Presentation Design: What To Do With Orphan Slides

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How to Deal With Slides That Don’t Fit Neatly Into Your Template

I often deal with slides that do not fit neatly into one of the master layouts in the template I am using. Most presenters, especially ones developing decks for B2B presentations, can’t always conform their writing or charts into the limited prefab layouts in any given template. This means a lot of slides have to be custom formatted in order to fit in with the rest of the deck. Here are some steps to help you quickly bring an orphaned slide into the family:


Use a blank layout or one that only has title(and subtitle if needed). If the rest of the deck has a footer, slide numbers, or any other repeating elements throughout your deck, make sure that your blank master layout also has those things. If this layout doesn’t exist, go into the master and duplicate one of the more basic layouts that does have the repeated elements. Then delete all other graphics and placeholders (except the title/subtitle if you want to keep it). Rename that layout something that makes sense.


If you have a blank layout or if you created one via step number one, you won’t have any text placeholders available for you to write or paste content into. The reason for this is that you don’t want your unique layout to be attached to placeholders that don’t match the situation of your orphan slide. All sorts of odd, tricky formatting situations can arise if you use pre-formatted placeholders and then refresh the layout after you tweaked them. Placeholders are best left unadjusted. You can plug in your content, but as soon as you start changing placeholder position, size and formatting, you cannot re-apply the layout without ruining all of your changes. So, I prefer to use layouts that will not destroy my custom designs when I re-apply the master layout. The way to do this is to ditch placeholders in favor of manually inserted text boxes and content. This is why you should use a mostly empty layout.


Now make sure you are in normal view (no longer viewing the master layouts) and add a new blank or title/subtitle slide. From here, ask yourself what you need to do. If you need to place text, Insert textboxes into your slide and type or paste in copy. If you need an image, insert an image. The same goes for all content types. Ignore formatting for a bit and just place your content. If the content is huge, scale things down, but don’t worry about fonts, colors, etc. right now. Just get everything in place.


Now that you have everything in place it’s time to get everything styled like the rest of the deck. You can do this by using the format painter, keyboard shortcuts or character/paragraph styles depending on the software you are using. Copy several content types from other, finished slides onto the offscreen areas of the new slides so the content styles are easily available. I like to grab normal body copy, captions, small subheads, bulleted and numbered lists, shapes, lines, images with graphic effects, quotes, etc. and paste them outside the borders of the new slides. This way I don’t have to go back and forth between my new slides and other, already formatted slides in order to grab the right formatting. If you have a bunch of slides that need help, just position these elements on your first new slide so you can easily select all of them (I usually paste them all across the top of the slides), then drag one selection rectangle around them and copy them into the clipboard. Next, click on each orphan slide thumbnail and paste away. It should only take a few seconds.

One reason templates can only get you so far is that content types and layouts seem to be infinitely variable. Here are some basic tips to give you some sanity and hopefully speed you up:

  • If your template has guides already placed, make sure they are visible and start aligning your content based on those guides. 
  • If you don't have guides you should find a finished slide that has similar content. Then copy the top/left content block (other than the title/subtitle) and paste it into the slide you are working on. This will bring layout consistency to your orphan slides by making sure their content starts in the same place most of your other slides do.
  • Use that block as a starting point to pull in guides (pull a horizontal guide to the top of the block, then a vertical guide to the left of the block) 
  • Or simply start aligning other content using the top/left corner of the pasted block. Delete the pasted block after you have aligned the first content block that is supposed to stay on the slide.
  • I won't go into a ton of detail on all the ways to place and align content, but as a rule of thumb you should know that columns are more readable than one straight down list with subheads and bullets. Depending on your setup (venue, screen size, etc.) you will be able to get away with more or less columns. Usually you can have three, but I've had situations (large, high resolution monitors in small rooms) where I've been able to pull off about seven columns. Start each with a subhead, then bullets/text underneath. If you need to you can use a table to help with alignment and/or to start a second row of topics.
  • One last word of advice: If you are presenting in a large ballroom or auditorium in which the presentation is linear, with no audience participation until a final Q&A (or none at all), don't cram your slides. Either refine and reduce your copy, or split it into multiple slides. In this situation, since your audience is not expected to participate, their attention span is minimal. Dense slides will be a hinderance. In smaller, conference room settings, you can get away with having much more information on your slides because the audience is typically more engaged and often has a stake in the content.

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