BOOT CAMP 166 (15/03/01)




In last week's introduction to Microsoft PowerPoint we looked at some of the things it can do and how it can be used, this week we'll be dealing with the practical aspects of putting together a successful AV presentation.


It is very important to have control over the display, or know exactly on what sort of device your presentation will be shown. This will determine the make up of your slides; it's no good preparing a set of highly detailed or complex images if they are going to be shown on a basic PC or ancient video projector. If in doubt play safe and set your PC's display resolution setting to 800 x 600, which is suitable for all but the oldest PCs and display devices. 


If you haven't used PowerPoint before the Auto Content Wizard will help you decide basic content and style. The range of options is limited but it does allow you to put together a simple presentation in a matter of minutes simply by substituting text in a set of ready-made templates. Once you have finished you can tinker around with the layout, colours and the background, by right clicking on any element within a slide. However, the downside is that it will look like every other PowerPoint presentation, which may lessen its impact with a lot of audiences.


You can easily create your own unique design whilst still making use of PowerPoint's many templates and styles to save time and effort. Begin with a blank sheet by exiting the Auto Content wizard and click on New on the File menu to bring up the New Presentation dialogue box, select the General tab and choose Blank Presentation, if you want to start from scratch, or Auto Content Wizard if you want to adapt a ready made template, which you can choose by selecting the Design tab. Either way clicking OK will take you to the AutoLayout window where you can choose a basic design style. Click OK and the first slide appears on the screen. Now go to the View menu, select Master, then SlideMaster. This is one of PowerPoint's useful time-saving features and it allows you to create a uniform style, including inserting a logo or graphic, set the typeface and size and colours, for every slide.


The choice of fonts is very important. Simple bold typefaces work best and can be read easily. Fancy faces and even popular print styles, like Times Roman, and most serif faces, can become quite hard to read at a distance of more than a few metres. You can keep a check on readability by stepping back from the screen every few minutes; if possible try it out on the same type of display device that your audience will be seeing it on.


There is a quick way to work out the relationship between the size of the display and the optimum character size by allowing approximately one metre viewing distance for every centimetre of character height. For example, on a 15-inch monitor 72 point text will be a little over 2cm in height and that can be easily read at a distance of between 2 and 3 metres. Consequently, if the rearmost members of the audience are going to be more than 5 or 6 metres from the screen then character height needs to be between 5 and 6cm, which also means you have to increase the size of the display proportionately.


Great care needs to be taken in the choice of colours for text and backgrounds. Black text on a white or light yellow is the most readable option. Colour combinations to avoid are reds and blues, which can appear to 'move' and never mix red and green for text and background as, in addition to looking awful, can cause real problems for the 10% of your audience who suffer from the commonest forms of  'colour blindness'.  Use photographs and illustrations sparingly and try not to use standard 'clip-art' graphics, which everyone has seen a thousand times – it's a good excuse to put your scanner and digital camera to practical use.


One of the biggest problems with PowerPoint presentations, and the quickest way to loose an audience, is to over-use effects and transitions. Never loose sight of the fact that the purpose of an AV presentation is to convey information in a form that's easily digested, not to show how clever you are and how many effects you've discovered.  However, used in moderation they can add impact. Obvious examples include a bulleted list showing line by line, bar graphs can be made to appear in stages and the old classic, 'typewriter text' -- where words appear on the screen a letter at a time -- is a good way of forcing your audience to actually read what's on the screen, but you can only get away with it a couple of times, repeat it too often and it'll be ignored.


Much the same applies to sound effects. Short sharp sounds to accompany bullet points as they appear on the screen are useful for getting the attention of a sleepy audience; good news can be emphasised by cheers or a happy tune, bad news can be stressed by breaking glass or booing, but do it only once or twice or it will sound hackneyed.


Check spelling and grammar thoroughly, then get someone else to check it. A single spelling mistake, especially if it is repeated on subsequent slides, will destroy your presentation and guarantee the audience starts playing 'spot the blooper'. Check your facts then check them again!


Some finishing touches worth remembering are to check the item 'Loop Continuously until Esc' on the Set Up Show dialogue box on the Slide Show menu. This will prevent your show from ending on an editing screen, which looks sloppy. A wireless mouse, or a regular mouse with a long cable will let move around and communicate more easily with the audience. The keyboard shortcut Ctrl + P lets you draw or sketch on the screen, the 'W' and 'B' keys turn the screen white or black, which can be handy if you need to pause for a moment and make sure the display PC's screensaver and power management are switched off before you begin.


Next week – Scanners and cameras





A measure of how much fine detail a video screen can display. To change the setting on a Windows PC go to Start > Settings > Control Panel, select the Display icon and the Settings tab



Typeface, such as Times Roman, with decorative 'feet' at the end of vertical and horizontal strokes



The change from one slide to another, PowerPoint includes a wide selection of 'wipes', 'fades' and 'dissolves'



How does your PC or laptop sound? Probably pretty awful, by hi-fi standards, especially if you are using cheapo speakers and the titchy speakers fitted to most laptops are bound to sound tinny, but there may be something you can do about it, without spending any money, if you are using Windows 98 or ME. There's a little known speaker configuration utility that allows you to tailor the sound of your PC according to the size and type of speakers. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel and select Multimedia, make sure the Audio tab is selected and click the Advanced Properties button. On the Speakers page Desktop Stereo Speakers will probably be selected, but it's surprising how many laptops have that setting too. Try some of the other options – you may have to reboot for any changes to take effect -- and the differences can be quite small but it's well worth trying. Whilst you are at it you may want to look at the Performance tab and if your PC is a relatively speedy model with a plenty of RAM, move the two sliders to the maximum setting.

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