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SLIDE PRESENTATIONS ON THE PC


November 1, 2000
By Pulp & Paper Canada

The whole field of preparing and presenting slides for a conference, training or sales purposes has changed steadily since it first became practical for the average reader of this magazine to make his…

The whole field of preparing and presenting slides for a conference, training or sales purposes has changed steadily since it first became practical for the average reader of this magazine to make his/her own slides a dozen years ago.

The first step was the introduction of software for developing the graphics and text for slides, in the 1980s. Until a few years ago, it was still necessary to send the computer files to a specialized shop to produce the slides themselves, unless you purchased an expensive 35-mm scanner. Today, projectors that can accept computer output directly are used widely, although they cost substantially more than the familiar Kodak Carousel slide projector. Where the audience is very small, a large computer monitor may be adequate. Beware of giant TV screens because they lack the resolution necessary for even a reasonably decent show with any text or graphs in it.

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Programs for preparing slides (the traditional 35 mm kind or computer images only) are generally known as “presentation graphics software” or “presentation software”. There are a number of competing products on the market, but all the engineering and research people I seem to meet in the pulp and paper industry seem to use Microsoft’s PowerPoint. The current version is “2000”, which incorporates a number of minor upgrades from the previous version (PowerPoint 97). However, the only compelling reason for most people to upgrade is to be able to work with files someone gave you that were prepared with the recent version. The new version of PowerPoint has some clever features for web presentations and collaborating in development of presentations over the Internet. But I suspect that most readers’ main interest is in preparing straightforward presentations for PAPTAC, their boss, their customers or for training staff, so will not discuss them here.

To make up a slide, you simply build it on the screen using word processor-like commands for text, and importing graphs for software like Excel, or building them with PowerPoint’s built-in graphing software. Photographs can be imported for scanners or digital cameras, usually in JPG format, but most graphics files found on PCs can be imported simply by copying them from Windows Explorer and clicking on “paste” in PowerPoint.

It is much easier to learn to use PowerPoint than a word processor or CAD software, so if you have not yet tried, do not be shy.

The main advantage of PC projector presentations is that the cost and time delay in preparing traditional 35-mm slides is avoided. Other advantages include the ease with which slides can be built up in layers to better explain points, and the possibility of animation.

One feature that I particularly like is that a laptop can be in front of the speaker, controlled by him, while he faces the audience but can still see the slide and control the screen pointer with his mouse, simultaneously. This requires a little thought in setting up the room, but is much better than having a speaker with his back to the audience while he points at the screen with a laser.

When using slides for training, it is often useful to have fairly detailed notes for each slide. These can easily be added in PowerPoint, by typing them in a concurrent “notes” window. The presentation can be printed with up to six slides per page (three is normally best), and the text alongside. PowerPoint’s ability to arrange the pages in an easily readable format is poor. It is best to use the “File/Send” command to transfer a copy of the presentation to Microsoft WORD, where it appears as a table with slides in one column and the corresponding notes in an adjacent column. These can easily be edited for appearance and/or content, and printed to produce a good manual.

For those who are not skilled in graphic design, it is too easy to use PowerPoint to produce complex, multi-color slides with animation and bizarre special effects. Unless these are very well thought out, they will usually detract from a straightforward technical message.

There is much to be said for sticking with the traditional dark blue background with bright yellow text. When using colors in graphics, be sure that they will stand out.

Text should be large enough that no more than about 40 characters can be fit on one line on the screen. This will show up well in most meetings, since the organizers normally install larger screens for larger audiences. If in doubt, make the text larger. Vertical format slides are a mistake in almost all cases.

Buying presentation software

Unless you have clear reasons otherwise, such as company standard, or desire to collaborate closely with people using other presentation software, I feel that PowerPoint is the best choice for most readers.

Buying Power Point alone is expensive, and I was not even able to find a copy for sale when writing this article. PowerPoint 2000 is included in the Professional and Standard Editions of Microsoft Office, which come free with some computers, or are quite inexpensive when bought with a new machine. About six months ago, I considered buying PowerPoint 2000, but the price quoted was $400, which was the same as the package for WORD, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint.

Instead, we waited until we bought a new Dell computer when the extra for the whole Professional Office 2000 suite was only $100 relative to the Small Business edition we already had.

Ensuring reliability

Provided that you can use a PC projector for the presentation, there is no reason to go to the trouble and expense of making 35 mm slides. It is true that computers can fail, but most such troubles can be avoided.

The first security step is to always carry a spare copy of your presentation on a floppy disc. Even better is to E-mail the file to a colleague who will be present and who will have his own laptop.

When several people are making presentations, it is normally best to have all files loaded to one computer beforehand, to avoid plugging cables in and out, and discovering that the set-up of one computer is incompatible in mid stream.

The keeper of the computer should run all slides through it before the presentation, so that any problem with file compatibility, etc. can be resolved. A complete spare presentation can usually be set up on another computer.


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