4 Steps for Good-looking Tables in a Presentation

Tables are everywhere in business – price list, KPI comparisons, project meetings, quarter review meet-ups, accounting audits… Sounds familiar? We use tables a lot, it is one of the most common ways to present the data. Making a table in PowerPoint or Excel is simple and quick. However, usually, those tables look pretty boring. It’s time to change that!

Let me show you four easy steps you can use to quickly change default data tables to more attractive table graphics.

All presented table makeovers are done using only standard MS Office PowerPoint tools. You don’t need any special software, only your computer and a bit of imagination. Let’s have a quick view of how tables can be redesigned.

Before and After Table Redesign

Let’s have a look at this table comparing three product features. Using the standard table style it can look like this – grid with black lines and plain white cells filling:

table ppt before redesign

With a few easy facelifting steps we can make it look like this table below – more eye-catchy, easier to read and remember. Which table would resonate longer to your audience?

table graphics flat template
It took me 5-10 minutes, using just colors, basic shapes and a few simple symbols.

For more table examples, check this table graphics collection here.

Below I put together four steps that are easy to follow, even if you don’t feel like a graphic designer, you can do it :).

1. Replace grid of a standard presentation table

The table cell borders are there to separate the content of your table cells. They are far less important than the content itself. So make them look less important, too. Replace the high contrast black grid with light gray. Or remove them at all, if you have wide table margins. See below:

 

table grid update graphics ppt

Your tables will look more professional without default black borders. If you want to keep them, at least get rid of outside ones. You can change the border by clicking on the table itself and then select in the PPT menu: Design: Borders.

2. Add shapes to table columns and rows headers

The next step you can use to make your table more visually attractive is to enrich the table headers. Simple adding an arrow shape behind the table will make the trick.

Then adjust the colors of the shapes. Depending what’s the goal of the presentation slide, select the colors:

  • use vivid colors like below, if you want people to focus on that part – the three products in my example.
  • use more calm colors for less important parts (e.g. shades of gray or blue)

Don’t forget to check if the header text is still readable after you added colors. Ensure the contrast is high enough – change the header font color to white from black if needed.


flat shapes table header

3. Illustrate with icons

If you have a few more minutes and want to move your tables to even higher level, enrich them further with pictograms. Using the symbols related to the table items creates a strong visual association. And that helps us to remember better the information inside the table.

In the product table example, I replaced the three features by simple flat icons – shield for security, a gauge for efficiency and cogs representing production.

Notice also I replaced the third column with discrete Yes / No values but Check / Uncheck icons.


If you need to represent a specific concept with a symbol, check my list of common business concepts visualizations. I brainstormed there how to illustrate a strategy, deadline, taxes… Let me know if you miss anything.


 


table icons ppt

By adding small pictures you can emphasize people’s attention on the points you want: whether you want to show the functionality of a product, status of a project or numeric values.

4. Highlight the key table cell content

Usually, the table contains one key information you want to show in the context or other table data. Make this key value stand out. The easiest thing is to make the text or number bold, or with a different color. However, to make it visually more attractive, I’d suggest using other ways of highlighting:

  • make the table cell dark and the text white. This way the whole cell will stand out
  • add extra shape e.g. a circle with an outline and transparent filling over the table. Or even better, add a hand drawn swoosh shapes. Using such style will add a personality to the table – like you marked it with a pen on a paper.

table graphics flat template

 

That’s all. Four things you can use to make your presentation tables fancier:

  • Replace default black table grid
  • Add shapes under the table headers
  • Illustrate items with icons to create mnemonic association
  • Highlight the key information in the table.

Use this simple do-it-yourself instruction to create engaging infographic table design using only PowerPoint shapes, markers and icons.

See the full instruction at this Slideshare presentation show:

Source of further table graphics:


PowerPoint template of table graphics 

(see Tables Design Slidedeck)


Let me know if you can apply those steps in your presentation? What kind of visual symbols would you use more often: markers or icons? Share in the comments below.

About Peter Z

Chief Diagram Designer, infoDiagram co-founder