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PowerPoint (that's right, PowerPoint) to the Rescue

Lisa Lindgren, a fellow member of the InfoComm Presentations Council was kind enough to share a story about how PowerPoint 2007 recently foiled Murphy’s Law. Lisa reminds us of some important best practices and I have an observation or two of my own (surprise, surprise).

We all know that we should test our slides and equipment in the actual setting prior to when the audience arrives and therefore, before it is too late to correct any problems. Sometimes that isn’t practical, but when you do make the extra effort, it can really be worth it.

I recently participated in a conference and was slated as the final speaker at lunch on the second day of the three-day event. The only time that I would be able to test anything in that room, was the day before after a general session. The timing would be tight before I had to be in another session, and I almost decided against forcing the issue. But I had used animations and some of the theme features from PowerPoint 2007, and the computer I would have to use for my presentation was running a different software version. My fear was that something wouldn’t translate correctly and my carefully timed effects wouldn’t work.

Well it turned out that the animations worked just fine. But what I hadn’t anticipated was that the room that would be used for lunch was very bright. I had chosen a dark background, which was striking on my laptop screen, and would have been effective in a dark room. But all that light simply washed out my visuals and you could barely see the photos or read the captions.

Not only was I able to change the background and save my presentation, I have to say that PowerPoint 2007 made this easier than I had ever expected. I simply chose a different theme from those provided in the standard package. Instantaneously the background was light and the text and accent colors reverted to being a contrasting dark color. . .all literally at the click of a key. In fact, the theme I chose subtly reinforced my message in style and I ended up with a stronger visual presentation than I had before.

So the lesson that I learned was that it really, truly is important to check your presentation on the actual computer in the actual room because unexpected things can and will go wrong. And I have a new appreciation for the positive aspects of the new themes in PowerPoint 2007.

PowerPoint has taken so much abuse the last couple years, isn’t it kind of refreshing when someone has something positive to say about it?

I’d like to stress a couple points made in Lisa’s story. First, if you’re going to present, get there early. Lisa put herself in a position to effectively deal with any problems that might have arisen with her presentation, or the venue, by making it a priority to test things out well in advance of the time her presentation was due to start. I understand that not every speaking opportunity is going to give you a chance to check things out an entire day ahead of time, but the more time you have to confirm everything is the way it needs to be (and to recover if it’s not) the better. Remember, if you’re not early, you’re late.

Second, it’s crucial that, like Lisa, you understand all the capabilities of the software you are using. A lot PowerPoint users only take time to learn the bare minimum necessary to do the typical tasks that come up on a day-to-day basis. This is a mistake. You not going to be able to use the PowerPoint function or feature that’s going to save you butt in an emergency situation if you don’t know it’s there. Take a class. Buy a book. At least take an hour or so on a slow Friday afternoon and methodically go through each item on each menu and find out what it does and how it does it. After all, no one thinks much of a carpenter who doesn’t know that a hammer can also be used to remove nails.

Your turn:

What’s your favorite little known PowerPoint function or feature that you love showing to people? Please feel free to share it with us in a comment to this post.

5 comments to PowerPoint (that’s right, PowerPoint) to the Rescue

  • Daan

    Powerpoint is being improved. Now how about its users?

    Here’s my favourite trick:

    Key in a number and hit enter.
    You jump straight to the desired slide, without having to sift through the right-click menu, or leaving the presentation altogether.
    Of course, this does require you to know which slide has which number, but that you can find out while preparing.

  • Daan

    Powerpoint is being improved. Now how about its users?

    Here’s my favourite trick:

    Key in a number and hit enter.
    You jump straight to the desired slide, without having to sift through the right-click menu, or leaving the presentation altogether.
    Of course, this does require you to know which slide has which number, but that you can find out while preparing.

  • @ Daan: I agree that there are a lot of really bad presentations being made out there, but I really believe things are getting better and the business world, in general, is waking up to the fact that it has to do better.

    That’s a great trick. It always amazes me how few people know that one.

    My favorite trick is setting a lines height to 0 to make it perfectly horizontal. That’s a good one for everyone stuck fixing up the slides of someone who didn’t know to hold down the Shift key while drawing the line in the first place.

  • Lee Potts

    @ Daan: I agree that there are a lot of really bad presentations being made out there, but I really believe things are getting better and the business world, in general, is waking up to the fact that it has to do better.

    That’s a great trick. It always amazes me how few people know that one.

    My favorite trick is setting a lines height to 0 to make it perfectly horizontal. That’s a good one for everyone stuck fixing up the slides of someone who didn’t know to hold down the Shift key while drawing the line in the first place.

  • Thanks,very interesting and useful post

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