The omnipresence of PowerPoint in the business world means some of its idiosyncrasies have become constant but somewhat arbitrary rules. Perhaps none of these is more prevalent than the famed 1024 x 768 slide size.

Now, one of the most important things about 1024 x 768 is that it is, in fact, a 4:3 aspect ratio. Not too long ago, just about every display imaginable was 4:3, so it made sense that slides would be too. And just to be clear, we’re not suggesting that the 1024 x 768 slide size is irrelevant: SlideShare, most projection screens and even iPads and other tablet displays are typically 4:3, too. If you’re putting together a presentation for mass distribution across multiple environments and media, 4:3 is probably still your best bet.

That said, there are situations presenters face that call for an alternative—most often, a 16:9 aspect ratio. For starters, anything you plan to embed primarily in a YouTube video (i.e. an animated, self-playing presentation) will actually display more cleanly in the 16:9 aspect ratio. But the majority of boardroom displays and just about every TV coming onto the market today are also 16:9, meaning a 4:3 presentation will have those pesky black bars down either side of the deck.

Those factors in and of themselves may not be enough to convince you to consider the 16:9 aspect ratio, but there is also communicative value, at times, in the wider slides. Any time you’re trying to communicate processes, flowcharts, or timelines, the 16:9 aspect ratio gives you a ton more lateral room to work with, and it really lends itself to a cleaner overall presentation of content like this.

In general, you can expect the 16:9 aspect ratio presentation to feel more immersive, which means that when you use it, you’ll notice it begs some more design “pop” than a standard 4:3 presentation might. Why? It’s kind of like the difference between seeing a movie at home on your 4:3 screen and seeing it in the theatre. The expansiveness looks particularly blank and barren if attention isn’t given to the slide layout.

So, 4:3 or 16:9? It all comes down to what you’re doing with it. For multi-purpose, “deliver anywhere” decks, stick with 4:3. For that truly specialized presentation that’s more motion graphic in nature, 16:9. If you only present in high class boardrooms, 16:9 has a richer feel—as long as you design the deck to feel richer. Take your pick, and have fun presenting!

Question: When was the last time you questioned even the most fundamental of your assumptions about presenting?

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  • Mike

    Good post. The "most common denominator" principle is a good. 4:3 is safe and established.

    We're rolling out more and more presentations in 16:10 which is a happy medium. Also known as 8:5 or 4:2.5 and means that the "black bars" either side aren't as prominent on widescreen TVs and other 16:9 screens. Also, its the aspect ratio found on a large number of screens such as Apple Macbook pro, Google Nexus, Kindle Fire and Galaxy tab.

    The one thing to be aware of for anyone looking to change an existing 4:3 presentation to widescreen is that Powerpoint squashes the page instead of widening it. So watch out for squished graphics.

    Finally, here's a really great resource for screen sizes.

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