Chapter 9:
Creating Text Slides

Understanding the Parts of a Text Slide

Avoiding Text Overload

Designing Title Slides

Handling Single Text Block Slides

Creating Bulleted Text Slides

Creating Text Build and Reveal Slides

Creating Tabular Text Slides

Using Charts Instead of Tables

The Real World: The Seven-Point Text Solution


Chapter 8

Chapter 10

Chapter 9:
Creating Text Slides

In an average presentation, more than 75 percent of the slides are text slides. Avoid the temptation to depend too much on text slides. A presentation made up entirely of them will be boring. Always mix illustrations, charts, and graphs in with your text slides to relieve the visual monotony.

Several types of text slides are useful for presentations. No one kind should be used exclusively; including different types of text slides adds interest and variety to your presentation. This chapter provides guidelines for creating text slides and specific layout suggestions for the various types.

Understanding the Parts of a Text Slide

Although there are several different types of text slides, they all share some common features. Text slides might include a title, subtitle, subheads, bulleted text, sub-bulleted text, and standard paragraphs. Figure 9.1 shows typical text slide elements.

Figure 9.1: Components of a text slide

The Title

The title states the basic message of the slide. It should be the largest text on the slide, drawing the viewer's eye from the center of the frame and reinforcing the message. You can also draw attention to your title by using a different typeface or color than other text on the slide, or by framing it with a line as in Figure 9.1) or box. See Chapter 8 for more information about title typefaces; see Chapter 7 for details on using color.

The positioning of the title, which should be consistent throughout the presentation, is dictated by your format design. As described in Chapter 6, the most common positions for a slide title are in the upper-left corner or centered in the upper quarter of the frame.

The length of your titles will affect the appearance of your slides. If a title is too long, it obscures the basic message with excess information.

Insert Art 9.1 ( Wordy title)

However, if you trim a title too much, it says nothing to the audience, and leaves your information open to misinterpretation.

Insert Art 9.2 (short title)

As in newspapers, some people read only the headlines; so make sure your headline tells the most important part of the story. Use simple, declarative statements for your title.

Insert Art 9.3 Better Title)

The Subtitle

If you need to expand on the title information, use a subtitle. The subtitle modifies or adds to the title. It should be set in a smaller text size than the title so that is subordinate to the title. Be consistent in the placement of your subtitle, keeping it in a fixed position relative to the title.

Insert Art 9.4 (Title and subtitle)

Use a subtitle to divide information into digestible chunks. With a subtitle, you can communicate a definitive message without sacrificing accuracy.

The Subhead

Some text slides need subheads to clarify the body text. Using a subhead allows you to categorize and divide sections of body copy. A subhead differs from a subtitle in that it modifies the body text rather than the title.

Since subheads are associated with body text, their placement depends on the positioning of the body text within the slide frame. Here are some methods that you can use, by themselves or in combination, to make the subhead stand out from the rest of the body text:

  • Using a different font
  • Changing the weight of the font (usually bolder)
  • Changing the text color
  • Indenting the body copy

Don't make the subhead text a larger point size than the body copy or you will overemphasize it. Also, avoid using underlines to highlight subheads or any other body copy. As explained in Chapter 8, many film recorders don't support underlining, and it makes text difficult to read.

The Body Copy

The body copy is the core of the text slide. After reading the message of the slide in the title, the audience looks to the body copy for details. This is where you make your point. Body text size should be somewhat smaller than your title or subtitle, but don't make it too small. Remember, if it's important enough to go on the slide, it should be readable.

Generally, body copy should be centered in the area below the title, as shown in Figure 9.2. The visual center of a slide is slightly higher than the physical center. This means that if you put the body copy in the exact center of the frame, the slide may look bottom-heavy. If this happens, move the body copy up a bit to balance the overall look of the slide. It's much better to have your copy slightly higher in the frame than lower. In Figure 9.2, the centered body copy is closer to the title bar than to the bottom of the frame, which is correct body copy positioning.

Figure 9.2: Body text centering

Avoiding Text Overload

The most important thing to remember while creating your text slides is that you have only a limited amount of space available. If you try to put too much text on a slide, your audience members will spend all their time reading. Very few people can read and listen simultaneously; so while they're reading, they're not listening. Keep the text on your slides simple so that your audience can focus on the content of the speech.

There are no strict rules about how much text is too much, but you can check whether the amount of text is readable. If you are working on a standard 13- or 14-inch computer monitor, view each slide in full-screen size (or as close as possible), sitting 6 to 7 feet away from the monitor.

If your program has a screen show utility, use it to preview your presentation for legibility. If you can clearly read the text on your screen, it will project well in an average meeting room, on a standard 40-inch projection screen. If you have to squint to read it, zoom in, or otherwise increase the size of the text on the screen, try to reduce the information on the slide. You can split the information between two slides or design another way of showing the information.

Designing Title Slides

Every presentation should have a title slide that introduces the speaker and states the topic of the presentation. Showing a title slide allows the audience to get settled and prepare themselves for the speaker. The title slide can be projected while the speaker is being introduced. If you're giving a solo presentation and running the slides from the podium, show the title slide and then shuffle your papers for a few seconds to allow the audience to get comfortable before introducing yourself.

Title Slide Layout

The design of a title slide should be kept very simple. Allow one-third to one-half the slide area for the presentation title. Place it in the upper portion of the frame. Use the remainder of the frame for the speaker's name, position, and any other necessary information. Figure 9.3 illustrates an effective layout for a title slide.

Figure 9.3: Title slide layout

Your title slide should reflect the overall appearance of the presentation, but it doesn't have to be in the same design as your regular text slides. Title text size can and probably should) be larger. However, you should use colors and type styles that are consistent with those in the presentation to avoid an abrupt transition from the title slide to the remaining slides.

Title slides may also include company logos, conference graphics, meeting names, dates, and similar information, but keep the other elements subordinate to the title. The point of your title slide is to introduce the topic and the speaker; everything else should be secondary. The exception is if your presentation introduces your organization or company to a new audience, in which case, you can make the corporate logo more prominent by placing it above the title, as shown in Figure 9.4.

Figure 9.4: Placing a logo above the title

Figure 9.5 shows a typical title slide. Notice that the title is emphasized by the box that encloses it. A smaller version of this box around the title can be repeated in the regular text slides. The title slide identifies the specific areas the speaker will be addressing: Widget Division Annual Sales. The line immediately beneath the title tells the audience who the speaker is and his relationship to the company: The Divisional Sales Manager. Finally, there's a conference identification: 1993 Sales and Planning Conference. The audience members probably already know what conference they are attending, but it's a traditional touch to keep this information on title slides, especially when there are several different speakers at a conference.

Figure 9.5: Sample title slide

Section Title Slides

In long presentations, consider breaking up the flow of informational slides with section title slides. These provide signposts to let the audience members know where they are in the presentation. For example, suppose you are creating a presentation of 60 to 70 slides with the following agenda:

  • Division Sales and Marketing Philosophy
  • 1992 Sales Results
  • 1993 Marketing Plans
  • 1993 Sales Forecast

In such a thorough presentation, it would be easy for the audience to lose its bearings in a flurry of numbers and statistics. When you add section title slides for each agenda item, the audience will be less likely to confuse 1992 sales results with 1993 sales predictions.

One way to create section title slides is to list all the topics in order in a moving highlight series, as illustrated in Figure 9.6. Place each slide with a highlighted topic in front of the appropriate section of the presentation. Moving highlights are described in more detail later in the chapter.

Figure 9.6: Moving highlight series for section title slides

As with title slides, section title text should be larger than body copy text, and the colors and general layout should be consistent with the rest of the presentation. Figure 9.7 shows an example of a section title slide for the same presentation as the title slide shown in Figure 9.5. To maintain consistency, the section title is enclosed in a box similar to the one in the main title slide, and the typeface and colors on the slide are the same as those used on the title slide.

Figure 9.7: Sample section title slide

In a particularly long presentation, you can add some variety by giving each section a different color scheme. This technique is practical only if you have at least a dozen slides in each section; fewer will give a disjointed impression to your show. When you use different colors for sections, a section title slide is essential. Without a slide to announce the change, the audience members may not detect a new agenda item immediately, and they will think your slides changed color for no particular reason. See Chapter 7 for more information about choosing color schemes.

Handling Single Text Block Slides

Some of your text slides may contain a single text block with a direct statement or quotation. Usually, the text block should be centered under the title.

In this sort of slide, you should try to limit the total amount of copy to a single paragraph with no more than two or three sentences. If you need to, edit the copy. One way to shorten a long quotation is to break it up into its most important points, using an ellipsis (...) to represent the missing parts. Leave in just the parts that make the point, as in the following example:

"If the motion of the earth were circular, it would be violent...and could not be eternal, since nothing violent is eternal it follows, therefore, that the earth is not moved with a circular motion." - St. Thomas Aquinas

If you wish to attribute the quotation to its author, the standard position for the author's name is in the lower-right area beneath the quotation. Set it apart from the other text by using italics, smaller type, color, or any combination of these styles.

Insert Art 9.5 lock text slide)

Creating Bulleted Text Slides

The most effective tool for emphasizing specific points in a speech is the bulleted text slide. In this type of slide, each important point in a speech (or each single sentence) is set off by a preceding small mark or bullet. The bulleted format visually reinforces the main elements of a speech, which helps the audience remember supporting facts more readily.

Insert Art 9.6 Bulleted slide)

Limit your bulleted items to no more than seven lines of copy, with ten to twelve words per line. If you need more than seven lines, divide the items among two or more slides. An effective text slide provides clear, concise information. Don't clutter up your copy with meaningless phrases and puffery. As Sgt. Joe Friday says on Dragnet: "Just the facts, ma'am!"

Although bulleted text slides work well in presentations, you don't want to show a procession of endless lists of bullet text, with no variety. Make sure you mix in other types of slides to avoid "Listitis."

Bullet Marks

As great as the temptation may be to use fancy bullet marks, remember that their only purpose is to help the audience identify individual points on the slide. For that purpose, a simple dot or dash will be enough.

If you want something a little different from the standard round dot for your bullets, use another basic geometric shape: square, triangle, diamond, or a simple arrow. Check marks may also be suitable. Avoid bullets that look like ancient Viking runes, wrought-iron fence posts, or pointing fingers. They'll look fine for the first few slides, but the audience will soon tire of them. Figure 9.8 shows some symbols that work well as bullet marks.

Figure 9.8: Recommended bullet marks

Use a different type of bullet mark for each sublevel of your outline. This will help the audience understand a sub-bullet is part of the main point, not another main point. For example, if you're using a large round dot for your main bullet points, use a long dash or a small square for your sub-bullets.

Insert Art 9.7 (subbullets)

Line Spacing in Bulleted Text Slides

When setting up a bulleted text slide, you should add extra space after each bulleted item to help the audience keep your points separate. Usually, an extra half line is plenty to separate bulleted items. If you have sub-bullets, the spacing between the main point and the sub-bullet points should be less than between main points, so that the sub-bullet points are visually tied to the main point. Figure 9.9 illustrates the recommended line spacing for bulleted text slides.

Figure 9.9: Recommended line spacing

If you find the line spacing you've chosen is just a little too much for the text you've entered, and the last line of copy is too close to the bottom of the slide, reduce your line spacing a bit. Reducing the line spacing is a much better solution than decreasing the text size. The audience members may notice things are a bit more cramped, but they won't care as long as everything is readable.

Some desktop presentation programs do not support half lines between bulleted items. If you are using one of these programs, you will have to set your main bulleted text in double spacing and the sub-bullets in single spacing.

Balancing the Copy Block

The copy on a text slide should form a clean, well-balanced block. For example, if you are creating a bulleted text slide with one long item and several other shorter items, the longer item should be split on two lines so that its right margin does not extend too far past the other items. Figure 9.10 illustrates how a long bulleted item can be divided.

Figure 9.10: Balancing a long bulleted item

You also should watch out for orphans, which are single words at the end of a paragraph or bulleted item left on a line of their own. Adjust the margin of your text block to force extra words into the short line, as illustrated in Figure 9.11.

Figure 9.11: Eliminating orphans

Because of all the variables involved in their design, you cannot rely on your desktop presentation program to automatically generate perfect text slides. You should check every slide for balanced copy blocks and orphans.

Creating Text Build and Reveal Slides

When playing poker, a cardinal rule is not to tip your hand - don't let your opponent see your cards. The same rule applies when giving a speech: avoid letting the audience know in advance what's in the speech.

It is only natural for an audience to read all the material on a slide at once. You can prevent the audience from getting ahead of the speaker and make sure they listen to what is being said by using build, reveal, and moving highlight slides.

Build Series Slides

A build series consists of bulleted text slides that each reveals one item at a time to the audience. By controlling the amount of information the audience gets at a single time, you can focus attention on the topic at hand, prevent the audience from getting ahead of the speaker, and provide extra visual interest to what may be an ordinary text slide. Here are some situations in which you should use text build slides:

  • When you must spend a long time (1-1/2 or more minutes) on a single slide
  • When you want to keep an audience in suspense
  • When you need to give a step-by-step description of a process or series of events

Create the slide exactly as if you were doing a regular (nonbuild) text slide. Position and balance the copy. Then make duplicates of the original and delete individual bulleted items from the bottom up. Figure 9.12 shows an example of a text slide build series.

Figure 9.12: Text slide build series

Don't reposition the copy either vertically or horizontally; keep the top line in the same place. When you project the slides, new lines should appear below the text already in the frame. If you move the items, it will look as if your text is jumping around in the frame as you change from one slide to the next. The blank space below the visible items also creates anticipation in the viewers for what's coming next and makes subsequent points more effective by fulfilling their curiosity.

Some desktop presentation programs, such as Aldus Persuasion, allow you to set up build slides automatically by assigning lines of text to different layers. The program will generate the extra images necessary to create the build.

Toneback Reveal Slides

A variation on the standard build series is the toneback reveal series. Create toneback reveal slides in the same way you set up a standard build, except when you reveal a new item, dim the previous items bullets and text) by changing their color, as shown in Figure 9.13. This technique allows the speaker to focus the audience's attention even more directly on the current point.

Figure 9.13: Toneback reveal series

For slides with dark backgrounds, choose a lighter tint of the background color to tone back the previous items. On a black or dark gray background, tone back your bulleted items to medium or light gray. On a dark blue background, use a light to medium blue for toned back items. Make the revealed item white or yellow so that it stands out.

For overhead transparencies, the toneback color should be a darker shade of your light background color. Use black or your normal text color for revealed items.

Moving Highlight Slides

A simple variation on the toneback reveal series is the moving highlight series. All the items are always visible, but the current point is highlighted with a brighter color and the rest are toned back. Figure 9.14 shows an example of a moving highlight series.

Figure 9.14: Moving highlight series

Stepback Reveal Slides

A stepback reveal series is useful for explaining complex information without confusing the audience. A stepback reveal series works like a standard or toneback reveal series, except each main point may have several sub-bullets beneath it. Each new main point and its sub-bullets are revealed, and the previous main points, without their sub-bullets, are toned back, as illustrated in Figure 9.15. This type of reveal series allows the speaker to address details. Because the previous main points remain visible, the audience is reminded of what came before and won't get lost along the way.

Figure 9.15: Stepback reveal series

A stepback reveal series is difficult to plan because you must determine the type size and layout of the slide on a worst-case basis. You have to allow for the maximum number of lines taken up by a series of sub-bullets as well as the main points.

In the example in Figure 9.15, the third main point has three sub-bullets, creating a total of six items on the slide (two toned back main points, the current main point, and three sub-bullets). The next (fourth) main point in the series has two sub-bullets, also for a total of six items on the slide. The last point has no sub-bullets. The fourth main point, which has an extra half line of space, is the worst case. The text size, line spacing, and other layout settings are based on the fourth slide. This ensures that the text does not jump around in the frame as each new item is revealed.

Use stepback reveal series when it is important for the audience to see levels of information. However, if it's possible, you should divide the information into separate slides instead of relying on a stepback reveal series.

Creating Tabular Text Slides

Tabular text slides offer a way of visually arranging text to clarify relationships. They are useful for presenting complex information that requires a visible structure. Figure 9.16 shows an example of a tabular text slide.

Figure 9.16: Tabular text slide

Table Layout

You might think that the tabular framework can hold more text than a regular text slides, but this is not true. Tabular text slides should follow the same design rules as any other text slide. Limit the text to seven lines per slide, including column heads. Try not to use more than six columns. If you have a condensed typeface, such as Helvetica Narrow, you can use it to make narrower columns, but remember that condensed typefaces are harder to read at a distance.

The columns should be far enough apart to separate them and prevent text from running together, but too much space between columns makes it difficult for the eye to track from one column to another. A good rule-of-thumb is for the space between columns to be at least the width of two numbers, but no more than half the width of the narrowest column. Figure 9.17 shows proper and improper column spacing.

Figure 9.17: Column spacing

Tables with Grids

One way of helping your audience read a table is to enclose the text in a grid. The grid lines make it easier for the audience to line up columns and rows, especially in large table. Figure 9.18 shows an example of a table with a grid.

Figure 9.18: Table with a grid

Keep your grid lines unobtrusive; they are just guides and shouldn't compete with the content. You could tone back the grid with color, as in a toneback reveal series, which will make the table easier to read.

Use grids in tables only when they are a real aid to understanding. A simple two-column table will look cluttered if you surround it with superfluous lines.

Using Charts Instead of Tables

Tabular text slides are usually too complex to be read at a glance. Most tabular data is better understood when presented in the form of a chart or graph. Charts and graphs are easier to read and understand quickly, as well as easier to remember once the presentation is over. Figure 9.19 shows a bar chart created from the data in the table in Figure 9.18.

Figure 9.19: Bar chart slide created from table slide data

Whenever you feel the need to include a table in a presentation, try creating a chart or graph (or series of them) to take its place. You will often find that the graphic representation communicates your message more effectively.

The Real World:
The Seven-Point Text Solution

Wednesday, October 10, 10:00 am: Alan Smithee was very busy on the trip home from Japan. He spent the trip refining and adding to his presentation, and when he arrived at the office this morning, he sent his additions down to the Art Department. Jim has just received Alan's additional slides.

Jim immediately makes a trip up to the fourteenth floor. Alan has done a good job of roughing out the slides he wants to accompany his speech, but one tabular text chart is much too cluttered.

"Alan, I've been going over the new stuff, and everything looks great except this chart," says Jim as he places the rough draft on the desk.

Insert S9.1 Competitive Overview

"I know, it's complicated, but I really do need to cover all this information. I've cut it as much as I can."

"When this is projected, the text is going to be much too small for most people in the auditorium to read. We could include a handout in the information packet to help them follow along."

"I'd rather not have paper copies of our competitive analysis floating around after the meeting." says Alan. "I don't want Consolidated to find out our opinion of their management- -it might be just the thing to make them work harder. And we don't want our competition working harder! What other options are there?"

"Well, looking at your speech, I can see that you're probably going to spend almost two minutes covering this information. If you leave it this way, the stockholders will have read everything you want to tell them by the time you finish with the Acme Corporation. Why don't we break this down into several slides?"

"What do you have in mind?"

Jim pulls out a storyboard pad and sketches a rough drawing.

Insert S9.2 (Text Slide Rough)

"Let's make individual slides for each competitor. We can lay it out like this..."

Alan stops him. "That's terrific, except I want to show the relative sales of the four companies, and I will spend some time talking about how those sales figures compare to ours."

Jim stops to think for a second. "Why don't you try combining all of your scattered comments about annual sales into a single paragraph or two, and I'll give you a bar chart, like this, to show the comparison."

Insert S9.3 Annual Sales Bar Graph Illustration

"That's fine, Jim. I'll talk about strengths and weaknesses first, then switch to sales figures. You can even leave the annual sales figures out of the actual text slides. I'll talk about them on the bar chart."

"OK Alan, I'll have proof copies of all the slides to you by this afternoon. Thanks."


Text slides are the backbone of any presentation. Since your text slides have so much influence on the look of your show, it's crucial that they are well-designed. Here are the guidelines for creating attractive, readable text slides:

  • Step back from your monitor to judge the readability of slides. The view 6 or 7 feet away from a standard monitor will give you an accurate idea of what the slides will look like when projected.
  • Use title and section title slides to divide your presentation and introduce new topics.
  • Make your message the slide title. Keep it short and to the point.
  • Use a subtitle when more information is necessary to clarify your message.
  • The body copy is the information that supports your message. Use subheads where necessary to organize your text.
  • Don't overload your slides with too much text. A good rule of thumb is no more than seven lines of copy and ten to twelve words per line. Split large amounts of text into multiple slides.
  • Use simple bullet marks for bulleted text slides.
  • Create a balanced copy block with lines of even length. Avoid long lines and orphans.
  • Use build, reveal, and moving highlight series to control the flow of information and increase audience interest and suspense.
  • Limit your tables to seven rows of text (including column heads) and six columns of data. Use charts and graphs instead of tables whenever possible.