Use The Rule of Thirds To Help Your PowerPoint
“Ripe. Oaky. Spicy.” They’re the kind of words that were used to describe white wine in a famous French experiment. That’s odd, because they’re the kind of words typically associated with Red wines. How did French oenophiles get it so wrong? had someone paid off the tasters? In this case, it wasn’t the wine connoisseurs that had been nobbled, it was the wine. Researchers had dyed white wines red with a flavorless die. The sight of the wine influenced it’s taste. Or rather, the cognoscenti’s perception of taste.
It’s not surprising that we’re heavily influenced by what we see, and that small things can affect us in big ways. This applies to our efforts to persuade. Presenting is as much about visual communication as verbal communication. The rule of thirds is a simple guide to help you clean up your act, and your slides.
If you’ve taken a basic design or photography course, you know the rule of thirds. Even if you haven’t heard of the rule of thirds, you’ve seen it in action. In cinematography:
As you can see, scenes become more appealing and when they’re well composed. A good cinematographer will break the composition up into horizontal and vertical thirds to draw attention to parts of the shot. The rule of thumb for the rule of thirds — place points of interest on one of the guides, or at their intersection to create attention. Use the bottom or top thirds for “horizon” lines.
The rule of thirds is so universal, once you know it, you will begin to see it used everywhere — Art, photography, poster design, magazine layouts, in the graticule (yes that’s the name for the horizontal and vertical lines) of your camera lens or favorite photo editing software.
You will also see it in advertising:
One place you won’t see it is in PowerPoint. That’s a shame, since PowerPoint is an essentially visual medium. When you open up PowerPoint, no Rule of Thirds. When you pick a template, no Rule of Thirds. When you switch on grids or guides in PowerPoint, no Rule of Thirds. It’s not surprising then, that the majority of PowerPoint slides are badly designed and poorly laid out.
But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a useful tip to use when you’re building your next deck.
Display the default drawing guides on your screen. On the Home tab, in the Drawing group, click Arrange, point to Align, and then click Grid Settings. An easier way to do this is to right-click an empty area of the slide (not a placeholder) or the margin around the slide, and then click Grid and Guides. Under Guide settings, select the Display drawing guides on screen check box.
You will see that the horizontal and vertical guides are set in the center by default. Clicking on either one will show the coordinates 0.00. Meaning that the two guides are centered horizontally and vertically.
To create Rule of Thirds guides. Click on the vertical guide and drag it left until it’s coordinates read 1.67. Click on the horizontal guide and drag it up until its coordinates read 1.25.
You’ve positioned your first two guides. Now you need to create and position two more. Click on the horizontal guide you have just moved. Press and hold down the Ctrl key*. You will notice a little + sign appear next to the coordinates. Ctrl-Drag the guide down to 1.25.
You have now created the two Rule of Thirds horizon lines. Repeat the process with the vertical guide. Ctrl-Drag to the 1.67 coordinate. You now have guides set at the Rule of Thirds.
Right click again on an empty area of the slide to bring up the drawing guides control panel. Click the “Set as Default” button under Guide Settings. This will make the guides come up in Rule of Thirds as a default for you in future.
Note that the measurements above are for a standard PowerPoint template, with slides sized for On-screen Show (4:3). In widescreen, the horizontal guides are at the 0.92 (16:9) or 1.00 (16:10) coordinates.
*In Windows. Commands are different for a Macintosh.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at
makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.