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How to Use Keynote Slides (Layout Dimensions, Sizes, & Design)

This post is part of a series called How to Use Apple Keynote (Ultimate Tutorial Guide).
How to Make a Great Presentation in Keynote With Template Designs
How to Add Pictures & Backgrounds in Keynote Presentations

Apple's Keynote has gained a foothold for Mac users that need to build great-looking slides to supplement a presentation. Building a presentation aid is all about creating slides that help you drive the message to the audience. 

It's practically expected that every presentation will include some type of visual aid for the audience. Putting some backing details or visuals in front of the audience can help you re-enforce your presentation's message.

Setting the Keynote slide sizes and dimensions is one of the first decisions that you'll make when designing a Keynote slide deck. These settings are crucial so that your presentation fills the screen and appears correctly when presenting.

This tutorial will help you learn how to use Keynote. You'll learn how to set up the presentation document so that you make the most of the screen that you're sharing the presentation on. Let's learn more.

Apple Keynote presentation software

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Now let's get started with this tutorial, to learn all about Keynote presentation dimensions and layouts.

What Is Keynote?

You might be wondering what Apple's Keynote software is, and why you should use it. It's certainly not the most popular presentation software—that title belongs to Microsoft's PowerPoint—but it has a dedicated following that prefers its ease of use and excellent design options.

Many people prefer Keynote to Microsoft PowerPoint for its ease of use and more advanced design options. Keynote continues to evolve, and I like that it's a "younger" app that reconsidered how people give presentations and the aids they use in the process.

Example Slide in Keynote
Keynote's interface makes it easy to design and customize slide designs like this one from the Pitch Werk template.

If you're a macOS user, it seems like a no-brainer to me to use Keynote as your main presentation software. While Microsoft offers PowerPoint for the Mac platform, the user experience of Keynote's native app is better. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to use Keynote's key features to set the slide sizes perfectly.

Why Do Keynote Slide Sizes Matter?

Before you start designing your Keynote presentation, it's important to consider where it'll appear in its finished form.

Every screen has an aspect ratio. This describes the proportions width to height on the given screen. The goal is to build a Keynote presentation that matches the same aspect ratio of the screen that you'll present it on.

Here are some of the screens that your presentation may appear on:

  • iPads and tablets
  • Laptop screens
  • Conference room projectors
  • Widescreen, large format displays

Each of these screens could have a different aspect ratio. Most of these fit one of three standard sizes: 4:3, 16:19, and 16:10. You can think of those ratios as basically being, "4 inches wide for every 3 inches tall", or "16 inches wide for every 10 inches tall", for example.

If possible, start off by finding out what type of screen that you'll give your presentation on. If you're presenting on a large screen that can be used as a television, it's probably a safe bet that the screen size is 16:9, for example. 

Setting your Keynote slide sizes correctly ensures that it appears the way you expect on the screen or finished form. There's nothing worse than having large black bars of wasted space on the edge. 

Keynote Layout Basics (Watch & Learn)

Check out the screencast below for a walkthrough of Keynote's most important layout options. You'll see how to use Keynote essential settings for changing slide dimensions and sizes so that your presentation appears correctly.

Keynote slides can be changed in several key ways. That includes changing the design, dimensions, and ruler options. Let's learn how to change each of those in the written tutorial below.

1. How to Change the Keynote Layout Dimensions & Size

Most of the changes that we'll make in this section of the tutorial can be found on the Document panel. 

Start off in Keynote by finding the Document option in the upper right corner of the app and clicking on it. You'll see a new panel open that has all of the options that we'll be covering in this tutorial.

After you open the Document panel, you'll see that there are two tabs on the panel. Make sure that you're working on the one labeled Document.

Document Sizing
Click on Document in the upper right corner of Keynote, then make sure you're working on the Document tab and adjust the Slide Size.

On the Slide Size dropdown, you can set the key option here for the slide dimensions. By default, you'll have two choices between 4:3 and 16:9. Slide sizes. Creating a new document will typically put your presentation in 4:3 mode, so check this setting first before designing a new Keynote slide deck.

Converted to 43 Format
In this screenshot, I've reformatted a 16:9 slide to a 4:3 format, making it appear that the elements on the slide need a bit of re-work to maximize the space.

One key watch-out is if you already have content on your Keynote slides. As you adjust the slide dimensions, you may clip or leave borders on the edges. By taking widescreen content to a more square shape, it sometimes requires re-arranging the content so that the slide is filled in the new format.

2. How to Change Keynote Design Options

With the Document tab still open, we can make changes to the Keynote theme that we're using with just a few clicks. Keynote themes control the overall look and feel of the presentation, and it's easy to change even after you've started working on a presentation.

On the same Document > Document panel, click on the Change Theme button. You'll see a number of different theme styles on the new pop-up window as you can see in the screenshot below.

Change Theme in Keynote Example
Change the theme settings on the Design > Design panel.

Choose another theme thumbnail from this window and press Choose to re-theme your presentation. These settings control fonts, key colors, and more. When you change themes, all of the content will adapt to the newly selected style.

Advanced Keynote Themes

Even though Apple's Keynote has a few built-in themes that you can apply to your presentations, these aren't the only design styles you can add to your presentation.

A better alternative to the handful of built-in Keynote templates are premium options from Envato Elements. Elements is an all-you-can-download service that currently includes more than 800 Keynote templates that you can use to get ahead while designing a presentation.

Keynote Presentations on Elements
Envato Elements includes more than 800 Keynote templates included as part of the all-in-one download.

In most of these Keynote template packages, the author includes multiple versions of the presentation. In the zip package, you're likely to find a zip file with both 4:3 and 16:9 options. These work a bit differently than the built-in theme settings, so make sure that you start with the correct format from the outset.

Example of Slide from Elements
Here's a Keynote slide design from Pitch Werk, one of the many free Keynote templates from Envato Elements.

These premium themes are stronger than the built-in options in Keynote. Each package includes dozens of slide designs that you can simply add your own content to for a head start on designing your presentation. Instead of starting with a blank slate on each slide, use these with your own assets to get ahead in the presentation process.

Enable Rulers

When you're working on Keynote slides, one of my favorite features to turn on are the Rulers to help me ensure alignment while designing slides. Rulers go hand-in-hand with Keynote slide sizes to ensure the design you've got in mind.

Even though Keynote can help you by snapping elements to a specific alignment, Rulers can help you achieve pixel-perfect design.

Turn on Rulers by going to View > Show Rulers. Along the top and sides of your Keynote document, you'll see pixel measurements that correspond to the position on the slide. 

Rulers in Apple Keynote
Turn on Rulers in Apple Keynote to really hone in on designing your slide by having pixel driven guides to help you with positioning.

These Rulers help you make sure that everything on the slide is perfectly aligned. For example, you could place two photos exactly 100 pixels from each edge by keeping an eye on the rulers while placing the object on the slide.

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It'll help walk you through the complete presentation process. Learn how to write your presentation, design it like a pro, and prepare it to present powerfully.

Recap & Keep Learning

Don't stop learning Apple Keynote here! We're just getting started on our learning journey by covering the Keynote slide size and design options in this tutorial.

Keep learning how to use Keynote using the tutorials below. They range from quick tips to complete guides that help you get started in the app.

What do you want to learn about Keynote? Let me know with a comment on this tutorial so that I can answer your questions or produce future tutorials with the tips you need to master Apple's Keynote.

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