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InfoComm 2007

Last updated Mar 26, 2004.

Once again this year I headed to InfoComm, the world's largest audio visual trade show to see the latest and greatest in display gear.

As I indicated in a prior update, I was also on a panel about "Telling the Story" — about effective presentations as part of the Presentations Council. I gave an intro to Office 2007, and specifically the graphics capabilities of the new version of PowerPoint, but also provided some insight to Visio and Excel as presentation tools. I showed the templates in Visio and especially the Timeline, and the database capabilities, and highlighted conditional formats and pivot tables in Excel.

But the best part of the day was the ability to listen to colleagues in the industry and learn from their perspectives.

JP Brozyna, Vice President of AFG Media Services is on several councils at InfoComm and helped coordinate the all day seminar; he spoke at some length about the business end of presentations and contrasted the expense of using PowerPoint compared to Flash. It turns out the hiring a Flash expert is twice as expensive in round figures, and perhaps most interesting drew an important distinction between the design and production process of a presentation, and the editorial aspect of writing and conceptualizing.

This suggests that one person may not be able to "do it all", and that true professionalism in presentation development may need a team, if not a village.

This is significant because many clients cannot distinguish between these and expect a practitioner to come up with a concept for a presentation without any real input or time — after all a lot of PowerPoint is created on the fly — literally on airplanes.

But a good presentation takes both forethought and graphics capability — although some of the newer features of PowerPoint 2007 make a professional look almost a no brainer.

Rick Altman, a colleague who puts on PowerPoint LIVE and whose book we recently reviewed went through the 10 things everyone should know to avoid in PowerPoint.

Many of these are well documented, including the overuse of animation or cluttering a slide with too many bullets, but Rick also talked about how trying to pigeonhole important concepts into a title and four bullets doesn't always work.

He illustrated this concept with a story of tennis pro who tried to fit his experiences into a series of PowerPoint slides but finally saw that a few slides with emotional content (pictures of great players in action) might serve better to help him just tell his stories, which were the basis for his vast experience.

On the technical side Rick taught me a few new tricks. One was the ability to use an OLE object in a slide and then give it a Custom Animation that launched the program and the file. This would be an excellent way to use a DVD video in a PowerPoint presentation by launching its player, like WinDVD.

He also showed a great way to quickly customize your work environment in all of the Office programs by holding down the Alt key to drag useless icons off toolbars. Unfortunately this will no longer work in 2007.

After lunch the task to keep us awake fell to Nancy Duarte, the head of Duarte Design, a high end professional firm that produced, among other things, Al Gore's slide show for "An Inconvenient Truth."

She spoke eloquently about the career and global changing affecting graphics practitioners, and in particular the radical shift in the delivery options.

We have commented here on this site about some of these trends — the need to find the resources to export our presentations to podcasts and even video iPods.

Nancy sees a truly radical shift as third world countries go from being simple outsourcers of low end information workers to being able to compete with high end professionals in the areas of graphics, presentation technology and multimedia production.

She has a very all encompassing view of the web as the ultimate distribution medium which changes the nature of presenting. For example, will the collaboration afforded by the new Google presentation tools threaten PowerPoint and lead to a new way that presentations are created and viewed?

Will resources like slideshare.net, which is the YouTube of presentations, make it possible to take presentations themselves to a new level, and will the challenge of Flash make the entire notion of what is a presentation change fundamentally.

While the average PowerPoint user may not want to think about these things, it will affect how he or she is valued and compensated in the future.

Nancy suggested that many PowerPoint professionals should branch out and learn new tools, like Camtasia Studio 4, to broaden the eventual distribution platform for their wares to portable devices and the web by converting their files to Flash and iPod video formats.

On a more positive side, she noted how the presentation format has grown up and is now embraced by Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg and even the Academy in its award to Al Gore.

One unfortunate aspect of InfoComm is that for the most part it remains mainly a hardware show. This can be beneficial for presentation professionals who need to consult and advise on how to actually stage their productions, especially in large venues.

It can affect production on a more mundane level as well, since the fonts you might use on a giant screen would vary from those on portable devices — but for most presenters this aspect of presenting is outsourced and knowing which stand to use to hold your speakers or screen, or buying a hard case for transport, is not vital to creating a PowerPoint show.

Nonetheless it remains interesting to see how display technology evolves, and the many ways that video, for example, can be captured, displayed and encoded. For some presenters, like me, this is a fascinating and important subject area.

One area I decided to explore further is the world of digital signage, which is essentially the integration of high quality displays with live feeds of information, and timed events. While one could use PowerPoint for this process, higher priced software programs allow you to time the looping of graphics, and also slice up the display into zones, each with different sets of information. The timing can be achieved with an inexpensive third party tool for PowerPoint, Take-Off, that we covered in an update several years ago.

But digital signage is a growing field and we may take another look at it in the coming weeks.

Next week it's back to learning how to format a spreadsheet, but for a few days, InfoComm takes you into an exciting world of lights, sound, animation and high end graphics, which is heady stuff for a PowerPoint guy or woman.