you use a font that is not common to both Windows and Mac or if you’ve used a unique font downloaded to your personal computer (which doesn’t exist on other computers). When you display your PowerPoint presentation on another computer, it doesn’t recognise the font and substitutes it with a different font. This can change the size and spacing of your text and create havoc with your formatting. It gives me chills just thinking of it!

There are a few options to avoid this scenario:

  1. The first option is to choose a font that is compatible with reasonably recent Mac and Windows versions of Powerpoint eg Arial, Calibri (for versions of PowerPoint 2007 onwards), Comic Sans, Courier New, Georgia, Impact, Palatino, Tahoma, Times New Roman and Verdana. My default font, when I create PowerPoint presentations for other people to deliver, is Calibri. I also like to use Impact to display numbers in large format on the screen.
  2. The second option is to save individual slides as jpegs and reinsert them back as images into the PowerPoint presentation. The downside of this is that you do not have the flexibility to modify or change your content on the go. It’s also an issue if you design presentations for other people and they want to make their own changes.
  3. The third option is to bring along your own notebook computer and plug this into the projector. A great option but not always practical.

Hopefully between these three options you should be able to go forth and deliver your PowerPoint presentations with confidence. May the font be with you.

Communicating with Colour

This year I hinted for a Pantone Colour guide for my birthday and I was thrilled to receive this set of colour swatches. The Pantone Matching System (PMS) was invented in the 1960s to assign a number to every colour. It’s not an essential tool for a presentation designer, but it’s wonderful for replicating a colour, getting inspiration for a project and getting the expected result when you have something printed.

In terms of PowerPoint presentations, if you want to replicate a colour that you’ve seen on a poster or magazine, the colour can be identified by holding the fanned out colour swatches next to it and identifying the closest match. The set of colour swatches I have contains the corresponding RGB (Red/Green/Blue) code printed beneath each colour. The RGB code can then be entered into the PowerPoint text or autoshape settings to achieve a match.

Colour choice is an important component of any presentation. It’s full of symbolism, can generate emotions and provides another useful way to reinforce your message.

Here I’ve assembled a few of my tips on colour selection:

  • Consider the audience. The colours selected for an audience of young people would almost certainly differ from that of an audience of older people. It’s a fact that age affects how a viewer reacts to colour (think Wiggles). There might also be cultural considerations to take into account if designing a presentation for a CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) community.
  • Choose colours that mesh well with your content and help to enhance the meaning of your presentation. For example hot pink might not be the best choice when designing a presentation with an environmental theme.
  • Experiment with the saturation of colours to achieve different effects.  Bold saturated colours are used when it’s important to attract attention. The best example of this is road signs. Bold colours also look great when used minimally or on top of a black & white image. Desaturated colours have a more calming and professional look.
  • Consider competitors’ colour schemes and the colours associated with the industry. Do you want to look the same or different?
  • Function comes before form. No matter how gorgeous the colour combination is…if you can’t read the text or understand the message than it’s got to go.
  • Learn to love the eyedropper tool in Powerpoint. It helps to create colour schemes from images within the presentation.
  • Once you’ve decided on a colour scheme, be consistent with it throughout the presentation. It will create a cohesive and professional look.

Do you have any of your own colour tips to add?

How Many Slides?

How Many Slides

Every day I assist people with their presentations and I’m often asked how many slides they should have. The answer to this question is simple….as many as it takes.  It might be necessary to linger on a slide for a while or rapidly progress your slides to keep up with your verbal content. Given that there should only be one key message per slide, you should use as many slides as necessary to visually support your speech.

Slides should be illustrating or reinforcing the point that you are making, and should therefore be relevant to what you are saying. Imagine a newsreader telling an audience about bush fires. The newsreader would be supported by an image on the screen behind their shoulder relating to the fires. If the next story relates to stock market prices, it would be confusing for the audience to be viewing an image of bush fires while they’re talking about shares. The same principle applies to your presentations. 

It comes back to the very first principle of presentation design…content comes before slides. Once you have your key messages identified and incorporated into a well-crafted speech, you are then in a position to think about what slides should reinforce your message.

Puzzle Partners

Puzzle PartnersThe inspiration from this icebreaker came from my children’s games cupboard and it’s most effective in groups of about 20 people. What I like about this activity is that it requires participants to get out of their seats and interact, but also ends in a group discussion. To facilitate this ice breaker you‘ll need a children’s game of Associations, which are readily available in toy stores (and make a great investment if you deliver a lot of training).


  1. Count the number of participants and put a corresponding amount of matching puzzle pieces face-down and mixed up in a container. If there is an odd number of participants, include yourself in the activity, so that each person will have a partner.
  2. Each participant is invited to select a puzzle piece and then asked to leave their seats to locate the person with the matching puzzle piece.
  3. Once they’ve found their puzzle partner, participants must check that the pieces fit together and have a discussion about what they are hoping to achieve from the training, with the aim of reporting back to the group.
  4. During report back time, each participant is invited to introduce their puzzle partner to the group and tell the group about their partner’s expectations for the day.
  5. The facilitator may wish to call on a volunteer scribe to record these on some butcher’s paper or a whiteboard.

At the end of the activity participants should feel more relaxed and loosened up. There will also be a list of expectations that the facilitator can address in a segway to the first session of the day.

To learn more about the benefits of ice breakers in training sessions, click here.

Breaking the Ice

IceBreakersIce breakers are an essential tool in any trainer’s toolkit. They’re short, structured activities that are used to ‘break the ice’ in meetings or facilitation groups. Well-designed ice breakers are great for:

• Reducing tension
• Energising and motivating a group
• Helping people become more engaged in the proceedings
• Getting to know the other participants
• Creating a relaxed learning environment
• Generating conversations
• Creating a climate of participation

By the same token a badly designed ice breaker can go down like a lead balloon.

So what makes an ice breaker work? The activity must be thoughtfully selected, appropriate for the group, tailored to the audience and the duration of the ice breaker should be proportionate to the length of the session.

Over the coming weeks, I will be featuring some unique ice breakers that have worked well for me in different settings. Do you have any tried and tested ice breakers to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Wild Slides

I’m pleased to launch this blog by sharing my ideas on great slide design on Slideshare. This is the first time I’ve displayed my work publicly and I’d love you to check it out.

In addition to tips on slide design, my blog will feature posts on making great speeches, training materials, icebreakers, handouts and lots more. If you subscribe, you won’t miss a post.

Thanks for visiting and happy viewing.