Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day Tips to Reduce Paper Usage

Two years ago I wrote an article on how to reduce paper usage from your computer. The full article is posted at In addition to the tips it contains, here are a couple more on Earth Day 2007.

Print four slides per page in PowerPoint
The common way to print slide handouts in PowerPoint is to use the three slides per page layout with lines beside each slide. This format forces your audience to take notes on the lines, which not everyone prefers and in general is too visually dense. My suggestion is to print four slides per page instead. The actual size of the slide is the same on the page, but four slides per page allows people to take notes wherever they want and it uses less paper. On a 40 slide presentation, your handout would be 10 pages instead of 14 pages. If 10 people in the office did that for two presentations per week, it would add up to 4,000 sheets of paper saved each year!

Print on both sides of the page
You already know about printing handouts on both sides of the page to save paper. But what about printing your speaking notes or your copy of the slides on the back of paper that has been previously printed on? I started doing this last year. When I am finished with a document that has only been printed on one side, I save it for printing documents that aren't going to others. If it for my own use only, it is perfectly fine to print on the other side of the paper. Before doing this yourself, check the documentation for your printer to make sure its OK. I have noticed a definite decrease in the amount of paper we buy, which is a bottom line savings for me.

Have a great Earth Day today and by everyone chipping in a little bit, we can all help protect our home planet.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The trouble with using a wireless mouse to change slides

I saw it again last night. A presenter used a wireless mouse as a remote device to change their slides. Initially, this sounds like a good idea. You already have a wireless mouse, and if you click the left mouse button, it is just like pressing the arrow key or spacebar to advance your slide show. But in practice, it usually doesn't work out so well.

The first thing that happens, and it did many times last night, is that when you move the mouse, even slightly, the arrow cursor moves on top of your slide. Last night the presenter was standing at a podium about 10 feet from the laptop. Every time they got a little nervous, they moved the mouse around on the podium, thinking we couldn't see it. But the arrow moved all around the screen, showing us exactly what they were doing. Movement will always draw attention, so as soon as the arrow moved on the screen, we instantly looked at the screen to see what was going on. This is very distracting for the audience.

The second thing that happens almost every time at least once is that you accidentally click the right mouse button instead of the left mouse button. This brings up a menu which you then have to exit out of. All while the audience watches.

When both of these happen, it makes you look unprofessional. So what can you do? The best choice is to buy a proper presentation remote. But failing that, when you are in Slide Show mode, press Ctrl+H to hide the pointer arrow if the mouse moves. This will at least solve the most common of the issues.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Finish Strong, Not Long

You have heard it said many times that the most important parts of your presentation are the start and the end. Presenters spend time thinking about how to introduce their topic and engage the audience. Certainly important to do. But too many times presenters end their presentation weakly, leaving a poor impression that sinks their presentation despite what they had said earlier.

The most common ways to end a presentation are also the worst possible ways to do so. I see way too many presentations finish with a slide that says "Questions?" or "Thank You!" in big bold type in the center of the slide. This is the worst way to end your presentation, especially if you are doing a persuasive or sales presentation. Why? By saying "Thank You", all you have done is thank them for sitting through your presentation, where do you go from there? If you end with "Questions?", you have just invited the audience to question what you have told them. It suggests that they should have questions about your message and maybe you have questions about it too because you are not sure it is a solid argument.

So how should you end a presentation? Not the way one of my clients suggested a few months ago. They wanted to introduce a new analogy on the last slide with maybe some music. All this would have taken a few minutes to do and have been very risky. Never introduce new information on the last slide. The end of your presentation is for summarizing, not potentially confusing the audience with new stuff.

The strongest close to a presentation is with a recap of the points you have made and an invitation to discuss the next steps. Assume they understood and followed your logical arguments (you did prepare a proper structure first, right?). Assume they are ready to take the next steps. So lay out what those steps are and be ready to discuss them. The title of the last slide should be "Discussion of Next Steps". This way, you are moving the discussion forward and making the most of the time the audience has invested with you.

A strong close is even more important when presenting to executives. They don't have time to waste and you better not be the one wasting it. Data based presentations are the toughest for executives, so if you have one coming up, check out my e-book "Presenting Data to Executives". It covers the keys to success when you are in front of the top folks in your organization. Go to to get your copy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Reports of the "Death of PowerPoint" greatly exaggerated

The article I cited in my previous post from the Sydney Morning Herald has gained steam and has now been published across the world. Unfortunately, the paper they cite just doesn't support the conclusions that the media wants to draw. No matter, they will report on it anyways. If you want a balanced view that includes actual information from the paper, check out an article I just finished that examines what the paper really says and what the Professor has been quoted as saying. One fact that may shock the reporters who continue to report this story is that the paper does not include the words "PowerPoint", "presentation" or "slide" in it at all. But just because the facts don't support the conclusion never seemed to matter to some of these journalists. Go read the article at .

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sydney research article - revolutionary or not?

A number of online publications have picked up on a story this week in the Sydney Morning Herald about some research into the effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations (click here to read the story). Some commentators have suggested that this is breakthrough thinking and it supports why PowerPoint should be banned. I say let's just hold on a second here.

First of all, the research points out what many of us have known for years - PowerPoint is not the problem, poor use of it is. When they talk about the problem of audiences not getting the message when the presenter stands there and reads the slides, that's nothing new. My audience survey in 2003 showed it as the #1 problem and my repeat survey in 2005 confirmed it. This has nothing to do with the software, this has everything to do with the presenter's use of the software. Just because people are not trained properly doesn't mean the tool is to blame. And if you banned PowerPoint, you would violate the results of the study which suggest a visual combined with a verbal message is highly effective.

Second, the suggestion that mixing visuals with the spoken message is more effective has been a main theme of mine for a while now. I even wrote an e-book on it (get it here). Dr. Alan Paivio's Dual Coding Theory has been around for more than a decade and when I applied it to the issue of understanding presentation visuals, it is clear why a well-designed visual combined with a good message will always be more effective. What is missing from most visuals is a good callout that makes the message of the visual even clearer.

I applaud the researchers for adding to the body of knowledge that supports what some of us have been saying for quite a while now. But it's not a revolutionary thought and it certainly doesn't support banning a tool that when used effectively, can improve the understanding of our audiences.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Creating "movies" in PowerPoint

This past week I helped a client synchronize a set of PowerPoint slides with a pre-recorded audio track. Getting the audio track to play across all the slides was relatively easy to do. What took the most time was making sure the slides transitioned on cue with the spoken audio track. When I sent it to the client, she found that the sync between the slides and the audio was off, even though it worked perfectly on my computer.

Syncing audio with PowerPoint slides is very tough to do for one particular reason. As much as PowerPoint in its animation settings will tell you that the effect will take 0.5 seconds, it doesn't. Why? Not because of any problem with the software. But because the same effect will take a slightly different time on each computer depending on the speed of the processor, the amount of memory, the number and activity of other programs running at the same time, and a host of other variables that affect how fast the machine runs. Almost none of which you can control. And the 0.05 seconds off over 30 to 50 animations ends up throwing the sequencing off. Now, if you had just a 30 second segment, you probably wouldn't notice it. But over 7 minutes it grows to a noticeable issue.

So how can you solve this problem? Start thinking outside the slide. Think outside of PowerPoint. Use Windows Movie maker to assemble image files of the slides along with video you have shot that tells the story far better than movement on a slide could ever do. Assemble the images, add transitions between the slides, sync it to the audio, and output the final file as a WMV movie file. Then you can insert that movie on a PowerPoint slide and run it full screen as part of an overall presentation. To simulate builds on slides, create multiple slides, each with the prior information and one new build on it. Then, in the movie, don't have a transition between the slides so it looks like you are building points on the slide.

Remember, PowerPoint is built for presentations, not for creating movies. Use movie software and it will be much easier to create a synchronized end product.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Color Contrast Calculator

One of the most common audience complaints about PowerPoint slides is that the presenter picked colors that don't have enough contrast. This means that text, lines, shapes or graphs can't be seen well on the slide and the message is negatively affected. If you don't have a background in design, how do you ensure that the colors you have chosen have enough contrast?

This same complaint was made about early web sites, so the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a standard that tests the contrast between two colors. There are actually two tests. The first is for color brightness contrast. This measures the difference in brightness between two colors. The second test is for color difference, which measures the difference between the attributes of two colors.

Both tests are calculations that use the Red, Green and Blue (RGB) attributes of the two colors to determine if there is enough difference between the two colors. The RGB attributes of any color are easily seen in the Custom tab of the color selection dialog box when you are selecting a color for a background, text, line, shape or area fill.

You are probably saying about now, "OK Dave, enough with the theoretical stuff, how can I make this work for me?" Glad you asked. I am launching today an online Color Contrast Calculator that you can use to test your background color and a color you are thinking of using for text, a line, a shape or to fill an area on a graph. The page also contains detailed instructions on how to find the RGB attributes of a color and some ideas on what you can do to improve the contrast of two colors if they don't pass the tests.

The page is . I have also included a button on the page to bookmark this web page for your future use. And if you want to be able to access the page from within PowerPoint, I've given instructions on how you can add a toolbar button to your copy of PowerPoint that will take you directly to this calculator with one mouse click in PowerPoint.

Feel free to make use of this new tool and pass it on to as many others as you want to. By getting better contrast on our slides, we make it easier for our audiences to see and understand our message. If you want to go beyond just selecting colors and create your own custom look for your slides, check out my e-book at .