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Highlighting Techniques

Highlighting Techniques Approaches to Highlighting Messages During Presentations

When we first began writing this article, we intended to discuss two methods of highlighting in presentations – bolding and graying out, but it quickly became apparent that there are more than two ways to highlight. So let's explore some techniques that you can employ to highlight messages on your slides.

  1. Bolding objects/text – highlighting objects/text by making them more prominent than everything else on the slide
  2. Subduing objects/text that are not the focus – fading everything on the slide that is not the focus
  3. Magnifying objects/text – providing a larger version of the object/text
  4. Moving objects/text to new location on slide – separating the focused object/text from the group.

Let's take a look at how these techniques are applied to different types slides.


This is – by far – the most commonly used method of drawing attention to specific elements on a slide. Both objects and text can be bolded manually and via animation.

Bolding Objects

Bolding an object sometimes means formatting the associated text for that object as well. Below is an example of a bolded section of a flow. The text was already bold in the segments of this horizontal flow, so bolding text wouldn't be effective. More effective is changing the color of the focus segment. The color of the text needs to be changed too, however, in order to create contrast and make the text readable.

This bolding can be set by formatting the objects in the graphic or by animating the flow segment and text to change colors via animation. Within the Emphasis animation menu, 1) select the object and apply animation to change fill color, and 2) select the text field and apply animation to change text color.

Bolding Text

Bolding text is a one-click operation: simply select the text field or highlight some of the text within a text string and click on the "B" button in the formatting menu.

You may want to change the color of the bolded text as well to further distinguish it from the other text and maybe change the color of any associated graphic.


This technique is not used very often although it is very effective. The idea is to fade everything on the slide except the focus object(s). Like bolded objects/text, fading can be manually formatted or animated to occur.

Subduing Objects

When objects that are not the focus are subdued, the focus objects become prominent on a slide. The example below shows how a parts of a graphic object can be subdued so that the focus object "pops." In the case of the round puzzle below, the subdued puzzle pieces were made lighter because the background is white. This makes the focus puzzle piece more highly contrasted and prominent. If the background had been dark, then the subdued puzzle pieces would have been made darker so that the focus puzzle piece would have been more highly contrasted and prominent.

The square puzzle above with sections of a photograph imported into the pieces works with either light or dark backgrounds: the subdued puzzle pieces are simply changed to grayscale.

The technique for subduing the round puzzle pieces can be animated, but there is no animation scheme to change the attributes of a photograph.

Subduing Text

Subduing text so that the focus text becomes prominent is very simple and can either be manually formatted or animated to occur. The process is simple: choose a low-contrast color to the background and a high-contrast color to the focus text and apply that color to the text you wish to subdue.

The example below highlights portions of text strings. Text like this can be animated by creating the strings/fields of text that are all black. Duplicate these text strings/fields and overlay them on the text strings/fields that have black text. Select the portions of the bulleted text that you wish to subdue and make them gray or other low-contrast color (compared the the background). Then animate on one click to fade the text fields with the black text out and fade the text with the black and gray text in.


This technique requires a little more work, but the results can be quite impactful. This type of technique is typically used to drive home the take-away thought or message.

Magnifying Objects

There are several approaches to this technique, depending on the situation. The two examples below illustrate how magnifying a portion of the graphic can provide an opportunity to display associated text and revisit the message presented earlier. The graphic below is developed first.

To set up the graphic below, select all elements of the above graphics and right click on one of the selected elements; choose Save as Picture and name the picture and save it to a place on your computer where you'll be able to find it. Drag this new picture onto your slide and hold the shift key down as you reduce its size. Then go back to the original graphic and copy the portion of the graphic that you wish to be the focus of the slide, enlarge it, and add associated text. You may also want to add a field of semitransparent gray from the small element to the large element so your audience will make the connection.

You can use the same technique to just add enlarged associated text.

Magnifying Text

Text can be enlarged by formatting or by animation, but the animation seems to bitmap the text and is not a terrific option. Enlarging text on a slide will many times disrupt the layout. If that is not a concern, then simply increase the font size of the text you wish to magnify on the slide.

If you don't want to disrupt the layout, then try the technique below. The following concept can also be used to magnify objects.


This also is not a very common technique, but it can be very stylish and effective. This technique should be consistently laid out and treated as a style choice for the presentation.

Moving Focus Objects

The example below enlarges and moves a section of the flow so it can be the focus. Larger text or greater amounts of text can be nice displayed within and beside the enlarged/moved focus objects.

The example below separates pieces of the graphic so they can become the focus of the slide. This technique is also particularly useful when larger text or greater amounts of text are required.

Moving Focus Text

The example below is a document structuring slide. It uses the technique is moving the focus text to a position of prominence on the slide.

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Consider using one or combinations of the techniques presented in this article the next time you want to highlight a message. Use them consistently within your presentation as a style preference (don't mix and match too many visual techniques). The next time you are tempted to place a box around or a colored field behind an object to highlight it, use one of these techniques instead. You'll be pleased with the enhanced visual appearance of your slides.

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