Archives for September 2011

How to Remove Backgrounds in PowerPoint 2010

By Geetesh Bajaj

Among PowerPoint 2010’s newest and most magical abilities is the Remove Background option that lets you remove the background from an inserted picture. This can be a great feature if you want to remove a sky, a wall, a backdrop or something else in a photograph so that the slide background shows through within the removed parts of the picture.

Follow these steps to learn how the Remove Background option works:

1. Before you start, we assume you already have a picture on your slide. It helps if the parts of the picture you want to remove are fairly different in color than the rest of the picture, although as you get more proficient with PowerPoint’s Remove Background option, you’ll be able to work with more complicated compositions.

Look at our sample picture, as shown in Figure 1 — you will notice that the color of the sky is  distinctly different than the rest of the picture.




Figure 1: Picture with a fairly distinct background and foreground areas

2. Select the picture to display the Picture Tools Format tab (highlighted in red in Figure 2) of the Ribbon. Activate this tab by clicking on it — locate the Adjust group which includes different options to remove the background from a selected picture. Now click the Remove Background button (highlighted in blue in Figure 2).

Figure 2: Remove Background button within Picture Tools Format tab of the Ribbon

Note:  The Picture Tools Format tab is a contextual tab. Contextual tabs are special tabs in the Ribbon that are not visible all the time — they only make an appearance when you are working with a particular slide object which can be edited using special options.

Once you click the Remove Background button, PowerPoint makes a guess and shows the areas that it ascertains you want to remove (see Figure 3). In addition, note these behaviors:

a. You will see a selection box, indicated by the eight handles shown in Figure 3. Four of the eight handles in the selection box are corner handles. The other four are side handles. You use these handles to resize the selection box.

b. You have the new Background Removal tab on the Ribbon, highlighted in green in Figure 3 — we will explain the options in this tab later within this tutorial.

c. The active slide within the Slides Pane will show a preview of the picture with the background areas removed, as shown highlighted in blue in Figure 3. Don’t worry — nothing is removed as yet — this is just a preview.

Figure 3: Background Removal tab on the Ribbon

Figure 4 shows a zoomed in part of the picture — you can see that a major portion of the picture has been covered with a pink overlay. This pink overlay indicates the background areas to be removed. Only those areas that still show the original colors of the picture will be retained. Unfortunately, in this example you see that the man loses his head and both his palms as a part of the background removal.

Figure 4:
Pink overlaid areas indicate the background selected for removal

At this stage, you have two options. The simpler option is to drag the handles of the selection box to help PowerPoint decide the areas of the picture you want to remove or retain:

d. You remove more areas by resizing the selection box smaller. Click on any of the handles and drag inside the picture area — wait for a while for PowerPoint to add more pink areas to your picture.

e.You retain areas by making the selection box larger. Click and drag any of the handles outwards — again wait for a while thereafter for PowerPoint to reduce the pink areas within your picture.

For simple pictures, this is all you need to do. If you are happy with the results, go ahead and click the Keep Changes button within the Background Removal tab of the Ribbon. Alternatively, you can click anywhere on the slide outside the picture area to remove all pink overlaid background areas of the selected picture.

3.The second, and more involved option is to manually fine-tune the selection using the options within the Refine group of the Background Removal tab that you can see in Figure 5.

Figure 5:
Refine options within the Background Removal tab

These options are explained below:

1.Mark Areas to Keep: Click this button and draw lines by dragging within the areas that you want retained in the picture. Lines you draw will be indicated with a plus label (see Figure 6). You can always undo your last few markings by pressing the Ctrl+Z key.

2.Mark Areas to Remove: Click this button and draw lines by dragging to mark the areas you want to remove from the picture. Lines you draw will be indicated with a minus label (see Figure 6). You can always undo your last few markings by pressing the Ctrl+Z key.

Figure 6: Plus and minus labeled lines indicate the areas to be retained and removed respectively

3. Delete Mark: If you need to remove any of the plus or minus lines, click the Delete Mark button, and click on the line to remove it completely.

You will see how the Refine options influence the selection — all areas to be removed have a pink overlay that is updated dynamically.

4. Now, you can either abandon your selections, or remove the background:

a.If you want to start all over again or abandon the Background Removal process, click the Discard Changes button within the Close group in the Background Removal tab.

b.If you want to go ahead with the Background Removal, click the Keep Changes button in the Background Removal tab of the Ribbon. Alternatively, you can click anywhere on the slide outside the picture area to remove all pink areas of the selected picture.

In the example above in Figure 7, you can see the picture with only the sky area removed. In the picture below it, you can see the same picture with everything removed except the man. Compare it with Figure 1 above and see the difference.


Figure 7: Two variations of the same picture showing the different areas removed

Tip: The Remove Background works with pictures, as explained in this tutorial. In addition, this feature also works with any picture that is a fill for a shape.

About the Author:

Geetesh Bajaj has been designing and training with PowerPoint for 15 years and is a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional.) He heads Indezine (  a presentation design studio and content development organization based in Hyderabad, India. The site attracts more than a million page views each month and has thousands of free PowerPoint templates and other goodies for visitors to download. He also runs another PowerPoint- related site ( that provides designer PowerPoint templates.

Geetesh also is the author of the best-selling book Cutting Edge PowerPoint for Dummies and three subsequent books on PowerPoint 2007 for Windows and one on PowerPoint 2008 for Mac.

Presentation Tales: It’s About the Story, Not the Storyteller

By Jim Endicott

Wedged in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern half of Tennessee is the two-century-old town of Jonesborough. As small towns go, this one is relatively rich in history but its greatest claim to fame isn’t its strategic significance in the Civil War or a famous resident. Jonesborough has distinguished itself as the epicenter of a worldwide revival in storytelling and the National Storytelling Center.

Lest you relegate the art of storytelling to small town libraries on a Saturday morning, a quick visit to their website ( and their Creative Applications pages will broaden your perspective considerably. You’ll discover that the same set of skills that keep a 5-year old glued to a Sunday school teacher are not unlike the balance of spoken versus visual material (augmented by some good personal communication skills) that keep an anxious board of directors or high profile client intently listening to your “story.”

“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon
in a leader’s arsenal.”
Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor, Harvard University

We’d like to believe that the art of delivering a good presentation is unique. After all, we use this software called PowerPoint to capture our thoughts, laptops and electronic projectors blast colorful images on the wall and, oh yeah, all audiences are different too – or are they?

Before you abandon the idea of storytelling for a more traditional approach to presentation delivery, let me challenge your ideas about the presentation process. If I win, you’ll change for the better. If I lose, you get to keep doing things the way you always have.

It’s about the story, not the storyteller

Imagine for a moment that we took the story away from the storyteller. All the very best delivery skills and beautifully illustrated pages could not sweep the audience along for even a minute. In the same way, presentations desperately need a strong underlying story that is appropriate for the audience. It needs to connect with issues, characters and personal interest that represent common ground with the audience.

For lack of a compelling story, many presentations have died a slow and agonizing death.

Strong opening statement (Opening chapter)

In the opening moments of a presentation, an audience will make a quick determination if the presentation they are about to sit through is about them, the presenter or their prowess with the software and technology.

We use the opening moments of a presentation to create clear relevance to an audience, often times through a well-rehearsed opening personal story or challenge statement that engages not only their minds, but hearts as well. Practice this critical time until it flows like water. A good start will also help you through the initial moments of nervousness as you get your bearings with the room and your audience.

Smooth topic transitions (Chapter transitions)

All the topics of a presentation should paint a clear path towards the promises made in your opening comments regarding how this presentation relates to them. When there is little connectivity between subtopics, we run the risk of losing momentum in a presentation or even worse, our audience’s interest.

When rehearsing your presentation, work on how you transition between presentation subtopics so a thread of the storyline is carried through to the next area. Subtopics of a presentation break up a long and lengthy single topic delivery like chapters in a book break up the storyline into more palatable packages of thought.

Well-orchestrated and rehearsed conclusion (Strong ending)

Far too often presentations appear to end not because there is a clear conclusion, but rather it seems the presenter ran out of slides, time, or both. A storyteller works hard so his or her audiences understand the moral of the story. If the whole point of the story is not clearly understood, a good storyteller would be hard pressed to consider the day a success. Yet many presenters fly through the end of their presentations with little regard for a crisp, well-rehearsed conclusion.

Spend 30% of your practice time simply working on the opening and closing 5- to- 8 minutes of your presentation. Pull all the pieces together so the audience understands the main points behind your presentation. If your time is cut short, never compromise the time for your closing comments. Abbreviate the depth of description in the middle of the presentation if necessary, but never the conclusion.

Graphics Aren’t the Story

The pictures in a book are not the story, only a graphical set of supporting images that add greater depth to the spoken word. The pictures create emotion and connection (right-brain imagery) between the audience and storyline. Show them the same old pictures in every story and they will quickly lose their impact. In the same way, using the same stock PowerPoint template and clipart is a fast track to mediocrity.

Imagine if the storyteller simply held up the book and expected the audience to squint and read the pages for themselves. Text-intensive presentations seem to ask the very same thing from their audiences. Just like a children’s book has unique design considerations for the medium, presentation graphics also require unique considerations that center around saying less with more graphically-oriented supporting images. The illustrated story can never upstage the storyteller.

The Illustrated Story

One thing’s for sure, a storyteller uses his or her entire body to communicate a story. Their passion is reflected in how their eyes connect with the audience and “invite” them to participate. Eye contact with a senior staff or potential partner is no less critical. That’s why reading off cue cards or turning and reading from a projected presentation screen are usually the kisses of death for making any kind of relational connection.

A good presenter, like a good storyteller, orchestrates physical distance to create emphasis and greater relational connections. When you are making a key point or telling a personal story that supports your presentation, a step or two towards your audience will raise their attention level and give those words more impact. Don’t overuse that sacred delivery space or it too, will lose its importance.

The evidence is painfully clear: many presenters today fail to effectively connect in a meaningful way with their hopeful audiences. Their overly structured delivery supported by gratuitous use of text and graphics leave them and their audiences wondering if things could ever change.

I would suggest that we could all benefit from a trip to Jonesborough, even for a day, because our biggest obstacles as presenters are not the technology, software or audience — it’s the prevailing paradigms we’ve associated with presenting that hold back average presenters from being truly great.

About the Author:

Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching.  For more information about his firm’s services, visit

Need to Write Your Own Speech? Use These Tips from the Pros

By Dave Zielinski

Just as actors are only as good as the quality of their scripts, speakers can only sway audiences if the words they write prove compelling and credible when spoken. The ability to write persuasively for the ear is the essence of good speechmaking. Yet given how PowerPoint’s bulleted text blurbs have
grown to dominate organizational presentations, it’s also something of a dying art.

While not every speech you write will call for soaring rhetoric or ringing phrases, its success or failure will still rest largely on the underpinnings of strong writing and editing skills. Unlike politicians, CEOs or celebrities, most presenters don’t have professional speechwriters at their beck and call. To help you craft winning presentations, we interviewed some top speechwriters to identify what makes speech scripts memorable, and how to effectively put fingers to the keyboard.

Start from the Finish Line

Most of us have heard this time-honored advice about the beginning phases of writing a speech: Diligently research audience needs and then craft an “elevator speech” or short summary of your main message which the rest of your content can support. Yet like a teenager ignoring Mom’s advice to shut off the Xbox and return to his homework, speakers still tend to ignore those fundamentals.

Pete Weissman, who joined Toastmasters when he worked as a speechwriter in the U.S. Senate, also wrote speeches for the CEO of the Coca-Cola Company and worked in the West Wing of the White House before starting his Atlanta-based speechwriting and communications firm. Weissman says one of the best things you can do to achieve focus before starting the writing process is to pose this question: If a reporter were to write an article about my speech, what would the headline be?

“Throughout the research process you’ll gather a lot more information than you can ever use in your speech, so having that desired headline in mind will help you focus and filter information,” Weissman says.

Similarly, one of the most effective tactics to use in crafting speeches – especially those including PowerPoint slides – is to heed author Stephen Covey’s principle of “starting with the end in mind,” believes Jim Endicott, head of coaching firm Distinction Communication in Newberg, Oregon.

To that end, Endicott has his clients create the last slide in their PowerPoint decks first, asking them to use three key points or less, and not exceed one line of text per point.

“The exercise helps create a laser focus on what you want the audience to think or believe differently at the end of your speech,” Endicott says. “That concluding slide becomes the litmus test for how you measure the rest of your content, ensuring everything in the body of your speech drives toward those concluding points.”

Nick Morgan, president of the speech coaching firm Public Words and author of the book Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma, uses a related method. He tells his clients to begin the speechwriting process by creating a one-sentence summary of what their talk is about.

“Everything that relates to that summary goes into the speech script, and things that don’t are left out,” Morgan says. “I think one trick of great speechwriting is knowing what to leave out. That kind of focus on your key message also is a good way to save time when writing speeches.”

Create Audience-Centric Messages

Weissman says addressing an audience’s pain points – issues that may be keeping them up at night – early in a speech is the best way to corral their attention.

“If you want to hold an audience’s attention, you either must be wildly entertaining, like someone juggling flaming sticks, or be absolutely essential,” Weissman says. “The way to make yourself essential is to address the biggest problem or need of the people sitting in the room, and to mention you’re going to do so at the beginning of your speech.”

For example, if you’re speaking to prospective homebuyers struggling to find mortgages, you might include this early on: “In my experience, I’ve learned a few ways to overcome challenges in the credit market, and that’s what I’ll share with you today.”

Morgan also says the old expression, “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em,” doesn’t hold up well with today’s impatient or skeptical audiences. The saying emerged from World War II and was a good model for briefing soldiers required to stand at attention and listen, but it lacks a key element, he says.

“It should also tell them why you are about to say what you’re going to say,” Morgan says. In other words, audiences want to know why your content is important to them before they will invest time listening to you.

Tricks of the Trade

The pros concur on one of the biggest challenges in speechwriting: Don’t put on the “critic’s hat” too early in the creative process. You’ve likely been there: You’ve finished writing your opening lines, paused to re-read them, then started feverishly editing or deleting because you were unhappy with your efforts. Twenty minutes later you’ve made little progress.

Speechwriters say it’s important to discipline yourself to write a first draft all the way through without getting too self-critical at this stage of the process. All good speechwriting, it seems, is rewriting. And until you have enough words on the screen and have let your copy “go cold” for a sufficient amount of time, you can’t effectively return to start honing, reorganizing or “wordsmithing” your content.

Toastmasters Past International President Gary Schmidt, DTM, is a believer in letting a first draft flow like an opened fire hydrant. Schmidt currently works as public affairs manager for Clackamas County, Oregon, where he writes speeches for public officials. He also is a former speechwriter for two U.S. senators from Oregon.

“If I’m writing an initial draft and think I have to edit a sentence, I just push through instead of stopping to rework it,” says Schmidt. “The key for me is to keep the keyboard moving or I’ll get stuck. Later, I’ll give a first edit to the draft, put it away for a while, then come back to it with fresh eyes and edit again.”

Given the importance of speech openers, Schmidt saves that segment of a speech for last, a practice shared by many of his peers. “I’ll typically write the body of the speech first, write the conclusion and only then come back to the opening,” he says. Having finished the rest of the speech helps him add clarity and punch to the opener.

While it can be easy to think you’re alone in struggling with a blank computer screen, creating good transitions between key points or writing a killer opening, the reality is you have plenty of company. In a recent international survey of frequent presenters conducted by Distinction Communication, speakers were asked, “What do you find to be the most challenging part of creating and delivering a presentation?” The top response was “putting together a good message so my presentation flows and connects well.”

The pros aren’t immune from these same struggles. The difference is they’ve learned to discipline themselves to work through the worry or temporary lack of creative inspiration. “Once I hit upon the big idea or big metaphor for a speech, the rest of the script or message starts to click,” says Weissman. “But it often can feel like I’m wandering around in the dark until I come across that big theme.”

Professional speechwriters also are constantly in research mode, their antennae up for interesting quotes, facts or studies that might be a good fit for a speech, whether it be next week or an unknown event down the road. “I always have a quote file going,” says Schmidt. “I keep an electronic file where I add ideas as soon as they occur to me. I keep clips, links to websites and other information that might be of use in speeches.”

Weissman also has an ongoing idea file and recently began experimenting with EverNote (, an online tool that enables you to “clip” news articles, Web pages, photos, research studies and the like. Everything captured is automatically indexed and made searchable.

“It’s very helpful to ‘virtually’ store all of the interesting bits and pieces you regularly come across,” Weissman says.

Writing for the Ear Versus the Eye

What separates speechwriting from other types of writing is a need to write convincingly for the ear versus the eye. Writing for a listening audience rather than a reading one demands a different approach, requiring that you work harder to create visual images and craft phrases or stories that stand out in the minds of listeners. Writing for the ear often means using shorter sentences, contractions and simpler language, professional speechwriters say. In short, it means being more conversational in your writing style.

“Writing for the ear requires continually honing your sentences, looking to create parallel construction, artful repetition and other techniques that can elevate language so your words become stronger when spoken,” Weissman says.

Schmidt says writing well for the ear takes practice, but studying some of the great speakers – and better yet, acquiring copies of their scripts – can help speed your learning curve. “Toastmasters groups are great for emphasizing that audiences aren’t reading your speech, they are hearing
you speak it,” Schmidt says. “The choice of language, and how you organize content, is different because the ear has to understand it immediately. An audience doesn’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Hey, could you go back and say that again? I didn’t quite understand it.’”

In writing for others as well as himself, Schmidt has learned the importance of writing the way you speak. “The worst sin in speechwriting is not using the kinds of words or phrases you might use in everyday conversations,” he says. “I can think of some presidential speeches that were beautifully written and read, but in the end you were left thinking, ‘That really didn’t sound like him; that’s not the way he speaks.’ That lack of authenticity can diminish your authority as a communicator.”

Developing Messages for PowerPoint

It’s also important to develop content in a way that is “audience-centric instead of speaker-centric,” Endicott says. “The number one thing audiences wonder is, ‘Will this presentation be relevant to my life and the issues that cause me sleepless nights?’ Too often, sales presentations in particular become a 45-minute solution in search of a problem to solve, rather than addressing a prospect’s key problems or needs up front.”

If you’re using PowerPoint or other design software, the first clue as to whether you’ve put your audience first is your presentation’s title slide. Endicott says a bad title slide might read like this example: “Productivity and Efficiency Tools for Your Assembly Line.” A better version would read: “Helping You Drive Higher Productivity & Efficiency from Your Assembly Line.”

Bad visuals can destroy good speaking skills, Endicott says, and less is always more when it comes to using text on PowerPoint slides. Consider applying the seven-second rule to your visual content.

“Never put more on a slide than you can visually process in seven to eight seconds,” Endicott says. “This will cause you to constantly distill down messages to the very essence of what you want to say.”

Other experts stress that PowerPoint should be used as a prompt and not a teleprompter. “Too often the audience is forced to play a horrified game of PowerPoint bingo, wondering if the speaker is going to say every single word on every slide,” Morgan says. “That makes them wonder, ‘If they are going to read every word, I can probably read them faster, so why is the presenter even here?’”

Speakers should strive to include more compelling visuals on slides – thought-provoking photos or well-designed graphics – and rely more heavily on speaker’s notes the audience can’t see to provide spoken context and connective tissue between slides, Morgan says.

“Imagine what a movie or a TV show would be like if they simultaneously ran the script down the side of the screen – ‘here’s an explosion’ – like you often see with all of the speech text included on PowerPoint slides,” Morgan says. “It would destroy your enjoyment level. So why would you do that in a speech?”

Endicott says most plane crashes happen on takeoff or landing, and the same holds true for speeches – particularly the landings. “Most presentations today end simply because the speaker runs out of slides, not because they’ve taken time to craft a well-conceived, well-articulated closing,” he says.

Speechwriting is often the most overlooked and undervalued part of the speechmaking process. But if you get that important first step right, you’ll be amazed at how often the rest of your speaking experience falls into place.

Reprinted from The Toastmaster magazine

Audience Trust: It’s Your to Lose

By Greg Owen-Boger

Earlier this week I was coaching a senior executive on a very high-stakes presentation. He told me he wanted to be perceived as trustworthy. Setting trustworthiness as a goal is common among our clients, so there was nothing new about it in this situation.

But as the discussion went on, he asked me what he could do to ensure that his audience saw him as worthy of its trust.

How to Build Trust

His question had me stumped for a bit. Just what exactly CAN someone do to be perceived as trustworthy? Words won’t do it. Saying “trust me” is an engraved invitation NOT to. You can’t stand a certain way, or gesture or smile in a way that would build trust. Presenting solid data is certainly a good and necessary thing to do, but it alone won’t build trust.

Then it occurred to me.

“Their trust is yours to lose,” I said.

I went on to explain that this particular audience is there because they already trust him. They wouldn’t bother if that weren’t true.

So rather than thinking about ways to build trust we should think of ways to maintain the trust we already have. We do that by being truthful, genuine, smart, and attentive to an audience’s needs and views.

We do it by looking them in the eye and really seeing them. We do it by creating excellent visual aids with accurate data. We do it by answering their questions and concerns with complete transparency, even when the data isn’t in our favor.

Finally, we do it by putting their needs ahead of our own.

And the nice thing is, when we do these things, the trust they already have in us grows.

About the Author:

Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995 as a camera man, trainer, project manager and now as an account manager. Trained in management and the performing arts, he brings a diverse set of skills and experience to the organization. He also manages the technology behind Turpin’s eLearning courses.

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