After stumbling across my collection of PowerPoint slides on Flickr and here on the Radical, Dov Emerson — a digital friend from Long Island reached out with this question:




Dov’s question is a good one, isn’t it?  After all, presenters — particularly educators — CONTINUE to create disastrous slides that do little more than bore their audiences.

So let’s take a look at some simple tips for creating more engaging PowerPoint slides.

I’ll use this bit — which I created for a presentation on visual influence — as an example:

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)


Tip 1: Ditch the Bullets — and MOST of the Text

Let’s be honest: Audiences in today’s hyper-connected, always on world have seriously fractured attention spans, y’all.

That means jamming 37 bullets and 3 key ideas on each slide is essentially pointless.  Instead, focus on finding one killer quote to capture the imagination of your audience.

In our sample slide, I wanted to reinforce the idea that we live in a visual world. That means appealing to the eyes is essential for anyone who wants to be remembered.  Notice that my quote is more of a hint than a statement.

That will surprise my audience — and a surprised audience pays attention.


Tip 2: Get Familiar With Creative Commons Collections

What I love the best about my slides — and this is a lesson I learned while studying the slides that Scott McLeod shares — are the pictures simply because they stand out.

I’m convinced that if I can capture the eyes of my audience with the images I’ve chosen, I stand a better chance of changing their minds.

All of the images in my slides come from the Flickr Creative Commons collection.  Creative Commons is a new form of copyright that is — in the words of the Creative Commons founder — designed to “save the world from failed sharing.”

I specifically choose images licensed Creative Commons Attribution because it is the least restrictive Creative Commons license.

When images are licensed Creative Commons Attribution, the original photographers have given permission in advance for anyone to use their content in any way as long as credit is given back to them. That means I can modify their images — by adding my quotes or cropping their photos — in any way that I want.

Now as an educator, I could probably get away with grabbing any image that I found online under “fair use” rules — but I NEVER do simply because I think it is important to show students that using images WITH permission IS possible too.


Tip 3: Grab a Screenshot of the Original Image AND It’s Creative Commons License

One of the lessons that I’ve learned the hard way is that SOME photographers still don’t completely understand Creative Commons licenses — and once they realize that their works are being used by others, they change their minds and remove their images from Creative Commons collections.

That’s why I always grab a screenshot of the image when I download it.  It looks like this:

Zombie Credit

If you click to enlarge the image, you’ll see that the Creative Commons license is clearly labeled at the top of the screenshot.  That can serve as proof that I used the image fairly even IF the photographer changes his or her mind at a later date.

Tip 4: Select an Image With Lots of Background Space and a Good Background Color

Probably the biggest time saving tip that I can give you is when you’re looking for an image to use on your slide, find one that has plenty of space for the quote that you plan to include.

When I was looking for a picture for the slide in this post, I thought about using this one because it had two zombies instead of one.  If you look at it though, there’s just not enough room to easily include my quote.

Sure, I could do a bit of sizing, cropping and/or background coloring to make it work — but it’s almost always quicker to find an image that DOESN’T need to be modified.

Similarly, I skipped over this image — even though it’s really cool — because I would have had to try to blend the background color of the slide with the background color of the image.  That’s doable, but it’s also time consuming.

In the end, even though the image I settled on wasn’t my first choice, I knew I could lay it into a new slide without a ton of editing because the background was white.

Tip 5: Play With Your Fonts

It’s also important to remember that the fonts you use on a slide are bits of visual content, too.  That means playing with text sizes and colors and types is just as important as selecting a good picture.

My fonts are always at least size 28 points or larger simply because I want to make sure that everyone — including the teachers hiding in the last row of the room — can see what I’ve written.

I also try to incorporate colors that match the image I’ve chosen.  In the sample above, notice that the red secondary text matches the tie — and the wounds — of my Zombie friend.

Finally, I often use to find interesting fonts to incorporate in my bits.  Just like Flickr’s Creative Commons collection, Dafont users often make their fonts available for free and often give permission for their works to be used in any way.


If you’re interested in learning more about creating engaging slides, consider checking out this page of Visual Persuasion resources that I share with participants in my Teaching the iGeneration workshops.

Hope this helps,




Original Image Credit: Freemont Zombie Walk 2009 by Kelly Bailey

Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on January 1, 2012



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