Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cure for Blank Page (Slide) Syndrome

When you are churning out several presentations (and/or marketing materials) in a year—or especially in a month—it is easy to get frustrated trying to find new concepts, new ways to show your ideas. Starting with a blank slide or page will not motivate you. You need to refocus and get inspired.

I used to flip through graphic design books to find interesting ways to show information. Now the Internet has made it easier to find inspiration. In Google, I type in my concepts or keywords and click on the Images tab to see what others have done. (Great artists steal as Picasso once said.) I check stock image sites and browse through their collections. At Get My Graphic, we encourage our users to enter keywords into our Advanced Search field to find a variety of images and graphic metaphors to communicate ideas in new ways and add visual interest to presentations.

Inputting the proper keywords is essential to find the most concise range of images. Brainstorm with your team to come up with keywords related to your concepts and use that list when searching for graphics.

For inspiration, I've included a few of Get My Graphic’s latest visual metaphors below. These graphics are fully editable in PowerPoint 2007 or higher. You can change colors, elements, and text to fit your concepts, themes, and style guides. I included keywords that you can use to find these graphics and many others. Play around and learn new ways to show the same old information, and quickly fill up that blank page. Give your audience different ways to view your ideas—and remember them.

Puzzle Graphic 
Use a puzzle to show parts of your organization, process, or business plan coming together to work in harmony toward a solution. This graphic can depict your company partnering with another contractor. The icons can represent an oversight committee (binoculars), security team (lock), web programmers (computer), or whatever concepts work for your information.
Keywords: cooperation, synergy, teamwork, unify, interact, process

Pie Graphic (Segmented Chart)
Use this pie graphic to group segments of your concept: highlight steps in a process, breakout corporate departments, focus on individual leadership roles, etc. Switch out the icons or use the included icons to indicate remote communications (tablet), information (book), observation (binoculars), or anything else you can relate to these images.
Keywords: group, allocation, division, arrange, organize, categorize

Process Graphic 
Use this process graphic to show information being stored in countrywide databases, production plants influencing the country’s economy, sales teams communicating with clients in the United States, and many other concepts about parts flowing into and from a core element.
Keywords: global, flow chart, communication, interaction, influence
Venn Diagram 
Use this Venn diagram to show a convergence of elements such as departments forming a university, parts producing a product, job skills making up the perfect candidate, or components that merge together to create an even better component.
Keywords: convergence, cooperation, synthesis, unite, bring together

Cross Section Diagram 
Use this graphic type as a metaphor for digging deeper into your company’s issues, drilling for funding, excavating corporate resources, mining for information, or any concept that requires extensive research or investigation. The icons can represent floor managers (clipboard), accounting (line chart), sales activity (monitor line), web traffic (laptop), security (lock), analysis team (binoculars), etc.
Keywords: research, hierarchy, analyze, mining, excavate, phases, process

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Save Time Making Your Presentations, Use These PowerPoint Tools

At Rick Altman's Presentation Summit, I've met many professionals in the presentation industry who are helping to make presenters' lives easier and their presentations better. One of them is Microsoft MVP Steve Rindsberg of PPTools, who saved my webinar—and my sanity—a few weeks ago.

At the end of February, I had just finished prepping my presentation for PresentationXpert's webinar series. My slides were finished (just in time) when I received the request to resize my presentation from 4:3 to 16:9 proportions for the webinar. I was certain I'd be up to the wee hours of the morning resizing my slides and fixing any issues with the graphics. Then my lovely, smart wife suggested I download Steve's Resize tool. I was able to re-proportion my presentation in seconds with only minor cleanup to the slides. It saved me hours and gave me time to relax—a foreign concept in our world. ;)

I was so excited with the ease of using Steve's product that I wanted to interview him for our blog to learn more about his other PowerPoint tools.

You are the owner of PPTools and creator of some of the most innovative add-ins to help PowerPoint users get the most out of this software. What led you to start this type of company? 
In all honesty, I’d have to say sloth. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but sloth is its daddy. I get bored easily, especially when I have to perform the same set of repetitive steps over and over. Two, maybe three times is about my limit. After that, I start looking for a way of making the computer do the grunt work instead of me. If it seems like the kind of grunt work other people are likely to be bored with too, I figure I have an audience for a PowerPoint add-in. Once the add-ins are in the user’s hands, they always come up with great ideas for expanding/improving them. That’s one reason all the add-ins have free fully-functional demos. Users will try them out, then send email along the lines of “Hey, great tool. It would be perfect if only it could ….” And I have an idea for a new feature. And so they grow.

What tools built into PowerPoint do many users overlook but that you find essential when creating slides and/or graphics? 
I still create slides and graphics fairly often in PowerPoint but I’m probably the wrong person to ask this question of, since my main interest is finding tools that AREN’T built into PowerPoint, but should be. And then building them. Still … I’d say the most overlooked tools would be the format painter tools (especially the Pick Up and Apply Object Style eyedroppers, the ones that MS hides until you customize them onto the QAT or a ribbon), the selection pane, and the Combine Shapes tools.

Your products include tools that resize presentations, export slides and presentations as high-resolution images, merge data from spreadsheets, and many other useful add-ins. What tool is your most popular? And what tool do most recommend for presenters? 
At the moment, Merge is the most popular of the PPTools add-ins, but nearly anyone who creates presentations can save time by using one or another of the StarterSet add-in tools. And hey, StarterSet is free. Or for a few bucks more, you can enable a bunch more of its handy tools. And ShapeStyles is like format painter on megasteroids. Anyone who needs to produce slides that match branding specs or who needs to quickly fix up slides from multiple users/sources so that they match a set of standards is working far too hard if they don’t have ShapeStyles.

Is there an add-in you are developing or about to release that you can share with our readers? 
I’m working on a highly user-configurable graphics library add-in that’ll work for both individual customers and at the enterprise level. And on a kind of reporting tool that’ll tell you what media files are included in your presentation, how large they are, whether they’re linked or embedded and a host of other useful information.

As a Microsoft MVP, do you have any advice for presenters on how to improve their slides? 
Visit the sites of my other PowerPoint MVP colleagues! Buy their books. They’re the ones I turn to to learn this kind of thing.
Those are just my top five. I can’t list them all, but there’s a fairly complete list of current and past PowerPoint MVPs at http://www.mvps.org/links.html#PowerPoint And of course my newest discovery: http://www.billiondollargraphics.com.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Professional Graphics Secrets for Non-Designers

You can now view my graphics webinar originally featured as part of PresentationXpert's webinar series.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Most Valuable PowerPoint Feature that You’re Not Using by Rick Altman

Today, we have a special guest blogger and presentation expert—Rick Altman, the man behind the Presentation Summit and author of Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck and How You Can Make Them Better. If you want to learn more amazing and helpful PowerPoint tricks and best presentation practices, then check out the Presentation Summit this year in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, from Sept. 22-25. It's a must for any presenter!


The best-kept secret of modern versions of PowerPoint? That’s a no-brainer, as I experience it almost every time I interact with users. When I am brought into an organization to consult on presentation skills, most in the room don’t know about it. When I give webinars, I can practically hear their oohs and aahs when I show it. And at the Presentation Summit, where 200 of the most earnest and passionate presentation professionals gather each year, I routinely get many dozens of users in a room producing a collective gasp.

I refer to the Selection and Visibility Pane, introduced in Version 2007 and largely overlooked by most users of 2007, 2010, and probably by the few who have tested the waters with 2013. I attribute this to two things: 1) This function doesn’t actually create anything; and 2) With lower-resolution displays, the icon shrinks to the size of a pinhead and most don’t even see it.

Let’s reverse this discouraging trend right now, shall we? The S&V task pane addresses several of the most frustrating aspects of the software over the last decade. It deserves your undying love and devotion. Here are three big reasons why.

Select Objects on a Crowded Slide 
The simplest virtue of S&V is the ease it affords you in selecting objects that are hard to reach with a mouse or even invisible to you. When objects overlap one another, reaching the ones on the bottom of the pile has traditionally required contortions, such as temporarily cutting or moving the ones on top or pressing Tab until you think the selection handles maybe kinda sorta are around the desired object.

Those headaches are all in your rearview mirror now, as the figure above shows. With S&V, you can select objects by clicking on their names in the task pane, bringing much-needed sanity to what should be a menial task. Once selected, you can do anything to an object that you otherwise would have. As I said earlier, this pane doesn’t really do anything except make it easier for you to do what you want.

Rename objects 
The screen image above might look unusual to you because you had never laid eyes on S&V before, but there is another cause for a raised eyebrow: Circle in the front? Circle in the back? Where did those names come from? Most of you know what kind of names PowerPoint assigns to objects because you have been scratching your heads over them for the better part of a decade. Rectangle 23…TextBox 9…AutoShape 34.

Historically, PowerPoint has been maddeningly obtuse in its naming scheme and you’ve never been able to do anything about it except curse. But with S&V, you can assign names to your objects that actually make sense. You’d probably do better than Circle in the middle, and that’s the point: you get to decide what to call your objects.

Renaming objects becomes more than just a cute screenshot opportunity when you have complex animation to create. PowerPoint’s obtuse object names are duplicated in the Animation task pane and with ambitious animation needs, you could find yourself drowning in a sea of obtusity. With Rectangle 23, 24, and 25, which one enters first, which one moves to the center of the slide, and which one fades away? Arrghh!

Thanks to S&V, you can do much better. You can name objects according to their appearance or purpose and have a much easier time creating animations for them.

Case in Point: Solavie, the skin care product that offers formulations for six different Earthly environments. To highlight these formulations, the six icons in the lower-right corner move and morph into the six photos across the top, after which each string of text cascades in. So lots of identical shapes doing similar things, one after the other—imagine pulling that off with typical PowerPoint names. But the image above shows how powerful object renaming can be. Each object is named according to its environment type, making the animation process orders of magnitude easier.

Hide and Unhide 
Sometimes it is not enough to be able to name objects. Sometimes you just have to get them the heck out of the way. When you are working on the final parts of a 45-second animation, it becomes incredibly tedious to have to start from the beginning each time you want to test it. You need to be able to start from the middle or near the end.

Prior to S&V, if you needed to temporarily remove an object, you had to cut objects to the Clipboard and work quickly before you accidentally send something else there. Or work up some bizarre strategy of duplicating a slide, doing your business there, then moving those objects back to the original slide.

Now we have an elegant and simple solution: make an object invisible. The screen image above shows the beauty and the genius of hiding objects, as the tail end of the Solavie animation gets the attention that it deserves. As you can see, when you hide an object, it leaves the animation stream, making late-stage testing a piece of cake. Here, just the final two environment types are still visible. The earlier four are still there, just temporarily hidden.

Selection & Visibility lives on the Home ribbon in the Editing group. PowerPoint ribbons have a bad habit of changing right when you might want something on them, and that contributes to the anonymity of a small icon that is there one minute and gone the next. Indeed, there is no way to predict when you might want to use S&V. Creating, inserting, designing, animating—using S&V cuts across all contexts of PowerPoint operation.

So it’s helpful to know about its keyboard shortcut of Alt+F10. There’s no mnemonic that you can apply to that shortcut—it’s as easy to forget as the function it belongs to.

So you just have to commit it to memory. When you’re in the throes of creation, just press Alt+F10. Pretty good chance that little task pane will come in handy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How to Pick Colors for Your Next Project

Last week, I gave a webinar through PresentationXpert. Before and during my presentation, the audience was encouraged to ask questions, and I was surprised at the number of questions concerning color choice.

However, these concerns shouldn't have surprised me. Color is an important element of a presentation. Not only can color affect mood, it can communicate your brand and set the tone for your presentation and marketing materials. Color is one of the first details chosen when setting up your corporate logo, website, letterhead, and presentation templates. Finding colors that work well together—and fit with your message—can be a challenge even for seasoned designers.

Before I give you suggestions on how to choose colors, let's review the color wheel:

When speaking with a designer about colors, here are terms to help you communicate your color needs more accurately:
  • Hue – where on the color wheel the color appears
  • Saturation – the intensity of vibrancy of the color
  • Value – the lightness or darkness of the color
  • Analogous – colors that appear next to one another on the color wheel like blue, green, and yellow
  • Complementary – colors that are across from one another on the color wheel like red and green
Analogous colors are often the better choice when developing your color palette because complementary colors vibrate when next to one another. Have you ever seen a website with a blue background and red text? Is it inviting? Does it make you want to read more? Or does it give you a headache?

So, how do you determine which colors to use?

As with designing a graphic, you need to determine your primary objective when choosing a color. If you are trying to win new business with a presentation, then integrate your potential client's colors into the template. People like to see themselves, especially their businesses, in your presentation. Seeing something recognizable in your presentation promotes feelings of trust and partnership. Consider if the two slides below were being presented to the U.S. Army. Which slide communicates that you understand this client?

On the flip side, if your goal is to brand your company, then use your corporate colors. I know you may not like those colors or are probably sick of using the same colors, but think about this: When you picture a Coke ad what color do you primarily see? If you saw a color other than red—maybe purple—how would that make you feel?
Coke and other heavily branded corporations infuse their ads and marketing materials and packaging with their company colors. Using these colors is almost as important as their logos or font choices in helping their customers instantly recognize their product.

What if you need to choose colors to complement your brand or maybe you are creating a new brand, how do you find the right colors?

Colors evoke different feelings in your audience and confer different connotations based on subject matter and culture. See how unappealing this pie slice becomes when the wrong color is applied.

Below is a list of colors and their meanings specific to many Western cultures. Keep these in mind when choosing colors to help properly convey your message.
  • Red = empowering, bold (Red needs to be used sparingly. In studies, it has been shown to raise blood pressure and increase respiration rates, which will negatively impact mood.)
  • Orange = warmth, happiness
  • Yellow = happiness, energy
  • Green = balance, refreshing
  • Blue = relaxing, cool
  • Violet = comforting
  • White = pure, cleanliness
  • Black = authoritative, shows discipline
I've found blue and green to be the safest colors when creating a new color scheme. Although, even I need inspiration when creating a template of colors with primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Check out these sites to find that perfect color combination for your next project and colors to complement your corporate ones.