Tuesday, May 30, 2006

PowerPoint Tip: Aligning at a decimal

Many presentations involve slides containing numbers, whether they are financial figures or measurements of other key indicators. If these figures include decimal places, the clearest way to show the numbers is by aligning them at the decimal point. This way, the audience can easily compare numbers by looking at the figures to the left and right of the decimal point. Unfortunately, the default alignment when you use the Tab key to try to align numbers is left alignment of the starting number. Some people try to use leading spaces to attempt to create decimal alignment, but it never works properly and looks strange to your audience when the numbers are almost aligned but not exactly. Here's how you can have perfectly aligned numbers on your slides.
1. Click in the text box or placeholder that you want to align the text in.
2. Turn on the Ruler (if it is not displayed at the top of the screen already) so that you know where to set the tabs by clicking on View -> Ruler
3. On the left of the ruler you will see a small tab button that looks like a small "L". Click on the tab button and it will switch to the different types of tabs. Click on the tab button until it turns into the decimal tab, which looks like an upside down "T" with a decimal point beside it.
4. Click in the white part of the ruler where you want the decimal tab to be and you will see the decimal tab symbol appear.
5. To move the tab after you have placed it on the ruler, just click on it and drag it along the ruler to the spot you want it to be.
6. If you want to remove the tab, just click on it and drag it off the ruler.
7. To align your numbers, use the Tab key to move over to the decimal tab spot you set above (if you are at the start of a bullet point, you will have to use Ctrl+Tab because Tab will only indent the bullet level). As you enter the number, you will see the figures entered to the left of the decimal tab until you enter the decimal, at which point it switches to entering the numbers on the right of the decimal tab.
Next time you need to present figures that have decimals, use this technique to make sure your numbers can be quickly understood by your audience.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Always send handouts in PDF from PowerPoint or Word

When you are creating handouts from your PowerPoint slides, creating those handouts in PDF format is a great idea. I had a recent experience where I had carefully created a handout in Word based on my slides and sent it to the client to be printed. Lo and behold, I show up and my fancy formatting was gone and it looked plain as could be. They had reformatted it for some reason. If you use handouts that are printouts of your slides, you can run into even more trouble as they may not print the slides the way you want them to look, despite your best efforts at setting up a handout master and giving detailed instructions. The solution - use Adobe's Acrobat PDF format instead. With a PDF document, anyone can print it and it will look exactly the way you designed it to look. You can create a PDF document in a number of ways: using Adobe's Acrobat program (you must purchase this, it is not the free Reader program you have already on your computer), use a free PDF program, use the web based service from Adobe or some office type programs will create a PDF as an option (sorry, MS Office is not there yet). The best part - they can't change what you created, so you will be assured that what you sent will be what your audience sees.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The best presentations focus on the audience

Recently I heard a panel of four professionals asked what was the best and worst they had seen in sales presentations in their industry. Every answer revolved around the presenters focus (or lack thereof) on the audience. One said that the worst presentation he had seen was one where the time allotted for the presentation had been shortened due to other circumstances and the presenter had to choose what to present. Instead of asking the audience of decision makers what would help them make a better decision, he immediately skipped to what he thought they should hear about and promptly killed any chance his firm had of getting the business. He had picked the wrong section, one they didn't care much about and made it his focus. One of the "best" presentation examples cited was when the presenter did extensive research in advance to determine the knowledge level of the audience, and, when he found that the decision makers were not experts in this area, he directed his presentation to their level and his tailored presentation hit the mark right on - they won the business. Here is the lesson: If you don't focus on the audience's needs instead of your own, you will lose most of the time. It doesn't matter whether you use PowerPoint or not, the audience is the key.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Two common PowerPoint mistakes that annoy the audience

I get to see many presentations in my travels, and two recent presentations demonstrated a couple of the annoying things that presenters do when using PowerPoint. In one presentation, every time the speaker showed a new slide, they turned and looked at the projected image on the screen to see what was up there instead of looking at the laptop screen that was directly in front of them. It amazes me how many presenters don't trust that what is on the laptop screen is actually the same as what is being projected. If you need to know what the audience is seeing, just glance at the laptop screen, not the projected image behind you. In another presentation, the screen saver on the laptop came up during the introductions because the opening image had been on while people filed into the room and the time delay had expired. Unfortunately the screen saver was the one where the Windows logo jumps around to different corners of the screen, so the movement drew people's attention instead of focusing on the presenter. And what was even worse is that is was a password protected screen saver so we had to watch the presenter type in their password to start the presentation running again. Always make sure screen savers are turned off before you present so that this doesn't happen to you.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

PowerPoint Tip - Using a picture to fill a graph

Graphs are one of the most effective ways to show numerical data in a presentation. The visual can bring the data to life and really highlight the important point you are making. In all graphs, you should use emphasis to direct your audience to the specific part of the graph that is making the point. It is not good enough to just show the graph and hope the audience figures it out. One good way to emphasize your point on a graph is to use a graphic arrow to point to the specific line, bar, column or pie slice that is your point on the graph. Another way, and my personal favourite, is to use color to emphasize the important part of the graph. For example, in a column chart, I will make all of the other columns appear with just a line outlining the column, but no fill color. Then, for the important column that makes my point, I will fill it with a color that contrasts with my background so it stands out. Another approach to filling a column, bar or pie slice is to use a photo. By using a photo, you not only emphasize the data point, but you add the dimension of showing a picture of what the data means to the audience. For example, if you were using a pie chart to show the relative market share of your company to others in your region, you could highlight the pie slice representing your market share by using your corporate logo. This is an even better way to emphasize the point you are making about your market share in the region. To fill a pie slice, column or bar with a picture, follow these steps:
1. Double click on the graph to enter the graph editing mode and click on the graph to select the graph for editing instead of the data table
2. Click on the pie slice, bar or column to select the data series (for the rest of the instructions I will use the example of a pie slice, but the instructions are almost identical for a column or bar)
3. Click on the specific slice you want to add a picture to
4. Right-click on the slice and select Format Data Point
5. On the Patterns tab, for the Area, click on the Fill Effects button
6. Click on the Picture tab and click on the Select Picture button to locate the picture on your computer
7. Depending on the size of your picture and the type of graph, select whether to stretch the picture or stack it (I usually use stretch for a pie slice and stack for columns or bars)
8. Click OK twice and your pie slice should now have your logo in it
Next time you are creating a chart, consider whether adding a picture will help your audience understand the point of the graph better.

Friday, May 12, 2006

What is Effective in a Presentation?

Last week I had the opportunity to spend a day watching a number of top leadership speakers present to an audience of 80,000 people on a simulcast training event. These were top name speakers whose books have sold millions of copies, so they are experienced on the platform. Because it was being broadcast by satellite, there were very few slides shown (the one that was shown was very hard to see because they did not use colors that had enough contrast). But I observed two things from the crowd's reaction that I thought you should keep in mind for your next presentation. The first note was that the audience said they got the most from the presentations that had the clearest structure. When the presenter laid out the agenda as 5 key points they wanted to make, then proceeded to detail each of the points, people took notes and were able to take those ideas back to their job to implement. The few who rambled without a clear structure lost most of the audience. The second thing I observed was that people in the audience connected best with the personal stories that were shared. Stories touch emotions and people felt a real connection to the speaker and the point when a personal story was used. I have said for years that both structure and stories are very important for effective presentations, whether you use PowerPoint or not. And this was a great opportunity to see these two points emphasized once again.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Zip PowerPoint files with video files

I've been working a lot with video in PowerPoint files lately and wanted to pass on one observation that may save you a lot of heartache when you send your presentation and video files to another computer. Many people mistakenly believe that when you import a video file on to a PowerPoint slide that the video file gets saved in the PowerPoint file. PowerPoint cannot embed video files, so you must send the video files and the PowerPoint file to someone if you want them to be able to see the video. I had this happen recently with a client where I e-mailed the PowerPoint file and the video file as separate attachments to the e-mail. Even though I said in the e-mail to copy both files to his computer, only the PowerPoint file was copied. When he tested the presentation, the video would not run. The problem is that you don't get an error, it just doesn't run. One way to tell if the video file is missing, is to right click on the video in edit mode and select Play Movie. If the movie file cannot be found, you will get an error message telling you that is the problem. A safer way to make sure that someone copies both PowerPoint and video files to the computer is to zip the files together, e-mail the zipped file, and have the recipient extract all the files to the same folder. This ensures that all of the required files get copied to the computer. This idea is covered in my video tutorial on incorporating video in your PowerPoint presentations. Click here for more on the tutorial: http://www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com/vtvideo.htm .

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

When PowerPoint is a Life and Death matter

There was a Fox New story today that relates the thoughts of a US soldier serving in Iraq. I thought this paragraph he wrote was particularly interesting: "Approximately three days ago, I put together a PowerPoint briefing for my commander. It had the right info, but was not displayed in the proper manner. It’s a lesson I have learned on this staff, and over the last six years in general: How you present information is often just as important as the information you present. When it comes to this job, if your audience, be it your boss or soldiers under you, don’t understand the information you are trying to send across, they might make a decision based on the information they thought they heard, and it can cost lives." (full story at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,194135,00.html) Now your presentations may not cost people their lives if done poorly, but do you know the real cost of poor presentations? I have an article that will help you calculate the cost of time wasted due to poor presentations at your workplace (see it at http://www.thinkoutsidetheslide.com/articles/real_cost_presn.htm). I challenge you to do the calculation and not be shocked. The toughest thing I have to do is to convince senior managers and executives that the poor presentations their people deliver cost a lot. I'll keep plugging away at it, help me if you can.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

PowerPoint Tip - Breaking down complex diagrams

[from today's newsletter] In quite a number of presentations, especially ones involving steps or processes, slides full of text could be replaced with diagrams that visually show a flow or relationship. Some situations are commonly seen as diagrams, for example an organization chart has become the standard for showing organizational reporting relationships instead of listing names on a slide. And diagrams do a good job of helping your audience understand a flow, process or relationship between items or concepts. The challenge comes when you have a complex situation and the diagram is quite involved. One example may be when you are trying to show the flow of a call in a call centre. A decision tree diagram is a great way to show the decisions and options that an agent will have to consider when dealing with each type of call. But you can see how this diagram could get massive very quickly. If you displayed the large diagram on a slide, you would have to shrink it so small that no one in your audience would be able to follow your explanation because they wouldn't be able to clearly see what the diagram shows. This also leads to presenters using a laser pointer to try to point out parts of a diagram, which is never effective. I suggest you use what I call a "break down and zoom in" technique. In this technique, you first show the entire diagram but explain that you are going to break it into sections in order to explain it properly. It is important to first give your audience the context or else they won't know where you are going; it is like giving them a map to the diagram and your explanation. Then you can display a close up view of only the first section, which is now much more readable and clear to your audience. Then you go back to the overall diagram to show context. It is important to always go back to the overall diagram so that your audience knows where you have been and where you are headed next. This enables them to keep things in order in their mind. Next you move to the close up view of the second section. Once explained you go back to the overall diagram for context and alternate between detailed view and overall diagram until you are done, finishing with the overall diagram to pull it all together. This "break down and zoom in" technique will help you make those large complex diagrams understandable and will increase your audience's understanding of your message.