4:3 or 16:9? The right aspect ratio in PowerPoint

Sometimes size does matter

In the good old days, our slides came in a 4:3 format. Thanks to technical progress, the 16:9 format is becoming more and more appropriate. PowerPoint realized this long ago, and has been offering us both the 4:3 and the 16:9 formats, in addition to every other customized format we might want. Prior to the 2013 version, 4:3 was the default format. As of the 2013 version, 16:9 is the default format. We should be glad, really. Not only because of the design advantages this brings, but also because the 16:9 format is better suited to smartphones, tablets and current external monitors. Not forgetting that now most beamers also have a default aspect ratio of 16:9.


OK, then let’s just use 16:9!

Who’s going to disagree with that? But then we get back to reality. The reality that you, the user, have to work out whether (and how) to convert your old 4:3 slides to the new, broader format. The reality that company guidelines are suddenly needed to prevent everyone from just choosing their own preferred format: otherwise there will be completely different slide versions in circulation, with all the problems this entails when exchanging slides or putting together joint presentations. Or the reality of having to find out before your presentation which format is most compatible with the beamer.

You are not alone

A lot of thought has already gone into meeting these challenges. At the first glance, PowerPoint supports the change in format well. Go to the Design tab, click on Slide Size and choose your format. Your slides will be automatically converted. You can choose how the software does this: either by maximizing or by scaling. Unfortunately, there’s a snag or two. One is, for example, that PowerPoint scales the layout grid (drawing guides, placeholders, etc.) to the new format, but that this scaling does not correspond to what you laid down in the original template. The result is an incorrectly converted ‘template’. If you combine these slides with slides from the original template, nothing really fits together any more. Furthermore, you have to change by hand the graphics and logos you included in the slide template. Depending on the size of your company or the number of presentations or slides in regular use, you might have to talk to your marketing department about hiring a team of student assistants.

Get organized

In the end, it’s a policy decision. In view of the fact that the 4:3 format is gradually climbing up the list of endangered species, you could decide to convert to 16:9. Regardless of what you choose, whether 4:3 for internal and 16:9 for external presentations, 4:3 only, 16:9 only, or even something completely different (we’ve created templates for clients in 16:10, A4, Letter and even A5): set down some clear rules if you don’t want to make life unnecessarily difficult for yourself. An uncontrolled mixture will create enormous amounts of extra work for all users.

Use a safety net

It’s already possible to have conversion software programmed. Companies such as Strategy Compass can help you to automate as far as possible the conversion from one format into the other. Standard solutions are OK for some things, but a good result always demands an individual approach. That’s just the way PowerPoint is.

At the end of the day, and contrary to all other opinions, size does matter. The most important thing is to plan ahead and draw up some clear rules.


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