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This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the January 8, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Focus on PowerPoint

Oh, and Jones, make that a PowerPoint presentation.

Instinctively, you cringe at your boss’s alliterative addendum. You’ve

labored with this much-touted business tool before: cursed, pounded,

and shaken the infernal box, which whimsically disobeyed your agonizing

programming. You have seen its effect on audiences who laugh in sympathetic

embarrassment as it crashes mid-show. Is Microsoft’s PowerPoint only

magnificent in theory or does it have some workable business benefits?

A free presentation on "How to Use PowerPoint," sponsored

by the Princeton P.C. Users Group, takes place on Monday, January

13, at 7:45 p.m. at the Lawrence Public Library. Paul Kurivchack,

president of the group, focuses on the basics as well as on a series

of specific advanced options.

The Princeton P.C. Users Group is a loose-knit cadre connected by

phone, E-mail, and monthly meetings, which are open to the public.

Kurivchack says the group is made up of PC users running along the

entire range of skills. "Some are business people with defined

needs, many want to just get more out of the machines they’ve got,

and most," he says, "come for a social evening out, accompanied

with some solid learning." For information call.

Computer Magazine refers to PowerPoint as "the category killer."

It accounts for at least 95 percent of the presentation software market,

leaving Harvard Graphics Advanced Presentations, Corel Presentations,

and Lotus with the crumbs. Interestingly, as with many new Microsoft

products, PowerPoint does not seem to have killed the category with

quality.

"There are a host of things PowerPoint does not have the power

to do simply and flawlessly," says Kurivchack. The limited color

and type font selections have proved a popular frustration, particularly

for those who have worked with PhotoShop and its hundreds of color

layers.

Yet while everyone seems to have some favorite PowerPoint crash story,

Kurivchack hastens to add that every presentation holds risks, no

matter what the tools. From flip charts to laptops, few are the presentation

tools this salesman has left untried. Following his boyhood in South

Plainfield, Kurivchack attended Trenton State College, earning an

electrical engineering degree. He soon found a career selling high

tech equipment, including microprocessor-based computers and sensors.

Having worked for several years as a Viacom employee, Kurivchack continues

to troubleshoot and promote for that firm’s productions, including

Nickelodeon, as part of Raritan-based, IBM Global Services. During

one four-year project, he traveled continuously to three different

cities a week, making two presentations a day. He has blended everything

from the computer to dual-dissolving slide projectors, flip charts

to bouncing graphics to musical videos to keep audiences enthralled.

The short learning curve for most simple presentations makes PowerPoint

an excellent tool. However, it holds a very high fanciness-to-risk

ratio. "If your average computer user just wants to give a nice

half-hour show, using a standard type font against one or two background

colors," Kurivchack notes, "PowerPoint typically can be constructed

swiftly and will deliver flawlessly." The trouble comes when the

designer’s creativity grows beyond his patience. Following a basic

checklist of caveats can help prevent your show from becoming one

of those PowerPoint disaster stories:

Got enough power? Basically, any laptop rated above 500

megahertz with 126 to 258K of RAM should prove ample for a standard

30-minute presentation. This excludes many of the older laptops, which

are known to lock-up under the strain in mid-presentation. Once you

move into complex graphics and add some CD background music, it may

take a one gigahertz processor to power the PowerPoint presentation.

Preview for placement. If you place the company logo on

50 slides and with each slide the logo is set in a slightly different

place on the screen, your audience will be driven to distraction.

This jiggling ball, like some poorly attempted cinema-verite film,

will increasingly draw their mental focus away from your theme. This

is a common mistake, and correcting it can be difficult. Kurivchack

suggests that employing a master-slide shortcut allows the user to

imbue all slides with the overlay in the exact same spot. Whatever

method you use, preview your work.

Beware of dazzling. "You should have seen it,"

laughs Kurivchack. "The show had lavish dissolves, solid bullets

points all curtained over with fly-ins. So impressive a creation…so

impossible to understand." The designer announced proudly that

this was to be shown to a group of top lawyers at Paramount Pictures.

Kurivchack dryly replied, "What’s the matter? Don’t you like lawyers?"

Such clever showmanship too often creates a visual overload. Again

the problem of focal point becomes prime. Not only should speed and

complexity be held in tight rein, but the general visual point of

reference ideally should remain relatively fixed from slide to slide.

In any presentation, the designer must constantly remind herself that

the message is the message — not the medium. Convince your audience

with simple, unimpeachable fact that this new product will boost sales

27 percent, and they will invest no matter how brightly the pie chart

glitters.

Attend to attention span. "Our Princeton PC Users

talks typically run 45 minutes to an hour at most," says states

Kurivchack. "Does that give you a clue?" It is no secret to

anyone, except perhaps a few long-winded lecturers, that audiences

seek a few nuggets of information, quickly served, which they can

take away and remember. Not only is brain and verbiage overload a

problem for the listener, but business leaders fear the training time

issue. Training and development for even simple sessions typically

gobbles up at least an entire half day of an employee’s worktime.

In the face of such cost, programs are often cut. In response, Kurivchack

developed his "20-minute lunch seminars," containing one idea

per one session. His students rated it the most successful seminar

they had experienced.

In the end, gremlins can attack even the best laid presentations.

Projector bulbs explode, laptops lock up, or music disks whine slowly

to a halt. The one element that can keep the audience’s focus off

the blunder and back on the important million dollar ad campaign is

you — the presenter. You are the backup and you are the individual

presenting the powerful, urgent message. So take the time and transform

PowerPoint into a trusty tool. But you might want to hone PowerPoint’s

master at the same time. No sense in having you both lock up.

— Bart Jackson


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