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Had You Seen This, You Would Have Loved this Slide:

 Some Alternatives to PowerPoint Fowl-ups. 


by Bernard Gorman (above)


As professionals, we often have to attend conferences where presenters typically regale us with PowerPoint sideshows. When we were kids, we enjoyed our Cousin Arnoldís 35 mm. Kodacolor (tm) shows of his sojourns in Delaware. However, decades later, the thrill has worn off. Nowadays, like it or not, the PowerPoint shows may be de rigueur (or rigor mortis) for professional survival. Weíll be using the term "PowerPoint" (PPT) generically; as nearly every office suite has something compatible with Microsoftís (TM) PowerPoint.


Letís consider a typical scenario in which a presenter composes a PPT presentation, saves it to a computer or flashdrive, and then tries to inflict this gift of wisdom on a (usually) captive audience. (Hey Don, Are you listening?) If all goes well, photons emerge from a VGA projector, bounce off a screen, reflect back to our visual systems, and illuminate whatís left of our minds.

However, letís look at a scenario we encounter about 10% of the time. In this situation, thereís some kind of glitch. For example, the file couldnít be read by the software; the projector wouldnít work with the computer; or an important multimedia clip was missing from the presenterís otherwise brilliant Steven Spielberg, Ken Burns-inspired production. A presenter has several choices at these points: 1) Cursing, screaming, and blaming someone else; 2) Running away, never to be seen again; 3) Apologizing profusely, or 4) Using creativity by giving a great presentation Ė as in the days before PPTís were invented. Letís entertain some other, less extreme, possibilities. Letís break out of some of our traditional mindsets.

Avoiding Blivits: There are several definitions of "Blivitsí (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blivit). One that we grew up with was, "Putting 10 pounds of stuff in a five-pound bag." Weíll use the latter definition here. Many presenters love to place every video clip, every sound bite, and every hyperlink into their presentations. Admittedly, this sometimes makes a highly informative and entertaining show. However, users often fail to realize that there are two ways to include material in a PPT file.

The first method for adding multimedia content is called "embedding". In this method, you can take small pictures (JPEG or PNG) or brief video clips (AVI) or audio files (WAV format) and include them in one large PPT file. The key words here are "large" and "small." By trading off a little bit of screen resolution and audio fidelity, itís not too hard to compact audio and graphic material. However, even the most compact video files often take up several megabytes per minute. If the files are too large, they simply wonít work. Even when they do work, the overall PPT may be too large. As a result, PPTís load very slowly and they may be too large to send as internet attachments. There are some software applications that allow you to embed more compact videos (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hChq5drjQl4 or http://www.labnol.org/software/insert-youtube-video-in-powerpoint-presentations/5393/) but theyíre rather complicated.

The second method is called "linking". Text and screen directions, such as transitions and page formatting take up very little storage space, while graphic, video, and audio files are large. Until Microsoft Office 2010, the default method for most PPT programs was to keep the text information in one main PPT file but to provide external links for the multimedia material, either on the computer or on hyperlinks to websites,. This method is very efficient but if the multimedia files or the hyperlinks are not available on the computer used to make the presentation, viewers will be greeted with gloriously blank, silent screens. Link, if you must, but be sure that the material is one the computer youíre using for the presentation. If you have upgraded to Office 2010, then the default method is to embed graphics, audio, and video into the main file. However, these files are fairly large.

Microsoft has developed a clever method called "Package for CD". In this method, the main file, all the linked files, and a freeware Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer (but no party hats or corkscrews!) are packaged together on a Compact Disk or a flashdrive. The viewer is not necessarily the same viewer as used by the presenting computer. The resulting packages may be large; in fact, they may be too large to be sent over the internet. However, all your "stuff" will be together.

PowerPoint without PowerPoint: PowerPoint provides a great tool for organizing material for presentations. However, it might not be the most convenient tool for viewing them. Nearly every computer platform (Microsoft, Apple, Linux, and Android) has some version of Adobeís Acrobat Reader or Foxitís PDF Reader. Acrobat files are highly compressed and, as the files extension, "PDF" (Portable Document Format) implies, theyíre highly portable. Itís quite easy to export (or "print") PPTís to PDFís. So, if you have a PDF reader, you can use it as your presentation software. You certainly can present text and picture in very high resolution. However, unless you have the full and fairly expensive Adobe Acrobat, you wonít be able to easily embed sound and video material.

(http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/tutorials/flashpdf/). Until we produce hundreds of pages, most PDF files remain small enough to be sent as email attachments. If you can bear doing things the "old-fashioned way," with text, talk, and pictures, and you donít need jazzy transitions or videos, you might consider the PDF option.

Guess What?: Slides are Pictures. Remember that in days of yore (which is a small suburb of Neverland) we made slide shows by taking individual slides and arranging them in the tray or "carousel" of an overheated projector. Except for the fact that they could warm a chilly garage, I never liked the projectors. However, the notion of putting individual slides in order is very attractive. Letís use PowerPoint to compose our presentations but letís export to the presentations to a series of ordered JPEG files. All sorts of electronic devices can display JPEGís as slide shows. Among them are Blu-ray (BD) and DVD players, LCD and LED TVís, digital projectors, and smart phones. In fact, with a large-screen TV, you donít need a computer or projector at all.

There are many slideshow software programs, ranging from freeware (Picasa; http://picasa.google.com/) to fairly expensive programs (Magix Photostory; www.magix.com) Many of them can mix audio, still photos, and video clips with a wide variety of transitions into beautiful (or bizarrely garish) productions. Many of these programs produce shows that can be burnt to discs and shown on DVD players. As a good DVD player can be purchased for less than $50, you can avoid using a computer by brining a DVD player to plug into a large-screen TV or a digital projector.

HDMI technology adds a new wrinkle to sideshows. Many new laptops, some tablets, and many DVD and Blu-ray players have HDMI outputs. Better yet, many new models of digital projectors allow HDMI inputs. Here too, you can carry your show on much more than a computer of flashdrive,

Given all these alternatives, learn to be a good Boy Scout who knows how to "be prepared." If you wish, you can wear short khaki pants, a campaign hat, and a neckerchief, but this will only work for some audiences. If you fumble in your presentations, donít say that we didnít warn you.

Carry on, Scouts!



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