23 September 2010

PowerPoint posters: Don’t turn away for even a second

If you use PowerPoint to make a conference poster, remember that it’ll screw you if you’re not watching it closely.

It has the best intentions. It’s just trying to help. But intentional or not, it still screws you.

The problem arises when you try to stick a lengthy block of text into a text box that is too big. PowerPoint will try to make all those words fit.

It’s fairly obvious when PowerPoint changes the point size. Point size is prominently displayed on the ribbon, and when you right click the text. But point size isn’t the only thing PowerPoint fiddles with.

PowerPoint tries to preserve the point size whenever it can. To keep the words as large as possible, it will first rachet down the line spacing (a.k.a. leading). A mild case is shown above.

To check the spacing in PowerPoint 2010, right click the text and select the “Paragraph...” option. This will show line spacing options. PowerPoint 2003 users will go to the “Format” menu, then look for “Line Spacing...”

From there, you can set if from “Multiple” back to “Single,” or even better, a value bigger than 1.

You can turn this “autofit” option off, but you have to dig for it. In PowerPoint 2010, you have to go up to the “Customize Quick Access Toolbar” (The down arrow in the upper left) and pick “More commands.” You’ll be in the main “Options” menu, at the “Quick Access Toolbar” section. Look left and up to find then go to “Proofing” section. Then look for “AutoCorrect Options...” and pick the second tab, “AutoFormat As You Type.” Finally, uncheck “AutoFit body text to placeholder.”

No, the PowerPoint team don’t exactly go out of their way to make it easy to find.

Here’s the single spaced version:

This one paragraph on its own may not look so bad, but people making posters with PowerPoint often end up with a lot of text boxes. Because the PowerPoint squishes the text in each box differently, you can easily end up with of different line spacing all across the poster. One paragraph with single space, another paragraph with 0.8, another with 0.9...

Lack of consistency makes a poster look sloppy, even if a viewer may not be able to say exactly why.

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Leading thoughts

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