Adding pictures to a PowerPoint slide show is a good idea. But be sure to do it the right way. 

PowerPoint pictures big and bold on slidesOver the years I’ve noticed a weird universal law. PowerPoint users seem to think that pictures on slides must be scrawny little things off to the side of bullet points. Despite millions of presentations given every year, hardly anyone allows their pictures to be big and dramatic, covering the entire slide pane real estate—WITHOUT TEXT.


Why is that?


If you had to fight someone, would you want to be a little scrawny guy or a big muscular hulk? If you wanted to impress people at a dinner party with a diamond ring, would you prefer a little pathetic stud or a big, flashy, sparkling rock on your dainty little finger? Bigger and showier things are more impressive, more influential, more valuable, and more memorable, right? So which would capture more attention and have more impact coming out of a projector: a meager little picture located off to the side of text or a great big picture covering the entire slide pane?

To make matters worse, sometimes slides contain multiple small pictures, forcing viewers to split attention between them. Don’t do it.

An important visual communication best practice is placing only a single picture on any given slide and then allowing it to fill every speck of the slide pane. That doesn’t mean putting the picture on half of the slide. It doesn’t mean leaving an inch of slide around the picture to frame it. It means filling the ENTIRE slide, completely, totally. Get rid of the text.

I know. Eliminating the text sounds like heresy, but think about it. If your picture represents meaningful, descriptively visual information, do you really need accompanying text on the slide? Do you really even need a text label at top? Probably not. How about allowing the picture to display in full glory while filling in those extra details verbally instead?

PowerPoint pictures big and bold on slides

Here’s a case in point from personal experience. A few years back I was in Washington, D.C. and decided to pay a visit to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. In the dinosaur section you come face-to-face with a large, completely glass-enclosed area where workers painstakingly work on fossils using chemicals and tiny paintbrushes. Imagine removing rock from bones using little more than a touch-up paintbrush!

And what’s more interesting is that most of these people are volunteers. Not only are they volunteers, it’s a fact that a vast majority of the fossils they work on probably will end up in a storage box somewhere—unseen, unused, and unappreciated. So, why do they perform this painstaking, meticulous work for practically no benefit? Apparently the reward is knowing that there might be a chance—however small—that one of the cleaned-up pieces will be just the missing fragment needed to solve some great mystery someday. I found the whole thing fascinating. My attention span wouldn’t last five minutes in their situation but they were doing it for the love of discovery.

Now, imagine me telling this story with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. I certainly could make a slide like the one above—with bullet points highlighting the main details and a pathetic, hard-to-see picture off to the side.


But Why?


PowerPoint pictures big and bold on slides

Why not show the scene as largely as possible while filling in particulars with words? Who needs the bullet points? They are a waste of slide space and a distraction to viewers trying to pay attention to your words. In fact, I might do even better by showing multiple full-screen pictures in succession, as though walking people into the exhibit and gradually focuses on various aspects of the story. That’s the kind of story telling you’ll learn to love with Visual Language techniques.

Show it big!