BOOT CAMP 165 (08/03/01)




Anyone who has sat through an audio-visual presentation – and that's most of us at one time or another, whether in the course of our work, or whilst visiting a museum, exhibition or department store – has first-hand experience of one of Microsoft's most highly regarded, and at the same time, most despised products, and that's PowerPoint, a program designed to help convey information in a simple and effective manner using visual imagery and sounds.


This week we'll take a brief look at some of the things it can do, next week some  hints and tips for a more successful presentation. For the record PowerPoint is included with the Microsoft Office suite – bundled with a lot of PCs -- or available as a stand-alone program.


You might be wondering what relevance PowerPoint has to the average home PC user since it appears to be a specialist product aimed at the business and commercial market. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Microsoft has made it absurdly easy to use – too easy some would argue – and these days AV presentations are not just confined to boardrooms and seminars. They are just as relevant and potentially useful to those raising funds or awareness for local organisations such as churches and charities for example, as a teaching aid in schools, colleges, illustrating talks and lectures or for displaying the activities on offer at a community centre or social club.


AV Presentations can take many forms, from an automated, small-screen slide show with a recorded soundtrack seen by two or three people at a time, to a full-blown conference with a large audience and many different speakers. PowerPoint has become the industry standard AV presentation tool because it is so flexible, user-friendly and able to cope with such diverse applications.


PowerPoint is basically a specialised desktop publishing (DTP) program but instead of page layouts it creates sequences of 'slides'. Slides can be static images but PowerPoint's real talent is to seamlessly combine graphics with text and animated effects. This can be something as basic as a set of 'bullet' points that appear one after the other, summarising or emphasising whatever the speaker is saying, or at the other end of the scale a specially shot video sequence. PowerPoint can also add sounds to slides, from a simple 'bong' or 'cheer' to announce each bullet point up to full orchestral accompaniment.


With so many features on tap PowerPoint could easily have ended up unwieldy and difficult to use and early versions were indeed quite cumbersome. However, the most recent releases, (including those bundled with Office 97 and 2000) are superbly well designed and anyone who can use a PC and a word processor should be capable of putting together a professional-looking presentation, using versatile ready-made templates, in just an hour or two.


The problem for many new and inexperienced users is that it's like being let loose in a big and very well stocked toyshop. There are so many different things to play with, and the finished product can easily end up looking like a dog's dinner. It needs to be used with care; it can do so much, and the message is easily lost or swamped by a deluge of clever tricks and effects, or worse still, the presentation is dull or clumsy and no one pays it any attention. The watchword for all PowerPoint users, and this applies to all graphics and DTP programs, is keep it simple! The more effects and embellishments used the less impact they have, and the more it detracts from the original message. That's something we'll be dealing with in more detail next week, in advance of that it's worth spending a few minutes looking at the various ways PowerPoint can be used and some basic preparations.


The simplest method is to use the PC as the display, though with most monitor and laptops having screens less than 20-inches across (PC screens are normally measured diagonally), this is only suitable for relatively small audiences or stand-alone displays. This sort of arrangement also makes it difficult to use one of PowerPoint's most useful features, namely 'speaker's notes', where a script or cues can be displayed on the screen alongside the slides. For this reason, and where the size of the audience dictates a larger display, most users connect the PC, or more usually a laptop to a large-screen video display or projector, with the PC screen close to and facing the speaker; this also makes it easier for the speaker to monitor the display, change slides and select animations from the mouse or keyboard.  


PowerPoint adapts easily to 'old' presentation technology and with the right printer and materials it can produce transparencies for overhead projectors or image files for photographic film. It also has a useful 'handout' printing mode, which you will need if you have done the job properly, when afterwards you are asked for copies of your presentation.


In some circumstances, where it is not possible for the audience to come to the presentation, the presentation can go to them. PowerPoint can create presentations for showing on the Internet, or for distribution on floppy disc and CD-ROM. A feature called embedded fonts ensures that presentations can be shown in its original form on any PC.


Finally, before you start work on any project you should familiarise yourself with the venue or location in which it will be shown. It is vital that you know beforehand how large the audience will be, seating arrangements (if any) lighting conditions and ambient noise. You should take control of, or have detailed knowledge of as many technical and environmental conditions as possible, including the type of display and sound system because there is nothing worse than trying to adapt or change a presentation at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances.


Next week – Presentation hints and tips





Desktop publishing -- makeup and layout programs used to design pages in printed documents, magazines, newspapers and books



Typeface information included in a file that allows fonts and character sets to be displayed that may not be on the host PC



A ready prepared document or layout that can be easily modified or personalised by changing sample text and graphics




If you download a lot of software from the Internet you have probably created a special folder to keep them all in, and if you haven't you should, otherwise you won't know where to find them, if you want to use the program or file on another PC. After a while you can soon build up a sizeable collection of oddly named 'zips' and 'exe' files, some of which you can remember, but there will be a lot of possibly useful programs with names like '' or something equally memorable. The solution is to rename any such files as soon as possible after downloading, so you know what they are. You can do that by opening your download folder in Windows Explorer click once on the filename in once to highlight, wait a second, click again to insert a cursor, wait a second then click a third time so you can edit or change the name to something meaningful – windows will let you give it a long name --  but leave the extension as it is. Press Return and it's done.

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