Monday, March 24, 2008

More support for using visuals

Lately Dan Roam has been getting some good press about his new book titled "The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures" - Fast Company did an article on it recently (read it here). The premise is that a simple visual drawing is more effective than the reams of bullet points or the complex professional graphics that invade too many presentations.

I agree that we need to move towards visuals that are relevant and easy to understand. As I have been saying for a while now, all we need to do is look back 5,000 years to see how humans communicated back then. We drew something on the cave wall and we told a story. It was effective back then and is effective today.

While I agree that being more visual is communicating more effectively, I would suggest that since most of us will have to still present our information using PowerPoint or distribute it via e-mail or the web, we will still want to get our visuals into electronic format. The back of a napkin is a good analogy, but perhaps not to be taken literally.

If you are not a great freehand artist - I know I am not - then using the simple tools in PowerPoint will serve you well. They make sure your squares look square and your lines go where they are supposed to go. And you can erase any mistakes easily.

Just make sure you have simplified your concept before you start - whether using PowerPoint's drawing tools or the back of a napkin. It is the simplification of the concept and focusing on the key point that will be most important for your audience, not necessarily the format you use.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

PowerPoint Tip: Video Best Practices

This past week I posted a new article on the web site about best practices when using video clips in sales presentations. It doesn't matter whether you are selling an idea to your boss or selling a multi-million dollar package of products and services to a client, video can be a great addition to your presentation.

In the article, posted on the site at, I talk about four best practices that you should follow when adding video to your PowerPoint presentation. In the newsletter today I want to expand on a few of the ideas I shared.

In the article I talk about how one of the easiest ways to capture your own video is to use the video mode of your digital camera. It used to be that there was only one video mode, but most cameras today have multiple settings. The question is, What resolution should you use? The best compromise between quality and file size is usually 640 x 480, known as VGA resolution. It looks good when projected and keeps the file size to a reasonable size.

The other video file parameter you may need to know about is the frames per second, known as fps. The highest quality that is normally used is 30 frames per second. Some computers will have trouble reliably playing this rate in a PowerPoint presentation. So I suggest you use 10 frames per second because it still provides great quality (only trained video professionals can tell the difference) and plays better in PowerPoint.

When looking at video quality, you can't judge the quality by playing the video file in a media player. PowerPoint has more going on when it plays a video and what runs smoothly in a media player may not run as smooth when played on a slide. Test it on the slide to get a true idea of how it will look.

The single biggest problem with most videos not shot by professional videographers is the low lighting levels. Low light will make a video clip look dim and hard to see, especially when shown through a projector. If you are shooting a video, add lighting to make the people in the video look better. One easy way to add a lot of light is to use work lights from a home improvement store. These provide a lot of light and cost under $100 usually. If you'll be regularly creating video clips, this is a good investment to get better quality video clips.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Limiting Slides is Not the Answer

Recently I have heard of more and more organizations that have tried to solve the problem of poor, confusing presentations by restricting the number of slides that a presenter can use. The idea is that by using fewer slides the message will be clearer. In most cases, this is exactly opposite to the reality.

When limited by a certain number of slides, most presenters don't rethink their message and pare it down to the core, they simply jam more information on to the slide. What results is an even more cluttered slide that causes more confusion for the audience.

When you start creating persuasive visuals, you will end up with more slides, but the presentation will be much clearer because each slide is only making one key point. This allows your audience to absorb the point before moving on to the next slide.

An experience not too long ago is a good illustration. When I finished a recent three hour session, one of the participants came up and we started chatting about the number of slides. I wanted to find out how many slide she thought I had used. She gave me a number. In reality, I had used five times that number of slides! She was surprised, but agreed that because of the way the slides were designed, it did not feel like it was a ton of information being dumped on her.

When it comes to the number of slides in your presentation, the commonly used business phrase of "less is more" is often not true.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Get up and running with PowerPoint 2007

I was speaking this afternoon with an organization that is going through a challenge that many are facing today - converting from PowerPoint 2003 to 2007. The technical conversion is easy. Simply install the new version. The challenge comes when the user opens the application for the first time and is greeted with a user interface that looks nothing like what they are familiar with. So here are two references that can help. First, a new article by Preston Gralla for Computerworld gives good advice on getting familiar with the interface quickly. It is at: . Second is a listing of where every command in PowerPoint 2003 is now found in 2007. Find it at: .

Good luck with the conversion!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

PowerPoint Tip: Photo Best Practices

Last week the Presentation Xpert newsletter published one of my new articles on using product photos in sales presentations. If you want to read the full article, you can go to Today I want to expand on a couple of the ideas in the article.

One of the tips I shared is to resample your photos before inserting them on a slide. This is something I have discussed before and the purpose is to keep the file size small while maintaining high quality photos. One question that also comes up that I didn't discuss in the article was what file format to use when saving pictures to be inserted on a PowerPoint slide.

Most digital cameras save photos in the JPG format, which is a compressed format that maintains quite good quality. If you get professional photos taken, they may be provided in the TIF format, a high quality format that is not compressed much. My suggestion is to use the JPG format to save photos before inserting them on slides. It gives you good quality so your photos are clear and the smallest file size so your presentation file can stay compact. This is easy for photos already in that format, but may require you to use a photo conversion tool like IrfanView if the photos are provided in another format (get IrfanView at

Another tip I shared was to make sure you add a callout to your photo so that the audience knows what part is the most important part of the photo. The callout consists of both a graphic highlight, like an arrow, and text that explains why that spot is important. The issue comes in finding a color for the arrow that can be seen across a picture that has many colors in it.

If you pick a black or dark color arrow, it will be see in the light regions of the photo but lost in the darker areas. With a white or lighter color arrow, the opposite is true. So how do you find an arrow that can always be seen? My trick is to use a block arrow. This shape, on the drawing toolbar as one of the autoshapes, allows you to set the border color and the fill color. So I draw a block arrow and format it so that the border is a thick black line and the fill color is bright yellow. This way, one of the two colors always has contrast with the area of the photo below.

If you see a photo in your company brochure that would really work well in your presentation, check out the tip in the article on using the Snapshot tool of Adobe Acrobat to grab the photo from the PDF version of the brochure. Many people have found this tip to be a valuable time saver.

If your sales organization could improve its results this year in a tough economy with better sales presentations, contact me about holding a customized Think Outside The Slide session for your sales professionals and their support staff. On the web at, you can get the full outline and watch a 10 minute video of a recent presentation so you can see the value these ideas provide.