Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Presentation Tip: Create presentation visuals based on lessons from grade school

This is the last week of school for our kids and many kids in North America are finishing or have just completed their school year. Some of the fundamental concepts we learn in grade school stay with us forever. As presenters, we can tap in to this shared knowledge base when designing visuals that are easy for our audience to understand. In this article I want to share some of these grade school lessons and how we can apply them to creating presentation visuals. 

One of the activities that we all enjoyed in our earliest grades in school was playing with blocks. We would stack them on top of each other to see who could build the tallest stack. We learned that a taller stack was better than a smaller stack. We can take this experience in to our presentation by creating a column graph to compare measured values. Audiences inherently understand that a taller column represents a larger, and presumably better, value. 

Many of us also have the experience of fighting with a sibling or classmate over who gets the larger piece of pizza or pie. Usually our parents would have to come up with a creative way to solve the argument (and those of us who are parents now still have to do the same!) What did we learn? That a bigger piece of pie is a good thing! Our audience instantly understands this when we use a pie chart to show how different elements make up the whole. They see bigger or smaller pie wedges and know how to compare them because of their experience as a child. 

From early grades on, we were asked to draw a picture to go along with a story or assignment that we were working on. It might be a simple drawing in crayon in earlier grades, and something more elaborate as we progressed in school. We learned that adding a picture to our story made it come to life for the reader. Before we could read, we enjoyed picture books, so adding pictures to a story seemed natural. As presenters, we need to use pictures to help tell our stories. Think back to the days of picture books: use less text and more pictures to tell your story. Your audience will appreciate it. 

When we were in kindergarten, one of the key concepts we learned was the calendar. We had to learn how to tell the days of the month, days of the week and how they related to each other. Once we learned those concepts, we could easily relate to when tests were scheduled, when assignments were due, and, most importantly, when school was done for the summer! Why not show date-based information as a calendar? We all understand it instantly because it is familiar to us. Instead of a simple list of dates, draw a table that represents the timeframe involved and show where the dates are on the calendar. This is easier for the audience to understand and it is what they see every day on their computer and smartphone. 

I have many more grade school experiences that lead to presentation visuals in my upcoming book that will be out this fall. I think that as presenters we can sometimes get too carried away with making fancy graphics. In many cases, if we go back to our experiences as children, we can find simple ways to show our points. These simple ways communicate more clearly to our audience because they tap in to the deep archive of experience that we all share from growing up. Look for simple ways to visually show your points in your next presentation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Presentation Tip: Solving problems caused by embedding

Many presenters don’t realize that PowerPoint embeds or links to other files or information in ways that can cause problems. They may have experienced a PowerPoint file that has grown too large to e-mail to someone else, or linked files or videos don’t work when they take their presentation to another computer to present. In this article I want to explain how you can fix four of the most common embedding issues I see when dealing with PowerPoint presentations.
Why is embedding such an issue? Because in almost all cases, there is no way the presenter knows about the restrictions or problems until after they have occurred. PowerPoint doesn’t give you warnings or notices to let you know that something won’t work the way you expect it to. You have to find out the hard way.
One of the most common issues is your PowerPoint file growing very large after you add some photos. They could be photos of people or objects, but they make your PowerPoint file so large you can’t e-mail it. What is going on? When you insert a picture on to a slide, PowerPoint embeds the entire picture file into the PowerPoint file. And that is the problem. Many photos are much higher resolution than PowerPoint will ever need. Instead of only keeping the pixels it will use, PowerPoint stores all the pixels in the picture. This makes your PowerPoint file much larger than it needs to be. To solve this issue, there are two possible solutions; both involve removing the pixels you won’t use, resulting in a great looking picture that is much smaller in size. The first solution is one you use before you insert the picture into your presentation. Use a program such as the Microsoft Office Picture Manager (usually found in the Office Tools folder on your computer) to resample or resize the photo to a more reasonable size. Usually a standard size of 1024 x 768 will be sufficient to use a photo full screen without any distortion. The second solution is to use the Compress feature within PowerPoint for those photos you have already inserted on to slides. This tool does a good job and you don’t have to take all the photos out of your presentation and start again. This is one of the many tips on using photos that I shared in a webinar earlier this year.
Another embedding problem that most presenters don’t know about is unknowingly exposing confidential data in spreadsheets. One of the methods for copying a table of information from Excel to a PowerPoint slide is to use the Copy Special, Excel Worksheet Object option. This method allows you to resize the table on the slide making it easy for everyone to see. What it doesn’t tell you is that it embeds the entire Excel worksheet, all the tabs and all the information, into your PowerPoint file. Besides making your PowerPoint file bigger, it allows anyone who opens the file to access your entire worksheet. All they need to do is double click on the inserted object and it opens the full Excel worksheet on the slide. They can navigate to any tab and see any information in that worksheet. When I showed this to a client last year, the President was mortified to find out they had been sending confidential data to clients without knowing it. Instead of using the Excel Worksheet Object paste method, use one of the methods that does not embed the worksheet in your PowerPoint file. I covered five methods for inserting Excel data into PowerPoint in my webinar on using financial data in a presentation.
A third embedding issue, one that is also hidden from presenters is using a video in a presentation in PowerPoint 2007 and earlier versions (I’ll get to the issue about videos in PowerPoint 2010 next). In the versions of PowerPoint that most of us use, when you insert a video, it doesn’t actually insert the video file into your PowerPoint file. It just uses a link to the video file that it accesses during the presentation. The issue here is when you move the presentation to another computer. That link stops working in many cases. Why? Because the link is pointing to the specific folder on the original computer, which isn’t on this computer. To solve this problem, make sure that the video file is in the same folder as the PowerPoint file before you insert it on a slide. That way, PowerPoint only needs to remember the file name, not the whole folder structure. Then, make sure you move all the files – PowerPoint and video files – to the new computer. The problem will almost always be gone. I covered many more topics on using video in your PowerPoint presentation in this webinar.
In PowerPoint 2010, they rewrote the way that video files are treated, partially in order to solve the above issue. But they introduced another issue. In PowerPoint 2010, when you insert a video on a slide, it embeds the entire video file into your PowerPoint file. If you thought you have seen some large PowerPoint files with images, wait until you see the size of some of these files. Some of them are too big to even be put on a CD! You can try to compress the video, but often that will reduce the quality of the video, which isn’t what you want for your audience. An alternative is to use a hyperlink to the video file instead of embedding it into the slide. The hyperlink will use the media player on your computer to play the video. It is a little more awkward as a presenter, but it may be what you need to solve the issue of outrageously large PowerPoint files due to embedded videos in version 2010.
As a presenter, you need to be aware of what PowerPoint is doing behind the scenes and how it can affect your ability to deliver an effective presentation. Use these tips to help avoid problems caused by how PowerPoint embeds different objects in your presentation.