OpenOffice.org Impress: Using Master Slides

The Master view in Impress is the equivalent of page styles in Writer. It's the view where you can set elements of design that appear throughout your presentation, such as the slide background and foreground colors, any reoccurring elements, and the fonts. By creating the master slides you need before you add content, you can automate your work and free yourself to focus on content.

Master slides are quick to learn. But the real trick to using them well is not a deep understanding of the software, so much as a sense of modern design. The stylized form of a presentation does not alter the concepts you use to design one, any more than the limited space of a business card affects how it is designed. Both use the same basic elements as any modern design project, such as contrast of different elements, the alignment or proximity of related ones, and repetition of the look and location of reoccurring elements.

Moreover, if all else fails, you are unlikely to go far wrong if you keep your design as simple as possible. For most purposes, you can treat a slide as a special case of online design, little different from designing a web page except that you don't need to struggle against the limits of HTML.

Much of this design work, of course, can be done using Impress' initial wizard. However, if you want to modify the results, or prefer to do things for yourself, you can modify the results by selecting View -> Master -> Slide Master (there is also a Notes Master, but since nobody except you are like to see your notes unless you print them, it is less important). Once you are in the Master view, then it is mainly a matter of experimentation until you find a design that meets your needs.

Choosing the background and foreground

Presentation backgrounds are one of the two types of templates available for Impress (the other, simply called Presentations, gives you the outline structure for your presentation).

You can download and install dozens of free templates for Impress. However, as with any free content, the quality of these templates varies considerably.

So, how do you choose which template to use or how to modify one? Simple: You choose one that will make text readable from ten meters away on a projector screen. In other words, the ideal template has either a dark background and light text, or a light background with dark text, because contrast makes reading easier. Because our ideas about reading are still conditioned by the printed page, a light background and dark text is most common, but, in practice, the reverse can also be effective, especially in a short presentation, or when alternated with the more traditional choice.

It's all a matter of contrast, really -- which is why a background of a full-color photo is usually a poor choice for readability. No matter what text color you choose, some part of a background photo won't contrast with it. And, given that the perversity of the universe is set on stun in such cases, the text that blends into the background will probably be the text you want to emphasize the most. If you must use a photo, try to position it on the edges of the slide or in a footer (see below), where it is less likely to conflict with text.

You can choose a background in the start wizard, or by inserting a design via Insert -> Picture -> From File, then right-clicking on it so that it fills the entire slide. Alternatively, you can press F11 for the Style and Formatting palette, then go to Presentation Styles -> Background, and right-click to select Modify and go on to choose the exact type of fill you want.

Similarly, to change the font, open Styles and Formatting, then go to Presentation Styles -> Outline 1 -> Modify -> Font Effects to change the color. Since the presentation styles are hierarchical, modifying the font for the Outline 1 style will modify the font for all the other Outline styles. You also need to repeat the change for the Title style.

If you choose, you can do multiple master pages by selecting New Master from the Master View palette that appears whenever you open the Master view. In certain circumstances, such as a presentation in which a question appears on one slide and its answer on the next, multiple master slides can be effective, especially if you reverse the background and foreground. However, if you don't have a specific use for multiple master slides, using them will only clutter the look of your presentation.

Setting up reoccurring elements

Many slide shows have elements that appear on every page, such as a footer with information about the presenter and owner of the show or its title. The default master page, you notice, has footers for the date and time and slide number, as well as a blank footer in the middle in case you want to add such features as a copyright notice.

If you want, you can ignore footers, using the same color scheme as for the rest of the slide. However, if you want them to look different, you can set the footer background and foreground colors by selecting F11 -> Presentation Slides -> Background Objects. You might also decide if you want to use the drawing tools to add a line to the top of the footer to separate it from the rest of the slide. Footers are also ideal places to position a company or project logo, so it doesn't get in the way of the text.

You might also choose to delete some of the default footers or drag them to new positions, or to add another reoccurring element using a text box. Much of the information in a footer (or a header, if you create one) can be added automatically by selecting from the Insert -> Fields sub-menu.

You can also add other reoccurring elements, such as company logos or contact information. If they're added to the master view, they'll appear whenever the master slide to which they were added is used. If you are really ambitious, you might even go so far as to click on the text frames for the titles or bullet points and reposition them. A simple change such as a vertical title bar can be surprisingly effective for an audience that has sat through dozens of presentations, each using the same basic slide layouts.

Choosing a font

When working with fonts for a slide show, the most important thing to remember is that you are designing a document that people will view from a distance. That means that the larger you can make your fonts, the better.

If you check the default sizes used by Impress, you'll find that Titles are 44 points, the top level of bullet points 33, and the ninth level 20. These sizes should be considered minimums, rather than ideals. If you can afford to make the font sizes larger with adding a lot of hyphens and one or two word long lines, most of the time, your audience will be grateful.

Another consideration is the type of font you choose. The conventional wisdom is that serif fonts, which have small appendages at right angles to a line at the top or bottom, are harder to reader online than sans serif fonts, which lack these appendages. However, this generality is not true for slab serifs, and may fail in any particular case. The only way to be sure, unless you are an experienced typographer, is to experiment.

Some people also suggest that, for North American audiences, serif fonts look more conventional and sans serifs more innovative. Following this logic, you might find that using a serif font makes radical ideas seem more acceptable, or that using a sans serif might make an old idea seem newer. Personally, though, I'm skeptical of such ideas.

Whatever fonts you choose, the basic design tradition is to limit the number of typefaces you use to a minimum -- no more than two, you'll often hear suggested. This is not as limiting as it sounds, because you can use the bold weight of a typeface for the title, the regular weight for the bullet points, and a condensed or an italicized weight for footers.

Putting master slides to work

At this point, you may not have finalized slide transitions or any sound clips you plan to use, but the general look of your slide show should be complete. Before you click Close Master View on the floating palette to return to the normal Impress view, take a moment to look at each of your master slides from about a meter and a half away.

Is the appearance tidy and uncluttered? Can you read the title and top bullet points (the bottom ones don't matter as much, because you probably won't be using more than two or three levels of bullet points at the very most). Possibly, you will need to do a sample normal page to ensure that reoccurring elements don't interfere with the text, but if you can answer "Yes" to both these questions, then you are largely finished with the Master view.

Once you are satisfied with the design, applying it is simple. If you have a single master slide, it will be used automatically. If you have multiple masters, then the default is the first one listed. You can choose another one by selecting View -> Tasks to open the task pane on the right side of the viewing window, then, from the task bar, selecting Master Pages and choosing an alternative from the Available for Use pane.

Like styles, setting up master pages may seem a nuisance when all you want to do is start adding content to your presentation. But, spend a little time working with master pages and you'll not only find that the overall design is stronger, but that you've saved time by not modifying pages individually.

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Bruce Byfield (nanday)

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