By Lucie Whitmore |

Earlier this year, Pubs & Pubs editor Fraser Raeburn wrote a blog titled ‘Comparative Theories of Powerpoint’, in which he identified some of the key ways that this much maligned method of presenting research has been utilised by academics. He broke these down into: a substitute for footnotes, a summary of what you just said, and the use of striking visuals. I will not get any further into the purpose or benefits of powerpoint here, the simple truth is that we all have to use it (or Prezzi if you are that person) and we are all aware that powerpoint presentations have the potential to be truly awful. So here, I hope, is a helpful and practical guide to making decent powerpoint slides


*Trigger warning, further down this post I am going to suggest that you download and use photoshop. Don’t be scared, just spend an hour or so trying it out next time you are watching TV or listening to a Podcast. I mostly taught myself using online tutorials and I am not a techie person – so I’m pretty sure any of you intelligent people can do this!*


General tips for successful Powerpoint:


Keep it simple

This is the most important thing to remember. Do not use patterned backgrounds, twiddly fonts, dozens of images, multiple colours or ANY of the powerpoint moving parts. There are subtler, more effective (and can I say classy) ways to impress your audience. Do not overwhelm, dazzle or potentially blind them.


Try not to be boring

Yes I just told you to stay simple, but there is a whole world of middle ground between overwhelming your audience and sending them to sleep with black Times New Roman text on plain white slides. Even a simple border, additional colour or logo can add visual impact.


Be consistent 

I usually make a template slide and then drop my text and images in. In my opinion, you should chose no more than 3 font sizes (heading, text, image captions), no more than 2 different fonts, no more than 3 colours (aside from images) and no more than 2 different slide layouts for the whole presentation.


Line everything up

There is a simple feature on both photoshop and powerpoint (see images below) to make sure your images or text boxes are lined up. Be consistent with your sizing and make sure things are level with each other. This makes a world of difference!




Make slides as Jpegs

There is a way to avoid Powerpoint dreadheart: if you make your slides on a different programme, save the whole slide as a Jpeg, and drop it into Powerpoint, never again will you experience the scrambled layout and changed fonts of our worst conference/presentation nightmares. (This is one of many reasons that I use Photoshop).


Fonts should be clear and legible 

I have very strong feelings about fonts.* I personally like to pick two that go together, something a bit more interesting for the titles, and something more simple (Cambria or Calibre for example) for quotes and image captions. There are hundreds of free downloadable fonts online so shop around a little, but remember to keep it classy. They must be clean, clear and legible.

*I have on more than one occasion been known to download historically appropriate fonts for the subject of my presentation.



Think carefully about colours 

Coloured or patterned backgrounds rarely work – primarily because when you drop a text box or image on top you get all those horrible corners and cut outs. It can also be quite difficult for many people to read text on a coloured or busy background – if you are dyslexic or suffer from visual stress this can be particularly problematic. While black and white does not suit everyone, remember to keep a decent amount of contrast between your text and background colours. I often use a colour for my titles (adding interest to the slide) but keep my text black or grey.


Slide design

I have put together three slides to show you some nice simple layouts. (I have used pictures of my dog Birdie to keep you interested)

The first slide is heavier on visuals, so I would keep the text relevant and as minimal as possible. The border would be a feature of every slide in the presentation, unifying the look.



This second slide has a 50/50 split. The image would be of one particularly important thing I wanted to talk about, with nice simple bullet points backing up the information.



For a slide that just doesn’t have or need an image to go with it. Again, the coloured block would be a feature of every slide in the presentation.




It’s time. You can download free trials of Photoshop Elements (the basic version) here:

I am not going to do step by step guides to using photoshop, because there are people who do that much better than me. I would advise following a couple of beginner guides to using Photoshop so that you understand the basics. This looks like quite a good set:


If you can learn how to do the following things you can make some lovely, simply Powerpoint slides:


– Make shapes and lines

– Enhance / lighten photos (this can be great for images taken in dark archives and museums)

– Align your images

– Add text


Putting a little more consideration into your Powerpoint slides can make a world of difference – and help you avoid the wrath of Fraser.


Lucie Whitmore is a third year doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow, studying women’s fashion in First World War Britain. Her research explores the social, cultural and emotional experiences of women on the Home Front through surviving items of dress in museum collections. She works as an intern at the Museum of Edinburgh, and is currently co-organiser of an upcoming conference ‘War Through Other Stuff’. You can find her on Twitter @LucieWhitmore.

all images © Lucie Whitmore