Published 8/1/2007
Carolyn Rogers

Pictures add power to your presentation

How to find just the right images to make your PowerPoint presentations POP!

Have you ever sat through the “PowerPoint Presentation from Hell”? Most of us have. It’s long and tedious—a dreary succession of slides filled with tiny text, presented by a lackluster speaker who doesn’t seem to notice that the audience isn’t paying attention.

When it’s your turn to stand at the podium, how will you keep your audience riveted to your talk—not drifting off toward dreamland?

“The way that you deliver your information has everything to do with how well your presentation will be received,” says Susan Harkins, Microsoft Office expert. “Your presentation always influences others to take some type of action.”

That action might be to listen carefully and absorb the new information, or it might be to mentally “check out” and begin mulling over the next day’s surgery schedule.

“Use of appropriate, eye-catching images is one way to liven up your presentation and keep the after-lunch crowd awake in their seats,” says Harkins.

Why use images?
“A relevant, quality photo can add aesthetic appeal and aid comprehension in any PowerPoint presentation,” Harkins says. “Besides, most people respond better to visual cues than to text.”

Just be sure that the image is relevant to your message.

“Don’t display a picture of your kids, or a clever ‘Far Side’ cartoon unless you’re prepared for the audience to ignore what you’re saying,” warns orthopaedic surgeon David L. Nelson, MD, who teaches PowerPoint classes at the AAOS Annual Meeting.

“Graphics will always make a stronger impression than words, so if a picture supports or enhances your message, use it,” he says.

Finding the right photo, however, can be difficult if you don’t know where to look.

Be your own photographer
The first place to look for the “right” photo is through the lens of your own camera, says Reid Stanton, AAOS manager of electronic media programs. If you’re describing an unusual surgical technique that you’ve perfected or a certain type of fracture, it only makes sense to illustrate your talk with your own digital X-rays, arthroscopic photographs, or a video clip, he says.

Borrowing a video from a colleague or scanning a photo from a textbook are also options, but be sure to credit your source in both cases, Stanton says.

In many situations, however, you may not have easy access to the type of image you have in mind. Fortunately, the Internet provides you with immediate access to millions of photographs, illustrations, and clip art.

Image search engines
Several popular search engines can help you track down the perfect image for your presentation. Just be aware that not all of the photos and clip art that you find will be free, nor will the resolution always be high enough to use in your presentation. (More on resolution size later in this article.)

Here are four of the top image search engines:

If you find these sites overwhelming, you can narrow your search by visiting one of the numerous stock photo and clip art sites available on the Web. Many of these sites allow you to download high-resolution photos for free (or for a minimal fee), and also to search by category or keyword.

Climbing sunset scene from www.123rf.com

Most of these sites grant you a nonexclusive, nontransferable license to use the images in multimedia presentations, printed promotional materials, magazines, newspapers, books, brochures, flyers, and the like. A photo credit is not always required in these cases, but is considered a courtesy. You must obtain permission from the photographer, however, if you plan to reprint the image for profit in any mass-produced product.

If your PowerPoint presentation is later published in written form, make sure that you adhere to all copyright laws. Always read the terms and conditions of use posted on each site.

Free stock photo sites
Stock photo and clip art sites abound on the Web, but here are a few select (mostly free) sites where you can start your search:

Stock.xchng (www.sxc.hu) This easy-to-use site provides access to more than 300,000 free, high-resolution images, with hundreds more added daily.

MorgueFile (www.morguefile.com) Every one of the 55,000 high-resolution images on this site is free. The site also features a blog with RSS feeds for recently added images.

FreeRange (www.freerangestock.com) All photos on this site are high resolution, free to download, and searchable by keyword.

123rf (www.123rf.com) You can download more than 2,000 free images on this site, and another 75,000 are available for a small fee, starting at $1 per photo. (FYI: The graphics that appear with this article were obtained from www.123rf.com.)

Stockvault (www.stockvault.net) This site provides free access to nearly 8,000 images of exceptional quality.

What resolution do I need?
Determining the right size for PowerPoint images is actually fairly simple, says Steve Rindsberg, author of “PowerPoint FAQ” (

“The basic rule is this: For images that fill the entire slide, the image size (in pixels) should be equal to the video screen’s resolution,” Rindsberg says.

For example, if your screen resolution is set to 1024 × 768, that’s the size you want your full-slide images to be. If the image occupies only half the width and half the height of the slide, it should be 1024/2 or 512 pixels wide, and 768/2 or 384 pixels high, he says.

“Highly detailed images sometimes look better if they’re set at a bit higher resolution than ‘the rule’ demands,” Rindsberg adds. “Try the same image at several different resolutions—you’ll quickly get a feel for what works best.”

Just don’t go overboard, he warns.

“The higher the resolution, the larger the image files; the larger the image files, the larger your PowerPoint files will become, and the slower the images will display,” he says. “You want your images to be just big enough to look good and not a pixel bigger.”

What if you don’t know anything about the projector or computer that will run the presentation?

“1024 × 768 is a very common resolution for laptop displays and for video projectors, so it’s a good choice when in doubt,” Rindsberg says. “The images won’t be large enough to slow things down even if your presentation is shown on lower resolution displays. Still, the images will look acceptable on higher resolution setups.”

This is the third in a series of articles on “Putting the ‘power’ in PowerPoint.” To read the first two installments, visit the AAOS Now Web site at www.aaos.org/now.

Carolyn Rogers is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at rogers@aaos.org