Software

How to convert boring text into fun visuals in PowerPoint

Boring is a four-letter word in the presentation business. With a little inspiration, you can vanquish boring forever.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/hironosov

Slide after slide after slide of bulleted text is boring. If one slide is boring, several more like it won't make things better. You might think you don't have the time or the expertise to make visually interesting slides. But the truth is, you don't need to be a graphic designer or even an expert in PowerPoint to create a good presentation—although you might need a little encouragement and inspiration. In this article, we'll turn a boring list of interesting owl facts into a few fun slides. My hope is to encourage you to explore your own creative abilities.

I'm using PowerPoint 2016 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but most of the techniques are valid in older versions. There's not a step-by-step set of instructions for those versions, but options and property settings are noted. You can download the demonstration .pptx or .ppt file or work with your own bullet points.

Note: The .ppt file is limited: SmartArt can be viewed, but you can't edit those slides; the morph effect won't work; the Remove Background tool isn't available; and many of the predefined format and effects aren't available. You should be able to use the 365 browser version to apply most of these techniques. When running the presentation in the browser, the audio bar is visible in the last slide; the hide setting is a desktop-only option.

A theme can be fun

Figure A shows a boring list of bullet points. In no way does this list convey the interesting information it actually represents. Figure B shows three SmartArt examples that add visual interest to the plain text list. The plain list is bad. The SmartArt examples are better, but the visual additions don't reinforce the content.

Figure A

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Plain text is boring.

Figure B

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SmartArt can help you add visual interest to an otherwise-boring list.

We want to present our owl facts in a meaningful way that will help the audience remember the information we share. With a little work, we can turn this information into a few entertaining slides that support the content and are unforgettable—at least for a while.

You can learn more about using SmartArt in PowerPoint by reading How to use SmartArt to create interesting lists in a PowerPoint presentation.

Scary can be fun

Figure C shows only one fact, but isn't it more fun than the original? To create this slide, I cropped a photograph and used the Remove Background tool (on the contextual Format tab) to create an image that gives the illusion of flight. The presenter might use this slide to expel fear by explaining nocturnal behavior. The slide is a simple, but engaging, hook.

I changed the background color to midnight blue, used Chiller font, and selected the following options to set the mood:

  • Color Saturation: 0%
  • Color Tone: 7500k
  • Recolor: Aqua accent (to look a bit like reflected moonlight)
  • Correction: Sharpen 50%.

Figure C

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Silent flight improves nighttime hunting success—that's a scary fact only if you're a mouse!

Without any professional design skills, I was able to create this slide in a few minutes. Once you flip on that creative switch in your brain, it just happens. Is it the best slide ever? No. Will it help you make your point? Yes. It is fun? Yes!

Silly can be fun

Being a little silly is a great way to share an otherwise boring fact, especially when you're working with children (of all ages). The video clip below shows a simple morph technique that's a bit whimsical, but it works.

Owls have been around for eons.

I added the starlight background image via the Format Background options and inserted the ruler and caveman graphics using Online Pictures (see the Insert tab). Then, I morphed the owl between two similar slides. You can learn about this feature by reading How to use PowerPoint 2016's stunning new Morph transition.This feature isn't available in earlier versions. The slides are available in the demonstration file, but the effect won't work.

Simple can be fun

Sometimes simple is best. Figure D's purpose is to connect your human audience to the creatures around them. Most people don't know that owls are common in urban areas and that many end up in sanctuaries and educational centers after a stay at a rehabilitation center for injuries.

Figure D

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Help your audience make a connection with the natural world.

I applied the Paint Brush artistic effect to the photo—that's it. You don't even need to do that.

Triple the fun

You aren't limited to one fact per slide. Combining related facts is efficient, and you don't have to sacrifice the fun. Figure E shows three sight-related facts. I used Online Pictures to import the owl graphics and a playful font, AR HERMANN. Text box controls display the facts.

Figure E

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Combine related facts.

No time for fun?

If you're racing the clock, you might not have time to turn each fact into a creative slide. That doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your fun theme. Figure F balances time and theme. It requires only a few minutes and the mood is definitely lively.

Figure F

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Don't sacrifice your theme.

This slide took almost no time at all:

  • I used whimsical fonts: AR HERMANN for the title and Tempus Sans ITC for the bullet points.
  • I added an owl feather graphic via the Format Background option and set its transparency setting to 50% so it doesn't overpower the text.
  • I used a picture bullet. (Click the Bullets dropdown, select Define New Bullet, click Picture, and enter owl as a search string.)

Fun from beginning to end

Most presentations begin and end with a special slide that sets the mood at the beginning and signals the conclusion at the end. You can use two different slides or the same one—it all depends on the presentation. Figure G could work for either position, or both.

Figure G

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Get their attention up front.

I cropped a photograph to an AutoShape—that's part of the cropping feature now. Then, I set the Soft Edges feature to 50% (Format Picture). You can't hear it, but I downloaded an audio file of a great horned owl, and it plays continuously while the slide is present.

No stress, more fun

Because I love owls, the fun theme was easy. You might go a different direction entirely. None of these slides is professional grade, but they represent the potential for visually representing an idea.

Credits

Owl photos are courtesy of Mindy Rose, a volunteer at the Salato Wildlife Education Center in Frankfort, KY, where all the photographs were taken. You may not reuse them. Owl audio files are courtesy of dl.allaboutbirds.org/evergreen_download-owl-sounds-thank-you. Other graphics are available via creative common licenses through thegraphicsfairy.com, mrsdiscenzasclass .wikispaces.com, kohakuhoshi.deviantart.com, tep546-inthebeginning.wikispaces.com, and huertoescolar.blogspot.com.


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About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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