Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Should you buy content for your presentation?

In a recent newsletter for trainers I spotted an ad for a company that sells materials for presenters. Interested in what they might have, I checked out their web site. They offer workbooks, handouts and even full PowerPoint presentations on a variety of topics. The idea is that instead of creating your own content, you can just buy theirs and be ready to go. Is this a good idea?

I don't think so. It seems to me to be only a slight step up from the content wizards that PowerPoint contains. These wizards create such poor presentations that they are laughable. In fact, one of the most widely viewed presentations is The Gettysburg Address re-created in one of the content wizards. This is regularly used an an example of why PowerPoint itself is bad (it's not the tool but the user of the tool - but that's another issue altogether).

Instead of thinking that you can buy some standard content, put together a proper presentation structure to guide your message and your visuals. Audiences today will not put up with a presentation that is generic. You need to customize it. And that's only possible when you create the content that the audience needs to hear. That's why the first two chapters of "Guide to PowerPoint" don't even deal with slides. They deal with developing a clear structure so that when you get to creating slides, you understand how visuals fit in to your message. If you haven't got the book yet, get it at .

PowerPoint Tip - Use PDF Capture Tool

I've worked with two clients recently who produce a lot of material in Adobe's PDF format for marketing purposes. This is quite common today as more companies switch from printed materials to online versions that can be printed as needed, downloaded from a web site or e-mailed. Marketing departments spend a lot of time creating these materials and you should take advantage of their work in your presentations.

While you could ask for the source file so that you have all the graphics, charts, tables, etc., that's not usually the easiest approach. Since most of the pages will have been created in high end page layout software, you will be getting files that you likely would have a hard time using.
The easier approach is to use the PDF version of the document. With a PDF version, you always get it looking the way the designer intended it to look and don't have to worry about having a fancy graphics program to read it. And most of the time it is easy for the designer to create a PDF version if it is not already available.

Don't be tempted to use a web page version of the document. If you have tried to copy items from a web site you have probably run into the problem of the low resolution of the web. Once you get the image into your slide and try to scale it up to a reasonable size, it looks all chunky and many times any text is hard to read. A PDF file has higher resolution than a screen version since it is intended to be printed.

Once you open the PDF file in your Acrobat Reader program, you need to find the item you want to copy into your slide. Make sure it is large enough on your screen that the copied size will pretty much fill your slide. You can use the zoom feature to make the elements in the PDF file larger on your screen. Then use the capture tool in the Acrobat Reader to capture the selected item to the Windows clipboard. Once it is on the clipboard, you simply paste it into your slide.

Use this technique for product brochures, documentation, CAD drawings or any other complex graphics that would be useful in your presentation. If you are using material from another organization, always make sure you have their permission first.

If you want to link to a PDF document in the middle of your presentation so you can tour the document with the audience, you will want to check out my webinar recording of "Non-Linear and Other Advanced PowerPoint Delivery Techniques". It covers linking to external content and so many more delivery tricks of the pros. Get it at .

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Making Words Stand Out

Sometimes you will want to put a quote on your slide and point out certain words that emphasize or support the point you are making. It could be a quote from an expert, a passage of a regulation or law or a small section of a document you are referring to. In any of those cases, you need to put the text on the slide. I suggest not putting it as a single bullet point because it looks strange. Use a separate text box just for the quotation. Always give the source – usually using a smaller font in the lower right corner of the slide. And make sure you give emphasis to the words that you want the audience to focus on so they see the context, but know what the most important part is for them to connect with the point you are making.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Use Gantt chart for Timelines

In a number of presentations that I have worked on for clients they want to show a timeline of events as a background for their comments. It may be developments in the industry, evolution of a competitive landscape or as simple as external world events that influence their situation. This proves to be a bit of a challenge for many since often these events are not point in time events but are developments that may have taken months or years to occur.

Some have used a bulleted list with each bullet containing a date and the text of the event or development. The challenge with this format is that it does not make it easy to get a sense of overall timing because the gap between the dates in the list may not be consistent. It also does not allow for an easy way to show how long something took if it developed over, say, 2 years.

Another attempt was to have a timeline of years through the middle of the slide and add events along the timeline above or below the timeline. This is better because it is visual, but the challenge is twofold. First, too often the timeline is what stands out because of where it is positioned and the text of the events becomes too small to see. Second, it is not always easy to indicate the duration of a situation.

A better choice is to use a Gantt chart. Gantt is not an acronym, is it the name of the man who created this way of showing information. A Gantt chart has a timeline along the bottom of the chart with equal spacing representing each time period. Above the timeline each event is represented with a horizontal bar which indicates when the event started and ended based on the timeline. The advantage of the Gantt chart is that it is a good visual representation of the sequence and it allows for an audience member to easily put the events in an overall context. By building each bar on the chart, the presenter can explain each event individually.

On my consulting page I have recently posted five videos showing examples of the work I have done for clients. One of the examples is how I changed a timeline slide to a Gantt chart slide. You can view the example at (the video examples are links about three quarters the way down the page).

If you want to learn how to draw diagrams yourself and not spend hundreds on a graphic designer, check out my video on using diagrams at . Another good reference for diagram ideas is the latest book by Gene Zelazny, an expert we reference in Guide to PowerPoint. His latest book is "The Say It With Charts Complete Toolkit" and can be ordered at .

Update: The Gantt chart is just one of the many visuals I explain in my new book "The Visual Slide Revolution: Transforming Overloaded Text Slides Into Persuasive Presentations." Get all the info and read a chapter for free at .

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another example of Poor Color Contrast

I was at the gas station the other day and I saw another example of poor color contrast on a visual display. This gas pump was one of the new ones where they play ads on a TV screen above the pump as you are filling up. In addition to the ads, they have a page of news and a page of sports headlines in the rotation. Unfortunately, the person who created these pages does not understand that if the text color and the background don't have enough contrast, no one will be able to read what you have on the screen. They chose black text on a dark blue background - almost impossible to see even in good daylight conditions. Before you use colors on your slides, check their contrast using the Color Contrast Calculator at .

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Beyond Templates

Many of you will be familiar with the idea of using a template to give your slides a common look. A Master Slide sets the background color, text colors and fonts and any branding on the slide. This way, every slide has a consistent look and the audience is not distracted by changing slide appearances. Some organizations take this idea one step further and create a style guide.

Your template is one part of a style guide, but it goes further than just the look and feel. A style guide can contain elements such as:

1) Guidelines on when to use different slide masters
If you are creating presentations that have distinct sections, such as a workshop, seminar or longer session, you may want to create multiple slide masters so that the graphical look indicates to your audience what this slide is about. For example, you may have one slide look for the start of a section and another slide look for introducing an exercise. This type of graphical cueing can increase the engagement of your audience.

2) Guidelines on the use of notes
The Notes section of a slide can be used for speaking notes that you print to keep yourself on track. This fall I'll be speaking at a conference about another use for the Notes section. When you are creating slides that people with disabilities will view, the Notes section is a great way to add descriptive text that can be read by screen reader programs. I recently completed a white paper for my publisher that goes into more details on this usage. They will be distributing the white paper to those who create the slides for their introductory textbooks.

3) Handout Guidelines
If you print handouts from your slides, you can also set guidelines on how the handouts should be formatted and used. Just like there is a Slide Master for a common look to your slides, there is a Handout Master that can give a common look to your handouts. In a handout master, you can set the header, footer, copyright notice, and page number. You can also specify the number of slides per page - I use four slides per page to allow space for notes.

If you haven't created your own custom professional looking template, get a copy of my e-book "Create Your Own PowerPoint Template" at . Then, think about how you can create a style guide that will speed up slide creation. By making decisions up front on how all of your presentations should look and feel, you are free to focus on the content that your audience needs to hear in each individual presentation.