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Constructing Knockout Presentations in PowerPoint

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A great PowerPoint show can really enhance your presentation, but a poor one can cripple your effectiveness. This chapter offers tips and tricks to make your presentation stylish, clear, and effective.
This chapter is from the book

In this chapter

  • Organizing Your Presentation 
  • Advanced Slide Formatting and Design 
  • Advanced PowerPoint Animation Techniques 
  • Taking PowerPoint to the Next Level with Microsoft Producer 

Among all the documents that you can create with the Microsoft Office Suite, PowerPoint presentations are unique in that they are the only ones that are regularly critiqued by other people. If someone sends us a Word document or an Access database, we rarely begin by casting a critical eye on the layout and formatting. Among spreadsheet jockeys, there is a worksheet aesthetic that looks for a certain amount of elegance in model building, but the main concern is getting the right answer. A PowerPoint presentation, on the other hand, must first meet a certain standard of visual appeal before we even consider the information it is trying to impart. Why? Perhaps it's because presentations seem to be just one small step removed from entertainment: We sit in a darkened room looking at text and pictures on a screen while a person tells us a story about what we're seeing. Or perhaps it's because we've all seen more than our fair share of PowerPoint presentations, and the idea of sitting through another lackluster series of slides is just too much to bear.

Whatever the reason, if you create PowerPoint presentations for your job, you need to know what Office gurus know: that your presentations—every one of them—must be knockouts. That doesn't mean you need to create something that has your audience cheering and on their feet at the end of the show. Rather, it means having your audience look forward to seeing your presentation and actually learning something from it.

This chapter shows you how to create such presentations. You'll concentrate on the three main areas that compose any knockout presentation: organization, formatting and design, and animation. The focus will be on avoiding so-called PowerPointlessness—those fancy formats, transitions, sounds, and other effects that have no discernible purpose, use, or benefit. Instead, you get practical tricks and techniques that serve the goal of creating a knockout presentation.

Organizing Your Presentation

All great documents—a persuasive memo, an illuminating worksheet, a cogent email message—have one thing in common: excellent organization. Content and formatting are important, to be sure, but their effectiveness is diminished or even nullified if the document has a slipshod or poorly thought-out organization. On the other hand, even a document with only so-so content and negligible formatting can get its point across if it’s organized coherently and sensibly.

Organization: Telling a Story

Why is organization so important? Probably because research has shown—and poets and storytellers have known for thousands of years—that humans have an innate hunger for narrative. We like to hear stories, and we learn better and take in data more effectively when it’s presented in narrative format. This doesn’t mean that every letter, email, or worksheet model must begin with "Once upon a time..." Rather, it means that you should apply the basic principles of storytelling to any document. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Are you proposing a solution to a problem? Use the beginning-middle-end story structure. In the beginning you introduce the problem, in the middle you explain why the problem needs to be solved, and in the end you propose and explain your solution.

  • Are you arguing a position? Use the thesis-arguments-conclusion story structure. You state your position up front, marshal the facts and arguments that support your position, anticipate counterarguments, and then return to your now well-buttressed position.

  • Are you announcing something interesting or important? Use the exposition-building action-climax-denouement structure. The exposition gives the background and basic information that your listeners require to understand and appreciate the underlying problem. The building action might outline the ongoing efforts and the increasingly desperate need to solve the problem. The climax is the announcement itself, the resolution of the building action; and the denouement is the aftermath of the announcement and what it means to the overall story.

All these potential document types are also potential PowerPoint presentation topics, so it’s easy to organize your presentations along narrative lines. In particular, think about the central ideas that you want to impart in your presentation, and with a story structure in mind, think about the text, images, charts, sounds, and other presentation objects that will illuminate your ideas. Be ruthless. If something doesn’t further the story, don’t use it.

Finally, the preliminary work on your presentation-as-narrative isn’t complete until you’ve thought long and hard about your audience. All storytellers customize their tales depending on their audience. After all, in most cases you wouldn’t give the same version of a story to children that you’d give to adults. In your case, you need to know who your audience is. Are they insiders who won’t mind jargon and industry gossip? Are they technical types who revel in minutiae and closely reasoned arguments? Are they managers who prefer the big picture or customer service reps who need the details? Do they already know the basics of your topic and so require a shorter background or exposition? Asking yourself these and similar questions is all part of creating a well-thought-out narrative for your presentation and organizing it accordingly.

Organizing Your Presentation with an Outline

As a writer, I’m continually amazed at the power of the humble outline. All my articles, essays, and book chapters start off as a jumbled mess of ideas; all too many of them merely half-baked. As I research the topic, the core ideas that I want to discuss start to crystallize and organize themselves into related groups. After much rearranging and pruning, the ideas coalesce into a neat and tidy hierarchical structure: the outline. This text skeleton details exactly what I’m going to write about and in what order. With that in place, a metaphorical burden lifts from my shoulders and the piece practically writes itself.

You may think outlines are useful only for word processing documents, but they can be an essential part of building a presentation, as well. In PowerPoint, outlines offer a convenient way of organizing the content of your presentation hierarchically:

  • The top level of the outline hierarchy consists of the slide titles.

  • The second level of the outline hierarchy consists of the subtitle in the first slide and the main bullet points in subsequent slides.

  • Lower levels of the outline hierarchy consist of the lower levels of bullet points in subsequent slides.

Using PowerPoint’s Outline pane, you can build your presentation from scratch by entering outline text as you would in a Word outline, for instance. You can promote or demote items to different levels with just a keystroke or mouse click. Best of all, because the Outline pane gives you a big-picture view of your presentation, you can adjust the overall organization by cutting and pasting or clicking and dragging outline text.

Viewing the Outline Pane and Outlining Toolbar

The two tools you need to create a PowerPoint outline are the Outline pane and the Outlining toolbar (see Figure 3.1):

  • To display the Outline pane, click the Outline tab.

  • To display the Outlining toolbar, right-click any toolbar and then click Outlining.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 The PowerPoint tools you need to create and edit your presentation outline.

Creating a Presentation Outline

For a new presentation, the Outline pane shows the number 1 and an icon. The number is the slide number and the icon represents a slide; together they’re the outline equivalent of the initial (empty) slide added to each new presentation. This is the top level of the outline hierarchy and, as I mentioned earlier, it consists of the slide titles. Remember that each item in the outline corresponds to a text object on a slide: title, subtitle, bullet point, and so on.

Creating the Top Level The best way to begin the outline is to create and title the slides to complete the top-level hierarchy. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Type the slide’s title.

  2. Press Enter. PowerPoint creates a new slide.

  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you’ve created all your slides.

Figure 3.2 shows a presentation with the slide titles entered into the Outline pane.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 Begin the presentation outline by creating the slides and entering the slide titles in the Outline pane.

Creating the Second Level The second-level outline consists of items such as slide subtitles and the main bullet points that compose the bulk of your presentation. Following are the steps to create the second level:

  1. In the Outline pane, move the cursor to the end of the title of the slide you want to work with.

  2. Press Ctrl+Enter. The outline item created by PowerPoint depends on the slide's text layout:

    • For a Title Slide layout, the new outline item corresponds to the subtitle text box placeholder.

    • For any of the text layouts, the new outline item corresponds to a bullet in the text box placeholder.

  3. Type the item text.

  4. To create another item on the same level, move the cursor to the end of the current item and press Enter.

  5. Repeat steps 1–4 until you've completed the second level.

Figure 3.3 shows an outline with some second-level items added.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 The outline with some second-level outline items.

Creating Lower Levels Figure 3.3 also shows several third-level items. To create the third and lower levels of the outline, use the Outlining toolbar, as follows:

  1. Follow the steps from the previous section to create a new second-level item.

  2. Click the Demote button in the Outlining toolbar.

  3. If you need to toggle the item between regular text and bulleted text, click the Bullets button in the Formatting toolbar.

  4. Repeat steps 1–3 until you’ve completed the outline.

Creating an Outline from a Text File

If you’ve already sketched out the slide titles and headings for your presentation in a text file, you can import the text file and have PowerPoint convert it automatically to an outline. Before you do that, you may need to modify the text file as follows:

  • Each slide title must be flush left in the text file.

  • First-level headings must begin with a single tab.

  • Second-level headings must begin with two tabs.

For example, Figure 3.4 shows a text document that uses these guidelines to specify several slides and headings.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 Use tabs in a text document to specify outline levels for a PowerPoint presentation.

To convert the text to a PowerPoint presentation outline, you have two choices:

  • Select File, Open to display the Open dialog box. In the Files of Type list, select All Outlines. Select the text file and then click Open.

  • Start a new presentation or open an existing presentation. In the Outline pane, move the cursor to where you want the text file outline to appear. Select Insert, Slides from Outline, select the text file, and then click Insert.

Figure 3.5 shows a new PowerPoint presentation created by opening the text file shown in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 The PowerPoint presentation outline created by opening the text document shown in Figure 3.4.

Controlling the Display of Outline Levels

If you’re working with a long presentation, the Outline pane might show only a small number of the slides. To keep the big picture in view, you can tell PowerPoint to show less outline detail. Here are the Outlining toolbar techniques to use to expand and collapse the outline levels:

    To hide the levels for a single slide—Click inside the slide and then click Collapse.

    To display the levels for a single slide—Click the slide title and then click Expand.

    To hide the levels for all the slides—Click Collapse All.

    To display the levels for all the slides—Click Expand All.

Editing the Presentation Outline

The Outline pane’s forest-instead-of-the-trees view not only lets you easily see the overall organization of your presentation, it makes it easy to modify that organization. That is, by editing the outline, you also edit the organization. Besides editing the text itself, editing the outline falls into two main categories: changing levels and moving items.

Changing levels means moving items down or up within the outline hierarchy. To demote an item means to move it lower in the hierarchy (for example, from second level to third); to promote an item means to move it higher in the hierarchy (for example, from second level to top level). Here are the techniques to use to change an item’s level:

    To demote an item—Click Demote or press Tab.

    To promote an item—Click Promote or press Shift+Tab.

Moving items means changing their physical position within the outline. For example, you might need to change the position of a slide or change the order of bullets within a slide. Here are the techniques to use to move an outline item:

    To move an item up—Click the item and then click Move Up. Alternatively, move the mouse pointer to the left of the item (the pointer changes to the four-headed arrow) and then click and drag the item up to the position you want.

    To move an entire slide up—Collapse the slide, click the slide, and then click Move Up. Alternatively, move the mouse pointer over the slide icon (the pointer changes to the four-headed arrow) and then click and drag the icon up to the position you want.

    To move an item down—Click the item and then click Move Down. Alternatively, move the mouse pointer to the left of the item (the pointer changes to the four-headed arrow) and then click and drag the item down to the position you want.

    To move an entire slide down—Collapse the slide, click the slide, and then click Move Down. Alternatively, move the mouse pointer over the slide icon (the pointer changes to the four-headed arrow) and then click and drag the icon down to the position you want.

Organizing with Custom Slide Footers

In a large presentation, it’s often easy to lose track of what slide number you’re working with or viewing. Similarly, if you work with a lot of presentations, it can get confusing as to which presentation you’re currently working on. To help overcome these and other organizational handicaps, take advantage of the footers that PowerPoint enables you to display on a presentation’s slides.

Displaying the Footer

By default, PowerPoint doesn’t display the footer in each slide. (Or, more accurately, it displays a blank footer in each slide.) To display the footer, you need to activate the footer content, as follows:

  1. Select View, Header and Footer. PowerPoint displays the Header and Footer dialog box. (Figure 3.6 shows a completed version of the dialog box.)

  2. Figure 3.6

    Figure 3.6 Use the Header and Footer dialog box to specify the data that you want to appear in the slide’s footer.

  3. To display the date and time in the lower-left corner of the slide, make sure the Date and Time check box is activated and then choose one of the following options:

  4. Update Automatically—Choose this option to always display the current date and time. Use the list provided to choose the format of the date and time display.

    Fixed—Choose this option to specify a fixed date and time. Note, however, that you can enter any text you like into the Fixed text box.

  5. To display the current slide number in the lower-right corner of the slide, activate the Slide Number check box.

  6. To display text in the lower middle of the slide, make sure the Footer check box is activated and then type your text into the box provided.

  7. If you don’t want the footer text to appear on the presentation’s title slide, activate the Don’t Show on Title Slide check box.

  8. To display the footer, click one of the following:

  9. Apply to All—Displays the footer to every slide in the presentation.

    Apply—Displays the footer on just the current slide.

Figure 3.7 shows a presentation with the slide footer data from Figure 3.6.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 You can add the date and time, slide number, and custom text to the slide footer.

Adding Custom Footer Text with a Script

The Footer text box in the Slide tab of the Header and Footer dialog box enables you to add static text that appears in the placeholder in the lower middle of each slide. That’s handy for things such as your company’s name, your own name, a project reference, and so on. However, you might prefer something more dynamic, such as the full pathname of the presentation file. You can do this with a relatively simple VBA script that modifies the Footer object’s Text property.

Listing 3.1 shows one such script.

Listing 3.1 A Script That Inserts a Presentation’s Pathname into the Footer Placeholder

Sub AddPathToFooter()
  Dim txtPath As String

  With ActivePresentation
    ‘ Build the presentation’s pathname
    txtPath = .Path & "\" & .Name
    ‘ Add the pathname to the Slide Master’s footer
    .SlideMaster.HeadersFooters.Footer.Text = txtPath
    ‘ Add the pathname to all the existing slides
    .Slides.Range.HeadersFooters.Footer.Text = txtPath
  End With
End Sub

This procedure stores the active presentation’s folder path (the Path property) and filename (the Name property) in the txtPath variable. This string is then stored in the Footer object’s Text property for both the slide master and the existing slides.

Listing 3.2 shows another example.

Listing 3.2 A Script That Inserts the String "Slide X of Y" into the Footer Placeholder

Sub AddSlideXOfYToFooter()
  Dim s As Slide
  With ActivePresentation
    ‘ Loop through all the slides
    For Each s In .Slides
      ‘ Add the "Slide X of Y" text
      s.HeadersFooters.Footer.Text = "Slide " & s.SlideNumber & _
                      " of " & .Slides.Count
    Next ‘s
  End With
End Sub

This procedure loops through all the slides in the active presentation. For each slide s, the Footer object’s Text property changes to Slide X of Y, where x is given by the Slide object’s SlideNumber property, and Y is given by the Presentation object’s Slides.Count property.

Customizing the Footer Layout

By default, PowerPoint configures the footer with the date and time placeholder in the lower left of the slide, the slide number in the lower right, and the footer text in the lower middle. You can move these placeholders around by first selecting View, Master, Slide Master (you can also hold down Shift and click the Slide Master View icon). Figure 3.8 shows the Slide Master view that appears.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 Use the Slide Master view to customize the footer layout for the presentation’s slides.

Here are the basic techniques you can use to customize the footer:

  • To select a placeholder, click it.

  • To delete a placeholder, select it and then press Delete.

  • To size a placeholder, position the mouse pointer over one of the placeholder’s sizing handles (the circles that appear at the corners and border midpoints). The pointer changes to a two-headed arrow. Click and drag the sizing handle to the position you want.

  • To move a placeholder, position the mouse pointer over one of the placeholder borders (but not over a sizing handle). The pointer changes to a four-headed arrow. Click and drag the placeholder to the position you want.

  • To format a placeholder’s lines and colors, select the placeholder and then select Format, Placeholder.

  • To format the placeholder text, select the text and then select Format, Font. Use the Font dialog box to set the font options you want.

  • To display an object—such as clip art or a text box—on every slide, insert the object into the footer area.

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