in Tutorials

How to make your PowerPoint presentation not suck – by adding icons

Your presentation could be better, but you’re pressed for time and on a budget. You want to make it look cool and impress your colleagues, your competition and your audience, but for the moment you are stuck with your slides of endless bullet points. Let’s fix that.

Icons may be just the thing to spice up your presentation. Icons are both meaningful, illustrative and universal. The reason icons work is that they take a single concept and reduces it to a simple shape. When people see an icon, they don’t really see the icon as much they see what the icon represents.

This is especially useful for a slideshow. You want your audience to focus on what you’re saying, and the meaning of that. Not use up their cognitive resources on deciphering a complex image and thinking, “Am I supposed to be the guy writing on the glass whiteboard, or the one high-fiving the airhostess”.

This is how you can make you presentation shine using simple icons.

Creating my marketing presentation

Firing up PowerPoint means having to pick a theme. Or roll your own. For my presentation I’m going to create my own style, adding an original touch.

The presentation I’m creating is for the annual kickoff retreat with the marketing department. I think this has to start of with a good amount of energy. So we need something that symbolises forward thinking and growth.

Normally the opening just looks like this.

2

I wanted to make it a bit more interesting. Give it a cool illustration, projecting growth and prosperity.

growth

This is what most people would do. Google “growth” and pick the most growthy graph. I don’t really like this. Too unoriginal and boring. So instead I’m gonna pick a nice rocket icon. Something fresh and unexpected.

So now my opening slide looks like this.

1

Much nicer.

Improving the agenda

For some weird reason, when you press “new slide” in PowerPoint, the default slide is always a title and bullet layout. This is probably why so many presentations are an endless row of identical bullet point slides.

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Not mine though. I’m gonna spice that agenda up and instead use icons as the basis for the rest of my slides. I will make my slides based on simple icons that simply illustrates and clarifies the the current topic.

With a few icons added, my agenda now looks like this.

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Much better. The team will surely like this, not think I’m boring, and stop checking their phones.

The rest of my presentation will be based on the agenda and look like this.

compiled

Picking the right icon

Picking the right icons for your presentation can be, but should not be a big challenge. Just follow these simple rules.

1. Be creative. The rocket is a nice creative symbol for growth. Just like the lightbulb symbolises new ideas. Strategy can be a set of chess pieces or a football play.

Different icons symbolising strategy.

Different icons symbolising strategy.

Icons for new ideas.

Icons for new ideas.

2. Don’t mix up the styles. You presentation will look more streamlined if you stick to a single style. Do not have cartoon icons on one slide and 3D icons on the next.

styles

Pick one style for your slides. Either one can be as good as the next, just don’t mix them up.

Choosing the right formats

Now we actually need to get the icons into our presentation. Once I have found the icon I like, it’s important to donwload it in the right format.

Make sure you always use icons and images that are large enough, to avoid pixelation when scaling the artwork. Iconfinder.com supports sizes up to 512×512 which should be large enough. Otherwise you can download the vector version and use software like Sketch or Adobe Illustrator to scale it up. But again, you probably wont need to.

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For use with PowerPoint you should always choose the .PNG format. This is a regular bitmap image, but with a transparent background.

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When you have all your icons, you can just insert them into your slideshow like any other image.

Recoloring icons

As you look thru my slides, you have probably noticed that the coffee cup has a different color on the break slide than on the agenda slide. This is because I have applied magic. Well not really magic but a coloring tool found within PowerPoint.

The reason I have made the break slide look different from the other slides, is simply to make it distinct. And this is how I did it.

1. Select the icon you want to recolor and select “Format” from the ribbon menu.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 13.21.18

2. In the ribbon menu, click “colour”.

 Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 13.21.34

3. Select the color you like and that fits the background of your slide.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 13.20.36

That’s it. Now the cup is white.

Wrap it up

That also conclude this tutorial. I hope you found some inspiration and got some ideas on how to make your next presentation suck less.

The icons used in this example can be found here.

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  1. Nice article about icons in presentations. It’s annoying when people overuse them though. People want to iconify EVERYthing under the sun, but unless you can read the meaning from the icon, it’s useless bits on the slide. If it’s not adding to the transfer of the information, get rid of it.

    I really appreciate such an easy read, and I hope people read it! I especially appreciate your insight about consistent iconography style.

    As an aside, the reason the bullet slide always appears is because someone made the second child slide in the master that particular slide. You can reorder your masters to change the default “new slide” (ctrl+m). :>

    • Thank you.

      You’re right about over usage. Creating good slides can be really hard and take a lot of time. I hope this post will improve slides for those just starting out.