Friday, June 29, 2007

How many features do you need to know?

Last night we had a family picture taken on my wife's side of the family. We assembled at her parent's house and a photographer we know, Larry, came to take the picture outside. Everything went exceedingly well - the weather was perfect and smiles abounded. After we were done, we all went back into the house for refreshments. One of the reasons we have used Larry in the past is his ability to touch up a photo using Photoshop. He and I were talking about this in the house after the photo shoot and I had assumed that he was a Photoshop expert user. Turns out he only really knows the eight or so functions that he needs to make photos look amazing.

As I thought about it this morning, that makes perfect sense. I teach that you don't need to know every feature of PowerPoint, only the ones to be effective at presenting in your role. That's why most top presenters only use about 20-25% of the features at most. It's also why I'll never be Microsoft certified at PowerPoint. All their tests focus on knowing every esoteric feature, not what you really need to be an effective user. That's why next month I'll be introducing my PowerPoint Effectiveness Assessment. It is an online assessment that will allow you to measure yourself again best practices and the skills I have found that real business presenters need to know. Like Larry, you don't need to know every feature, just the ones that will help you do what you need to do in your job.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Research on Slide Titles

In the newspaper recently I saw a short mention that a study was done recently that showed that a sentence as a title of a PowerPoint slide was found to be more effective. So I did the research and found the paper that this report was based on. And as is all too common, the reporting greatly simplifies what the paper really said.

It is a paper that discusses what the authors call "Assertion- Evidence Slide Design" (the paper is online at This is basically an approach that uses a sentence as the title of the slide and a visual as evidence to support the assertion made by the title.

In their tests, they compared the effectiveness of slides using this design method to slides with short phrase titles and bullet points only. They found a significant increase in understanding with the slides that used their design. Not a surprise I must say.

But here is where the reporting went astray. The report suggested that the conclusion is that the title change was the significant factor in increasing the effectiveness of the slide. Hogwash, I say.

All the evidence from other research suggests that it is both the more meaningful message title as I call it, along with the power of a visual that makes the difference. And in my opinion it is probably the visual that made the bigger difference than the title.

How can you apply this research to your slides? In two ways. First, start by thinking visually instead of accepting the default bullet point layout that PowerPoint offers. Use graphs, diagrams, charts, photos and any other visual you can think of to break the addiction to bullet points.

Second, create titles for your slides that communicate a message. Instead of "Sales 2000-2006", use "Sales up 41% 2000-6" as the title. This message title will allow your audience to immediately "get" the slide and allow them to spend more time paying attention to what you are saying than trying to decipher your slide.

If you need some help transforming text slides into visual slides, check out my e-book on the subject at . Members of the ThinkOutsideTheSlide Members Site have access to the Transforming Text exercise that I use during my workshops along with my explanation of what I did to make the point of the example more visual. If you want to become a member, go to .

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Collaborating on Presentations

In my consulting work, I get a chance to collaborate on developing presentations with people in many different geographic locations. Sometimes it is face-to-face and other times it is done virtually. Collaborating on presentations instead of doing it yourself is becoming more common. Today I have some tips for making collaboration work no matter if you are in the same room or oceans apart.

Tip #1 Get on the same version
If at all possible, everyone should work on the same version of PowerPoint that will be used to present with. I had a situation earlier this year with a client where their older version of PowerPoint did not support some of the animation and transparency features that I had used in designing the slides. In this case I had to design down to the version they were using.

Tip #2 Use viewer if necessary
One solution to different versions of PowerPoint being used is to use the PowerPoint Viewer to be able to see the presentation as it has been designed. The Viewer is available for download from Microsoft and will allow you to show the latest features even if you have an older version of the full PowerPoint program.

Tip #3 Keep Updated
Make sure that everyone on the team has updated their version of PowerPoint with the latest service packs from Microsoft. I recently had a client that kept seeing a black box around some graphics I had created. It turned out that it was because I was using a transparent background in the graphic and without the service pack, it would not appear properly. Once they updated their PowerPoint, everything looked fine.

Tip #4 Meet via the Web
One of the best investments I made last year was signing up for a web meeting tool. It allows me to schedule a web meeting to review slides or to spontaneously show examples to a client who has just called me. Last year I completed a project that had people in the U.S. and the U.K. and myself in Canada where we never met each other in person. It was all done via web meetings and they were thrilled at the way it worked at the time and cost savings. You can check out the service I use at

Don't be concerned the next time you have to collaborate with colleagues on a presentation. Follow good presentation practices, like setting goals and preparing an outline before you start, and use the above tips to make the creation run smoothly.

Featured in the Members Site this week is a video on how to download and use the PowerPoint Viewer mentioned in tip #2 above. I carry it with me on a USB drive just in case the computer I am presenting from has an old version of PowerPoint. Not a member? Join at .

Monday, June 11, 2007

Could Citigroup Save $47 million a year with this idea?

Saving Citigroup $47 million a year is a pretty bold statement. Especially when job cuts are not involved. How can it be done? By looking at ways to improve what professionals and managers are already doing in meetings. Click here to read this new article based on statistics by Microsoft to find out how Citigroup and your company can save potentially millions.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Don’t Miss a Golden Opportunity

If you get the opportunity to address a group on behalf of a charity that you are passionate about, don’t miss the opportunity to make the most of the chance you have been given. At a recent alumni dinner, the co-leader of a group was given the opportunity to address the gathering. Unfortunately, his presentation did not start well when he had trouble getting the slides to project on the screen. It didn’t get much better from there. His PowerPoint slides did not add or sync with what he said, his speech did not appear to have been rehearsed, he had little emotion in his voice and at the end he made no call to action. He had an audience of alumni who certainly had the means to give, but he missed the opportunity to increase awareness and interest them in financially supporting the cause. When you are given opportunities to address a prime target audience, plan and prepare better than you normally would. It is a chance that is rarely offered and one that you can turn into pure gold.