Use PowerPoint slide layouts to make presentations memorable

By guest blogger Ellen Finkelstein, PowerPoint MVP and author of many PowerPoint skills books. To learn more about her books, and get free tips and reports go to

When all your slides look alike, your entire message can be blurred. At the end of your presentation, you want your audience to remember your main points most, and if they remember some of the details, that’s a plus. By making key slides distinctive, you can help people follow and retain the content in your presentation.

Give Special Slides Special Treatment

Two types of slides merit special treatment:

  • Organizational slides: These highlight when sections of your presentation begin and end. Your first slide, section slides, and your last slide are the main examples of organizational slides.
  • Main point slides: These contain your key points; generally you should try for two to four key points, because people have a hard time remembering more than four.

 How do you make a slide stand out from other slides? One of the most important techniques is varying the layout.

Choosing the Layout You Want

PowerPoint’s layout feature lets you choose a layout for each type of slide. For example, PowerPoint has a Section layout for the first slide in each section. To choose a specific layout, right-click anywhere on the background of the slide, not on an object (for example, not on a text placeholder), choose Layout from the menu as you see here, and pick the one you want.

slide layout PowerPoint option


Layout for Main Point Slides

To create a striking layout for your main points, I often recommend putting the slide title on the left and a vertical photo on the right, as shown in this example.

Sample key point slide


Layouts for First and Last Slides

To create a clear beginning and end, use a full-slide photo for your first and last slides, as you see here.

Sample beginning and ending slide

Layouts for Content Slides

Finally, you might use a Title & Content or Title Only layout for the rest of the slides. These slides are ideal for most of your content, because they present information simply and are flexible to create.

Creating Custom Layouts

If you can’t find an existing layout that suits your needs, you can create your own. Click the View tab, then click the Slide Master button in the Masters Views group. The slide master appears.

  1. On the Slide Master tab, in the Edit Master group, choose Insert Layout. A new layout appears in the left pane.
  2. Again on the Slide Master tab, in the Master Layout group, click the Insert Placeholder button’s down arrow and choose one of the eight placeholder types.
  3. Drag on the slide to size and place the placeholder.
  4. Place more placeholders, laying them out as needed.
  5. When you’re done, click the layout in the left pane that you’ve created , and display the Slide Master tab. In the Edit Master group, click the Rename button. Enter a name and click Rename.
  6. The presentation now contains the new layout and you can choose it the same way you’d choose any of the standard layouts for any slide.
  7. If you want to use the layout in the future, save the file as a template (.potx, or .potm if it contains macros) or theme (thmx).

Sample Presentation Layouts

In the simplified presentation below, I’ve labeled different types of slides so you can see how each has a layout and look which corresponds to its role in a presentation.

Of course, my recommendations are just suggestions; you should try out a variety of ideas to see which works best for you. Your goal is to make the slides with your most important content have the most distinctive design–and you can see here how layout is an essential part of overall slide design.  Using these layout techniques helps you do more than create good looking slides–it helps ensure your audience walks away understanding and remembering your key messages and your content.  Now it’s your turn to try it!

 –Ellen Finkelstein