You won’t find a button in PowerPoint to make this powerful effect, but it’s easy to make if you follow this tutorial.
First, let’s look at why this trick works. It has do with the fact that effective presenting, stripped to its essence, is storytelling. That’s really important to grasp, because when you understand this, it helps you make presentations that actually accomplish their objectives. More than just turning bullets into graphics — it is embracing a role as a storyteller in your presentations that will help move you out of Death by PowerPoint and into being able to create events that inspire, inform, and persuade. In Daniel H. Pink’s fascinating book A Whole New Mind (2005, Riverhead Books), he points out that story is one of the new competitive differentiators – “narrative added to products and services.”
Now, consider this: have you ever listened to a storyteller and noticed how they adjusted the volume of their voice, or the rhythms of their speech to create a delicious sense of drama? There is a visual equivalent to these dramatic effects in designing PowerPoint slides: shadows and light.
Why a PowerPoint floor shadow works (this may be one place in your life where you want some drama!)
There are many tools in PowerPoint for adding special effects to mimic light and shadow. These include the gradient fill tools and, of course, the shadow tools in the “effects” palette. These tools are well worth mastering. However, there is one type of shadow that is very useful and isn’t available in PowerPoint’s tools. I call this a “floor shadow.”
As you can see in the before and after illustration above, a floor shadow gives the graphic, in this case the Volkswagon logo, a great deal more presence. If an object has a shadow, it has more substance — and seems more vivid, more real. A floor shadow also adds context for the image… creating the sense of a floor underneath the graphic and making the visual more powerful because it now has a little context.
Okay. Enough theory. Let’s get to the hands-on how-to tutorial!
Step 1: The Graphic
This effect will only work with a graphic that has a transparent background. It also works best with round or spherical graphics. You can find great logos with a transparent background (usually as .png files) at Wikipedia. You can also search for images with transparent backgrounds on Google by adding “.png” to the search (but make sure you are selecting art you have a right to use). If you have a graphic with a background, you can use the Remove Background tool. In the example below, I added a yellow rectangle behind my object to help give it some depth and visual interest.
Step 2: Draw an oval
Make it about 3 times bigger than your object (you’ll see why soon).
Step 3: Color fill with grey
A medium shade of grey works — not too light, not too dark.
Step 4: Set a dark gradient from center
Using the tools shown in the illustration, change the fill to a circular gradient, dark from center. This step is not always necessary, but it can help really “sell” the effect in some cases.
Step 5: Add a soft edges effect
Here is where it starts to really look like a shadow! Usually a 50 point effect is best. Important: If you set the soft edges at 50 points, and your grey oval mysteriously vanishes, don’t worry! It’s still there! Click in the area, grab a corner (very important — not a side) handle and drag out until the shape reappears. This is why, in step one, you drew the oval larger than the shadow needs to be — because applying the soft edges effect reduces it a lot.
Step 6: Send to back and resize
Use the side handles to resize. Usually it works to align the shadow’s edges with the outermost points of your round object, as shown below.
Step 7: Align center
This step may not be necessary, However, I have found it is sometimes helpful to play with the size of the shadow, stretching it vertically or horizontally. If you do this, you need to make sure the center points of the object and shadow are aligned.
Finished slide and more examples
That’s it! You’re done, Once you master this trick, you’ll use it often and it will only take you a minute or two. Or, you can always copy your shadow element from one slide and paste it into a new slide, and adjust as necessary.
Here are some more PowerPoint design examples that show how adding a floor shadow effect can increase the drama.
Here is a video version of this tutorial:
All text and images copyright 2016 Paul C. Tumey. This article may be shared freely and it would be classy to include a link back to this website.