Creative use of overlooked features and innovative, new, add-on programs can turn boring presentations into attention-grabbers.
We've all seen them: deadly boring PowerPoint presentations consisting of an endless stream of bulleted slides that speakers read word-for-word to a drowsy audience.
For Tom Bunzel, eradicating such uninspired presentations from boardrooms and stages everywhere has become the focus of his life's work. Dubbing himself Professor PowerPoint, Bunzel is an author, instructor, and sought-after speaker whose mission is to educate presenters about PowerPoint features and related third-party presentation programs, and to inspire them to use those technology tools to sculpt dynamic presentations that enhance their messages and engage their audiences.
Bunzel's skills with PowerPoint have given him the opportunity to work with numerous public speakers on their professional presentations. Among other things, he has trained the principals of MTA Films in Los Angeles, lectured on PowerPoint, digital video, and business multimedia at the Teamplayers Networking Group of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and at the San Diego Computer Expo, and appeared on TechTV's Call for Help, providing PowerPoint tips and tricks to a national audience. He is also technology coach for the Neuroscience Education Institute, where he provides one-on-one instruction in PowerPoint and presentation skills to psychologists.
Bunzel is also the author of several books, including Digital Video on the PC, Easy Creating CDs and DVDs, How to Use Ulead DVD Workshop, and Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows and Macintosh 2002/2001. His most recent book is Teach Yourself PowerPoint 2003 in 24 Hours. More information about Bunzel's books and courses can be found at his website: www.professorpowerpoint.com.
Recently Bunzel sat down with SRO to share his thoughts on PowerPoint and his advice for creating quality presentations.
SRO: What is the main thing you try to teach people about PowerPoint?
Bunzel: My specialty is helping people to go beyond boring title-and-bullet presentations by using rich media or other visual elements. Often, that means encouraging them to use little-known or underused features in PowerPoint.
For example, I'll teach them how to use the PhotoAlbum feature to import literally hundreds of images at once, which is enormously helpful if you need to create a presentation entirely of images. If you're conducting a meeting about real estate, for example, you might have an entire file of photographs that you want to show to your audience. You don't want to have to bring them into the PowerPoint program one at a time. With PhotoAlbum, you don't have to — you can import them all at once.
I also teach people how to use PowerPoint's drawing toolbar to create their own custom diagrams. And I teach them about animation. Now, with animation, one of the things I emphasize is that you don't want to try and dazzle an audience with all kinds of whiz-bang junk. I'll often draw an analogy to a good dramatic production, be it a play or a film, and point out how the production doesn't begin with all the actors on stage at the beginning. They all get their entrance. They become introduced as the story unfolds. In a good speaker support presentation, you do the same thing with animation. You use animation strategically to bring your elements into the slide as you hit those points in your speech.
You can also use PowerPoint to create self-running presentations. Those can be very useful for filling in the break periods, be it at large corporate meetings that feature multiple speakers in a ballroom setting or a small all-day conference featuring one speaker. I always say, don't waste the breaks. Create a self-running show. That's where a lot of your pictures can be shown, or even some of your video clips can be shown. Let it run on its own, and let people soak up some of that information while they are milling around.
A self-running show can also be used effectively in a trade-show setting. You can set up an inexpensive computer with a flatscreen monitor and let it cycle through some slides. It makes for an effective and efficient tradeshow exhibit.
SRO: Are there certain features that even experienced PowerPoint users are apt to overlook?
Bunzel: One thing people don't take enough advantage of are Autoshades in the drawing toolbar, which enable you to highlight parts of a static image. For example, you can use it to put a hollow circle around a city on a map and then have that circle appear using animation. It's a much more effective attention-grabbing tool than just pointing your laser pointer at the object on the slide. And you can do the same thing with callouts and arrows. I'm not saying you should go crazy with this stuff, but used strategically, it's very effective, and people don't do enough of it.
Another feature I love is called Insert Duplicate Slide. Once you have a slide that looks the way you want it, and then you want to use a similar slide elsewhere in your presentation with maybe just a few changes to a few elements, you can use the Insert Duplicate Slide to quickly create that alternative slide. It can even serve as an easy way to do animation because you can create a series of slides that each reveals a little more than the previous slide. To create that kind of sequence, you work backwards, creating the full slide first, and then you progressively delete things. That's a cool technique.
Another thing that people don't use enough of are the templates. I don't mean the design templates — they are probably overused. But using template files to strategically use old content is a good way to quickly build a dynamic presentation. For example, if you use the same three or four movie clips all the time, you can make a template of your movie clips. And then every time you open up a file based on that template, you've got a slide that looks pretty much the way you want, and you've got links to the video that are always going to work. And having working links is a big thing with video. So often, people end up with links that are broken.
SRO: What are the most important new features that came out with PowerPoint 2003?
Bunzel: Most of the features we've been talking about came out with PowerPoint 2002. The most significant new feature added in 2003 is called Package to CD. Before that, you could package a presentation to a series of floppy disks. But if you do that with a rich media presentation, that's going to be a problem because of the size. With Package to CD, you quickly burn your presentation to a CD or DVD. And what's cool about it is you can put a PowerPoint player on there so the user doesn't have to have PowerPoint to view the presentation.
But, really, the most exciting new things are some of the third-party programs that are coming out for PowerPoint.
SRO: Tell us about some of those.
Bunzel: There is a tool called Apreso from Anystream that is pretty remarkable. What you can do is set up a webcam or a digital camcorder to record yourself as you go through your slide show, either in front of a live audience or while sitting alone in front of your computer. When you finish, Apreso takes over and packages the video narration and slide show together in a proprietary compressed format and creates a web page and supporting folder with all the files, including the video. Then you can either email it to people or put it on CD or post it on a web server and send out a link to it. What people will see is video of you doing the narration in one corner of the screen, the slides moving in synch with the video in another corner of the screen, and a table of contents in another corner that let's the viewer jump to any slide they want.
Another program that is sort of like that, but without the video, is called RoloPresenter from MacroMedia. It creates a Shockwave file, which is very useful. Then, there is Vox Proxy, which gives you an animated character that can point to things in the slide.
So PowerPoint is almost becoming less of a program and more of a platform. Once you've created your presentation with PowerPoint, you can creatively and strategically enhance that presentation and distribute that presentation using a host of other tools that have been built to compliment PowerPoint.
Of course, the problem is that it can be time-consuming trying to learn all of the options. And that becomes part of the cost-benefit analysis that a lot of presenters have to make. How much time do they have to invest in their presentation to take it beyond the status quo? For most presenters, creating this stuff is not their full-time job.
SRO: As people start pushing that limit, and start wanting a presentation that is going to dazzle, are they starting to outsource the presentation to an outside production company more frequently than in the past?
Bunzel: Well, often they'll turn to an internal department that handles the production of presentations. But what I've found is that, even if you have a production department to lean on, it still takes some homework by the presenter. The production people don't know your message, so you still have to give them the best possible supervision to present your stuff in not only a visual exciting, but also a useful, way.
If you just hand them a bunch of documents, they'll come back to you with a bunch of bullets, and your presentation will look horrible. But if you learn a little bit about the program and know what its capabilities are, you can be more creative in how you construct your presentation. You don't have to become an expert yourself, but with some understanding of the program's features, you know what to ask for. You can ask your production people to use video for case studies or to introduce your charts or graphics in creative ways.
SRO: Have PowerPoint's capabilities become so sophisticated that you need to actually have production meetings and create storyboards, and really go through a formal creation process almost as you would if you were creating a video?
Bunzel: It can get to that point. But if your plans get too elaborate, you've got to realize that maybe PowerPoint isn't the tool for you. I think the beauty of PowerPoint is that anybody, even a sole practitioner or a small group of people, can bang out a powerful message relatively easily. The problem is if you do it too easily, it becomes a boring title-and-bullet presentation. With a little more effort you can really tell your story and make it visually exciting and interesting.
Stephen Porter is a freelance writer who has been covering video, graphics, and digital content creation technologies and applications for more than 15 years.