Archives for May 2013

How Much Time Does it Take to Build Presentations?

Here are some complaints I hear frequently from presentation designers:

 “Typically, when I craft a presentation that is effective and visually appealing clients complain that I take too long.”

 “When I am faithful to a specific budget, viewers say that it was no fun having to view all the slides, occasionally having to pinch themselves to stay awake.”

 “When I develop a presentation on time, clients complain that it cost them too much money to meet the deadline.”

What does it take to complete a successful presentation ? By corporate standards, you can be certain that you have created an outstanding presentation when you used a well-defined process that enabled you to:

  • Finish on schedule
  • Within the anticipated cost
  • At the quality required by your clients
  • While effectively using your assigned resources (i.e., money, people, and technology).

If you know anyone who is doing all of this well, call me.

Multiple Presentation Hats

Seriously speaking, given today’s stern economic conditions, I am assuming that many of you are wearing design and project management hats. How do you approach this challenge, especially if you handle the design of complex presentations which include different people with different temperaments, schedules and the right to be wrong?

Your first responsibility as the manager of a complex presentation project must be to ensure that you have control over at least one of the three sides of the triangle shown in Figure 1. This is the most important piece of advice in this post.

Figure 1. Components of a successful presentation

Visualize your clients holding the sides they wish to control. Your responsibility is to tell them what must be done to balance the triangle. For instance, if clients wish to control the quality and cost, then you must be given full responsibility for the schedule. If they are holding the quality side, then you can make recommendations for the cost and time. If your clients give you a fixed schedule, a fixed timeline, and fixed specifications for quality, it will be close to impossible to finish the project well and sane.

In this post, let’s look only at the time element in the project management illustration presented in Figure 1, or the development schedule.

Industry development ratios

Forecasting an optimal schedule in presentation development becomes traumatizing because, typically, clients impose pressure; given today’s improved technology, ongoing competition, and corporate thirst for success, stakeholders and audiences expect you to deliver presentations as fast as you can say PowerPoint.

The inevitable question we hear is: How many hours does a designer need to produce one hour worth of presentation content? The answer is simple but distressing: it depends. Development time is a measure of the content and objectives provided by the client, the amount of visual sophistication required, the designers’ skills, financial resources, etc.

However, an “it depends” answer is rarely satisfying to clients. So we look more deeply and inspect other fields that are similar to presentation design and take the concept of development ratios seriously.

Practitioners in the instructional design field advertise development ratios based on certain variables that are likely to impact development time. We can learn from them. For instance, some instructional designers claim they can develop 15 content screens in 3 minutes, provided that the content offered by subject matter experts is already in a form appropriate for presentation delivery.

Other developers report the ability to produce a one-hour presentation in a 40-hour week. Others claim they need one hour of research for each minute of presentation time, plus approximately one hour for each slide in a presentation (so for a 20-slide, one-hr presentation, you would forecast 80 hours).

Yet others warn that for a complex multimedia-based presentation, featuring custom graphics and video, production can reach up to 800 hours. Results of studies in the instructional design field vary. Many authoring tool providers market development ratios that range from as few as 10 hours to as many as 1,200 hours for producing one hour of content.

If you do not trust development ratios as recommended by industry standards, there are a few other methods for time estimation.

Ratios by similar projects

If you have been developing presentations for some time, one of the easiest ways to forecast schedule is to compare your current presentation project with similar ones. For instance, you could estimate that if a presentation with 6 objectives and 50 slides took 100 hours to develop, another one with 3 objectives and 25 slides would take roughly 50 hours (or slightly longer if you stopped for lunch).

Such a comparison, called analogous estimating, may be inaccurate because rarely are any two presentations alike. Use analogous estimating only as a starting point in your conversations with clients/stakeholders just to give them an idea of how long something might take.

Using formulas to establish ratios

If you are fond of numbers and math, you can use parametric modeling to forecast schedule. Parametric modeling involves the use of variables that describe certain activities involved in a project and formulas can get fancy. For instance, you identify variables included in presentation design (e.g., level of expertise, administrative work, content research) and assign a weight to each of these factors.

Then you select a task from your presentation design process – let’s say “agenda slides.” You estimate how long it will take – let’s say two hours. Then you apply the weight factors to achieve an even more accurate project time. Check out more details about parametric modeling in Lou Russell’s book Project Management for Trainers.

Bottom-up calculations

Some designers are more comfortable estimating time by breaking down the project flow into deliverables and forecasting how long each phase will take (see Table 1). This process, known as work breakdown structure (WBS), is useful because it enables you to estimate time for tangible tasks rather than forecast the schedule for larger, more generic milestones.

The drawbacks of the bottom-up calculation method are that it is time-consuming and often designers either forget to include a task, or underestimate how long a step will take. Also, tasks in a presentation project are rarely carried out sequentially. This makes it harder to break down certain steps but it can be a useful starting point in time estimations.


In Conclusion

We’ve looked at different techniques for estimating time and the amount of hours necessary for producing one hour of presentation content. I would love to hear how you estimate your own presentation design timelines.

Regardless of the method you use in forecasting, the word to remember is risk. Risks are caused by all other components identified in the project management chart: process, cost (money), quality, and resources (people and technology). Becoming familiar with the other project management components will help you in determining a sound risk management strategy.

Donny Osmond used to sing: “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” This statement, while rhythmic and refreshing, does not hold true in presentation development. One unidentified risk may indeed spoil the whole schedule.

In subsequent articles, I’ll address the remaining components of the project management chart so you can see how they may plague your carefully set timelines.

As an ending thought regarding development time and schedule, a healthy habit when estimating time is to post on your wall calendar a reminder of a ruthless truth: “Dates in this calendar are closer than they appear.”

About the Author:

Dr. Carmen Simon is a cross between Tony Robbins and makeover specialist Robert Irvine. She works as a psychologist at Rexi Media,, where she consults with top executives on improving their presentation skills and is a leader in the virtual presentation movement.

A Review of PowerPoint 2013: Missing the Bullseye

In regarding the new version of PowerPoint, several cliches come to mind, including two in particular. Together, they make up quite a mixed metaphor:

Too many chefs in the kitchen who fixed that which was not broken.

There is nothing wrong with the new version and Microsoft’s development team did not add any terrible bugs to it. There is a healthy sampling of new features, including a few that can legitimately help with presentation creation and delivery. The interface has not been changed so radically as to be unsettling, and collaborative teams can work between versions 2010 and 2013 peacefully.

While several niceties have been added, however, Microsoft did not address the longest-standing issues with the software, and this product comes up short with two important demographics: 1) advanced users who require better access to the tools they use most often; and 2) users who need help avoiding Death by PowerPoint.

In fairness, it might be asking too much of software to address the human condition and the things that come over people as they are asked to perform the scariest of activities — speaking in public. But I sure wish that Microsoft had tried. More on these issues soon, but first, here is a tour of the efforts that Microsoft did undertake.


Those who team up on presentation projects will enjoy Office’s new roots taken up in the Cloud. Slide decks can be created and saved to SkyDrive locations, invitations can be issued to others, multiple users can work at the same time, and comments can be made and viewed by all concerned.

The new Present Online feature enables you to show slides to a group, as well, making it easier for teams to critique a presentation remotely or to give mini webinars. Present Online is a nice evolution of the old Broadcast function.


PowerPoint 2013 supports the appeal of wide-screen presenting by making it the default for new slides. It also has tweaked the actual sizes to make slides more print-friendly, and above all, has reduced the risk of distortions that tend to befall imported photos and graphics during conversion from one aspect ratio to another.

New guides make the visual alignment of objects easier, and to many, this stands as one of the most compelling new features. While the Alignment tools are the more precise options, they are often made difficult to reach by the context-sensitive interface. But with just your mouse, you can more easily align and evenly distribute objects. As Figure 1 shows, you can even distribute objects across the slide using visual alignment.

Figure 1

Also, guidelines can be colored, locked, and distinguished between permanent guides (that you might want to place on a slide master) and temporary ones (that you would choose to add to a slide).

A color picker has been added to the interface, and while not as useful as it could be (not so easy to sample from outside of slide objects and doesn’t report the color values), it’s a big step in the right direction.

Those who use motion paths will appreciate being able to see a preview of an object’s final destination. This is done with a ghosted image that appears on screen, as you can see in Figure 2. Most advanced users would have preferred a dialog box that offers pixel coordinates, but this is an improvement.


Figure 2

Also on the subject of animation, you can now select an object in the middle of a sequence and test the animation from that point. This is easier than using Selection & Visibility to temporarily hide objects that appear earlier in an animation sequence.

Task panes have seen wider adoption as many dialog boxes have been converted into docked panes. You can still pull them from their docked positions if you want to float them.

Finally, there are a few new transitions and a couple of previously-abandoned animations now resurrected. Peel and Page Curl are the most interesting among them, allowing us to simulate the turning of a page. I sincerely hope this does not spawn a whole generation of gratuitous page-turning transitions.


Heading this list is an overhauled and redesigned Presenter View, tuned for touch and tablet control. This will be great for webinars as virtual presenters can use Presenter View on a secondary monitor to keep many more tools at the ready. It’s also noteworthy that you can access it even if you are just on your notebook PC practicing in a hotel room. Press Alt+F5 to see the new Presenter View at any time. Figure 3 shows its overhauled interface.

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Figure 3

The right-click popup menu that lives in the lower-left corner during slide shows has been redesigned. You can now zoom in on portions of the screen and see a thumbnail display of all slides in the deck for quick navigation. It is also repeated in Presenter View and you can see it in Figure 3.

Video export receives a second format choice of MPG-4. In fact, it is now the default choice over WMV, as it should be.

Where’s the Beef?

This would be a perfectly fine list of improvements, tweaks, and refinements, if it were not for the fact that Microsoft seems to have ignored the wish list of so many of its users. Based on my surveys of clients and colleagues, here are the issues with the program whose lack of attention will not be well received.

Better Animation

Arguably the most important collection of tools in the program, Microsoft has essentially allowed Animation to lie fallow since version 2003, as the list of requested improvements continues to grow:

User-definable defaults

Styles that can be defined and applied

Better keystroke access

Numeric control over motion

Directional control with Fade

And perhaps the most glaring omission, animation support for tables

It is little wonder to me why the reputation of the Animation engine suffers, given Microsoft’s apparent neglect of it. The boomerangs and spirals are the things that people remember the most, instead of the smart sequencing of complex objects that could make the presenter a better storyteller. Microsoft does not seem to give much priority to it and that is perhaps why some organizations actually ban all use of it instead of encouraging its employees to use it properly.

Fewer Mouse Clicks

At our Presentation Summit conference and in visiting with clients, I have a front-row seat to the type of effort PowerPoint users make. I watch them work hours a day on projects and am witness to the level of mouse-clicking they must undertake. In an age where so many workers are at risk of repetitive-stress injuries, it is inconceivable that a component of the most prominent software appliance in the world, Microsoft Office, does not offer the kinds of tedium-reducing measures that have been part of software development since the mid-1990s.

Experienced PowerPoint users know what they want to do; they know which tools perform which functions. Those tools should be right at their fingertips. There is just no justification for the kind of mousing and clicking that PowerPoint requires in order to perform basic tasks. Animation remains the most telling case in point: if your preferred animation choice is a one-second fade set After Previous, count the tasks required to make that happen:

1. Add the animation
2. Activate the Animation Ribbon
3. Click in the Start dropdown
4. Change On Click to After Previous
5. Click Duration (no tab control from Start)
6. Change .5 to 1.

If the software allowed us to establish our own defaults, steps 2-6 would be eliminated, instead of required for every single animation. I know about the Animation Painter, which can apply animation from an existing object; it’s not enough. I know about the Zoom slider and the Fit Slide button; why don’t we have marquee zooming after all these years? How come Word has allowed its users to assign a custom keystroke to any command within the program since Office 97 and PowerPoint has yet to offer it?

In my view, creating better access to the tools that users use most often trumps any new feature the development team might contemplate.

Better Handouts

The biggest scourge facing presentations today? While that question could spawn hours of conversation (and does, regularly, at our annual conference), I’m going to boil it down to one thing: people are asking their slides to perform the roles of the visuals during a presentation and the handouts to be distributed afterward.

In the eyes of many who comment on the industry, this is one of the worst strategies to adopt. It requires users to create deficient handouts or it requires them to overbloat their slides, resulting in certain Death by PowerPoint. Microsoft has heard from prominent commentators for many years now that it needs to create a dedicated, intelligent handout function, because encouraging users to print slides often makes the situation worse, not better.

And yet, the Handout function in PowerPoint 2013 underwent no change whatsoever. The inference to be drawn here is that Microsoft continues to believe that the best way to create handouts is to reprint slides, even though you won’t find a single authority in the field who would agree with that. Some would argue that PowerPoint partners with Word or OneNote for that purpose, but I believe that is an unacceptable solution. PowerPoint cannot be allowed to ignore one of the core tenets of the presentation experience; it must evolve in how it approaches the task of creating handouts and leave behinds.

The irony is that a better solution exists within the software, and I have written about it on several occasions, advocating that users use the Notes page for handouts. But users shouldn’t have to sacrifice their ability to store speaker notes in order to create better handouts. This too stands as a more important issue than all of the areas that saw change in version 2013. Combined.

Basic Triage

To hundreds of thousands of PowerPoint users, the most important thing the software can do is help them off of auto-pilot, where they walk like zombies into a world of titles and bullets. As Figure 4 shows, Version 2013 templates are new, clean, and attractive, and the built-in search will be welcome.

But they don’t address the rampant problem that many who use the software simply don’t know the right way to use it. The new Presenter view is impressive…but asking speakers to concentrate on their own screens could be the exact wrong thing to do.

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Figure 4

There is a strong counter-argument to this: is it the software’s job to police how its users employ it? Is PowerPoint supposed to act as the police to its users? Do any other software programs carry this burden? I appreciate the point of view, and in fact, can think of very few programs in PowerPoint’s predicament. Few other programs are so closely associated with its output. Photoshop has become a verb but it has a positive connotation; Death by PowerPoint is in everyone’s lexicon and it is decidedly not positive.

So I get it that this is hard and I appreciate that few other programs carry this burden. I would like to think that the most prominent software in the world could rise to this occasion. Slide makers and speakers need to be encouraged to explore the needs of their audiences, craft simple messages that speak to those needs, and deliver those messages in the most natural and unencumbered way.

Can software encourage that behavior? I say yes, and point to that as one of the main advantages that Keynote enjoys over PowerPoint. I continue to wish for layout placeholders that can lock down the typeface and size of text but allow for placement anywhere on the slide (without losing that placement to a Reset command). And I wish that text placeholders did not default to five levels of bullets. How about offering a plain text placeholder that is a single line of text without a bullet character?

Who Cares About Touch?

So much of PowerPoint 2013 is focused on the software’s support for touch control on tablet PCs, but I can still count on one hand the number of clients or conference patrons who own or use Windows-based touch-capable devices. I recognize the value of tablet support and I applaud the implementation of it. It might not be too far into the future when every notebook PC sold supports touch, so I understand the priority that Microsoft has placed on it.

However, the elephant in the room weighs 12 tons: Until this type of support is offered to iPad users, it will remain at best, a curiosity, and at worst, a source of irritation. At the time of this writing, any PowerPoint support at all for the iPad has not ventured past the rumor stage.

This is a recurrent theme for PowerPoint 2013. Themes have been improved…most users do not use them. File and I/O dialogs insist on offering SkyDrives as a location…few have yet to adopt them. Microsoft fixed a lot of things that few of its users felt were broken, and that wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if the developers had addressed the areas its users believe really do need to be fixed.

Is Innovation a Lost Concept?

I am treading on delicate ground here because I do business with Microsoft, rely on the company’s support for my training initiatives, and am on friendly terms with many on the development team. I’m not sure if I make my situation more or less precarious when I absolve the PowerPoint team of a certain level of blame. There are just so many cooks in this kitchen, and the master chefs are the decision makers at the suite level who decree the priorities and the critical areas of focus that must be heeded across all of the Office suite. PowerPoint must play along, whether or not it is in its users’ best interests.

Microsoft’s internal culture does not help here, either, as the company’s massive org chart does not encourage innovative thinking in the right places. The PowerPoint development team is located in Mountain View, CA and there is no shortage of energetic and talented people in that region who could join the team. But most avenues of advancement within Microsoft would see those people being transferred to company headquarters in Redmond WA.

To young professionals who want to stay in the SF Bay Area, that is not much of an inducement to join the PowerPoint team, think creatively, stand out from the crowd, and earn a promotion. The PowerPoint team in Mt. View has some wonderful people on it; I wish that more would decide to stick around and pour their energy into the product. For whatever the reasons, most of the PowerPoint 2010 team left the company after the release of that version, and the same can be said for those at the suite level who were tasked with creative control.

PowerPoint’s position is secure as the dominant player in the presentation space. Perhaps our industry would be more interesting if that were not so. If Prezi continues to turn heads and make a name for itself, if Google continues to evolve its free cloud-based tools, if Keynote continues to siphon users who have a choice of operating systems — if these developments continue along their pace, Microsoft might not be able to afford to focus on features whose values are largely speculative. I’m all for anticipating trends and needs, but not at the exclusion of such glaring weak spots.

Version 2013 isn’t bad software; it’s just not the software that most of us have told Microsoft we want. The next time you update your Office suite, version 2013 would be a fine choice. If you need to collaborate in the cloud, it might rise to the level of compelling. Is there anything in it that cries out for you to upgrade now? I don’t think so.

About the Author:

Rick Altman has been hired by hundreds of companies, listened to by tens of thousands of professionals, and read by millions of people, all of whom seek better results with their presentation content and delivery. He is host of the Presentation Summit conference and  author of the book, Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck & How You Can Make Them Better.  For more information visit

How to Prepare a 20-Minute TED-Like Talk

More and more the call is for short speeches. Of course, the popularity of TED and TEDx talks is one cause, but the impatience of the times is another, along with our shrinking attention spans and all the other distractions competing for our mindshare.

Keynote speeches, which used to be 90 minutes, are now 60, and our clients regularly report that they are often asked to give a 20- or 30-minute version of their keynote speech – and sometimes on the fly.

So you’d better have a short version of your talk ready to go, along with that splendid, full-bore, detailed, 60-minute masterpiece.  How do you shrink what you have to say into a 20-minute miniature version of itself?

The secret to saying something memorable in 20 minutes is to resist the urge to say too much.  Changing lives in 20 minutes takes focus.  And that’s something that most people have a hard time doing.  In 20 minutes, you can say roughly 2500 words, give or take, and that’s not very many if you’ve set yourself the task of changing the world.  So you’ve got to narrow the field, resist the urge to say it all, and pick your details judiciously.

A good 20-minute talk presents one idea, tells one story, and asks one question.

1) Begin by choosing one idea.  Try to make it an idea that has universal interest, but where your specific expertise can usefully be applied.  Then, narrow it down and focus it until you can sum it up easily in an elevator pitch of a few sentences:

“As a neuranatomist, I study the difference between normal brains and the brains of the mentally ill.  One morning, I suffered a stroke, and experienced a mental disorder of my own. I was fascinated to learn from the experience.  Here’s what I learned while I was dying, especially about the differences between the right and left hemisphere’s experiences of reality.”

That, roughly speaking, is what Jill Bolte Taylor might use as a guideline for preparing her TED masterpiece on her “stroke of insight.”  It’s one idea, her expertise is highly relevant, it’s focused and it’s inherently interesting.

2) Next, pick one story to go with the one idea.  Make it a story only you can tell.  And make it a story with a point or lesson.  In the Taylor example, her story focuses on the drama surrounding the moment of the stroke, and what follows from that.  The insight Taylor brings to bear on her stroke lets her tell the story in a way no one else can.

The lesson she derives from the story is all about learning to live, especially in that right-brain, non-judgmental world of affirmation, and in the end it’s her affirmation in the face of such a harrowing life-event that makes her perspective powerful and unique.

Note that your story doesn’t have to be as dramatic or life-threatening as a stroke, but of course it doesn’t hurt.  The further down you are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the more viscerally you will grab your audience.  The safety level is the best place to be, but don’t fake it.  If your speech is not about life and death, don’t distort it to try to make it so.  Just tell it in the way that only you can.

3) Finally, ask one question.  A good talk poses a question, for which it has an answer that might be sketched quickly at the beginning of the talk, but for which the talk itself is the fuller answer.  Don’t be afraid to make it a big question.  In Taylor’s case, the question she asks is “Who are we?” – plenty big – and the answer is that we are boundless beings that channel and embrace the energy of the universe – but that have the physical body to do something with that energy.

Audiences always start out asking why – why should I care, why is this talk important, why should I listen – and it’s good to give a provisional, brief answer at the top of the talk, so that the audience relaxes and listens to the whole talk as the fuller answer.

Taylor cheats a little on this one, opening with the statement that she studies the brain because her brother suffers from mental illness.  So she studies the differences between brains like hers that allow her to dream her dreams and yet bring them into reality, whereas her brother’s dreams never become reality.

That does answer the question why, but her speech is not really about normal vs. mentally ill brains.  Rather, it’s about the universal and differing experiences of reality offered up by the left and right brains.

But by the time we get to the end of the speech, most of us have forgotten that entry point, so compelling is her story.

One idea, one story, one question. That’s  how you focus your thoughts to produce a coherent, potentially powerful 20-minute speech.

About the Author:

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and presentation skill coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication and the good and bad speakers of the day.  For more information on his company, visit

Repetition in Your Presentations

Repetition has long been heralded in advertising, politics and public speaking as a device which can add emphasis and impact to key thoughts and phrases. But too much repetition in a presentation becomes annoying rather than powerful.

I recently attended a webinar given by a well-known author – whose name you would recognize – and he repeated so much of his presentation I felt I was hearing it all twice. In some cases he repeated phrases three times AND the same words were showing on the slide. His presentations to live audiences follow a similar pattern.

What has happened to this author is that repeating much of what he says has become a crutch for him. It’s become another form of filler words, similar to ‘um’, ‘you know’, ‘like’, et al. Rather than pausing to gather his thoughts and formulate what he is going to say next, this repetition has become a habit to bridge from one thought to the next.

It has become so ingrained, he likely doesn’t even hear himself repeat things two or three times.

For repetition to be effective, it must be intentional. As a speaker you must consciously decide where you can lend more emphasis and importance to a word or phrase by repeating it. You can repeat the word(s) exactly, with a pause before the repetition to give the audience a moment to absorb the impact.

Or, you can explore a rhetorical device, such as anaphora, which is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases. Repetition used in this way not only creates emphasis but also moves the thought/message forward.

Take a look at these two examples to see how powerful repetition can be when used with intention:

1) “To raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family; it takes teachers; it takes clergy; it takes business people; it takes community leaders; it takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.”

–Hillary Clinton, 1996 Democratic National Convention address

2) “What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country whether they be white or whether they be black.”

–Robert F. Kennedy, on the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

About the Author:

Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington DC-area business communications training firm, which offers a suite of public speaking and presentation skills programs geared to creating confident, persuasive speakers. Visit Kathy’s website at to subscribe to her bi-weekly presentation tips or her blog where you’ll find fresh insights on speaking in public that are engaging, sometimes irreverent and always practical.

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