Keep your PowerPoints simple for maximum impact



Recently, I watched a public service commercial with an intense message. The message used no background music or movement. Only the text changed. It was a profound message, and I felt it deeply. The lack of effects set the somber mood by focusing on the message, which stood alone. Less really was more.

In this article, we’ll create an important message that uses few effects to move from one statement to the next. In this case, the simple format is more effective than a lavishly emotional appeal. Technically, you’ll learn how to apply the fade entrance and exit animations.

I’m using PowerPoint 2016 on a Windows 10 64-bit system, but the technique will work in older versions. You can work with your own presentation or download the .pptx or .ppt demonstration file.

The message

The message comprises two simple statements:

  • Don’t text and drive.
  • Someone’s life depends on it.

That’s it! Now, we could use sound effects—tires squealing, sirens, and so on. We could also use pictures of grieving loved ones or blood-stained asphalt with broken glass visible. Those would all be appropriate, but they’re unnecessary. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but they might be overkill. We can create a single slide and produce the same chilling impact using few effects (with little effort).

The slide

Figure A shows the slide with both statements. Creating the slide is simple. First, the background is a graphic of an old piece of paper. You can copy this royalty-free graphic from Or, if you prefer, don’t add a background image at all and just use a neutral background color, such as gray. (Neither nor I have any financial or personal interest in

Figure A

This simple slide has little formatting.

I resized the graphic so that the torn edging extends off the slide; you won’t see that in the slide show. If you use a background graphic, send it backward by right-clicking the graphic, clicking the contextual Format tab, and then clicking the Send Backward option in the Arrange group. Doing so makes sure the text you add doesn’t accidentally disappear behind the graphic.

Next, add a text box and the first line of text: Don’t text and drive. Apply the following font attributes from the Font group (on the Home tab):

  • Font: Impact
  • Font Size: 72
  • Font Color: Red

With the text box selected, extend the left and right borders to the left and right edges of the slide (or the image) and click Center in the Paragraph group (on the Home tab). Doing so will keep the text centered.

To add the second statement, copy the first text box and move the copy below the first. Later, we’ll stack the two, but for now, they’re easier to work with separately. Change the text in the copy to Someone’s life depends on it.

SEE: Windows 10: The smart person’s guide

The animation

At this point, you’re ready to add the subtle animation that will quietly move from the first line of text to the second. To get started, select the first text box and do the following:

  1. Click the Animations tab.
  2. Click the gallery dropdown (in the Animation group) and click Fade in the Entrance section (Figure B).
  3. In the Timing group, change the Start setting to With Previous, the Duration setting to 2.00, and the Delay setting to .75. With Previous will trigger the slide, so you won’t need to click it.
  4. Select the second text box and repeat steps 2 and 3 to set its entrance animation. But this time, set the Start setting to After Previous instead of With Previous. After Previous will delay an effect until the previous effect is done. That means PowerPoint won’t fade in the second statement until it’s finished fading in the first.

Figure B

Choose the Fade animation.

When the second text box fades in, you want the first to fade out. You can create that effect as follows:

  1. Select the first text box and choose Fade from the Exit section, using the gallery’s dropdown as you did in step 2 above.
  2. In the Timing group, choose After Previous from the Start dropdown.
  3. Change the Duration setting to .25 and the Delay setting to 0.

Now you’re ready to align the two text box controls. Select both by clicking one, holding down Shift, and then clicking the other. Next, click the contextual Format tab. From the Arrange dropdown, choose Arrange, and then select Align Top. The overlapping controls are shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Align the two text controls.

If the controls align to the top of the slide instead of to the top-most control, open the Arrange dropdown and make sure the Align Selected Objects option is checked instead of the Align to Slide option (at the bottom of the list).

To view the slide show, press F5. The fading is subtle and quiet. The point is made without gory graphics or harsh sound effects.

Easy adjustments

You might not be pleased with the first attempt—I wasn’t. Fortunately, adjustments are easy. The order is a bit awkward; the second statement fades in before the first statement fades out. Using the Animation Pane, I moved the second text box’s exit in from the second animation to the third (last). In doing so, the first statement will fade out before the second statement fades in. To do this, simply select the animation in the list (Figure D) and drag it—it couldn’t be simpler! When you drag the animation item, PowerPoint will display a red line to indicate where you’re about to drop it.

Figure D

Use the Animation Pane to quickly adjust existing animation items.

I also changed its Duration setting from .5 to 1 second. The resulting animation fades the first statement in and then out before displaying the second statement. Before, the statements overlapped, which muddled the message in my opinion.

When less is more

In PowerPoint, we often use animation, movement, colors, and sounds to emphasize a point when the best effect is really the lack of those elements. The presentation is so simple that it almost seems negligent, given the message’s importance, but fight the urge to use more when less really is the best you can offer.

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