Archives for July 2015

Why PowerPoint’s Critics Have it Wrong

I have a lot of designer buddies who think that PowerPoint is the most cumbersome, clunky piece-of-junk software that’s ever been written. When their clients come to them wanting a new PowerPoint theme or a redesigned presentation, they say “No problem!” Then bust their humps learning how to use PowerPoint so they can get through the project and keep on pretending they provide a full range of graphic design services.

Not me.

I’ve always liked PowerPoint. When I worked in an ad agency, I got all of the PowerPoint jobs because nobody else wanted them. Now that I have my own company,  I specialize in PowerPoint. Not “presentation design,” not Keynote and not Prezi. Plain old PowerPoint. And business has never been better.

Whether you’re an in-house designer, work in a design agency or run your own business, specializing in PowerPoint is a smart move. Here’s why:

#1 Other designers hate PowerPoint

PowerPoint is the world’s number-one presentation design software. Millions of people with no design background whatsoever create presentations every day. That means that there are potentially millions of opportunities to redesign these presentations or help people create new ones. Yet many designers turn PowerPoint business away because they never wanted to learn how to use the software. “Ew, Microsoft!”

Two words: job security. If you become a PowerPoint specialist then you get all the PowerPoint work that other designers don’t want. They don’t know what they’re missing, because…

#2 PowerPoint lets you be creative

PowerPoint has a lot going on. How many other tools allow you to manipulate photos; play with audio and video; draw complex shapes; create interactive, clickable files; and build sophisticated animation?

Not only can you create slides in PowerPoint, you can make movies and even do page layout. When you’re designing a slide, you’re solving the same kinds of problems designers have always tackled: How can you simplify complicated subjects? How do you effectively tell a story? What is the best composition for this particular layout? How can typography be used to get the message across? The only difference is that the medium is primarily onscreen.

#3 Your work can make a big difference for your clients

People use PowerPoint to score new sales, close deals, get investors interested in their new businesses, introduce new products, influence public opinion, teach, build membership etc. Great presentations can help organizations prosper.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to give your clients an advantage over their competitors? Professionally written and designed presentations can be so much more effective than those done by people with no formal training.

I hear it from my own clients all the time that after we’ve worked together their presentations are more effective, they’re seeing better results from their sales calls, their audiences have an easier time understanding complicated subjects and so on. I derive a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’m giving my clients a competitive edge.

There are a lot of opportunities to do creative, exciting work using PowerPoint. So I have come to love it when designers complain about clients who have PowerPoint projects they don’t want to do.

“Send them my way,” I always tell them. “Send them my way.”

About the Author:

Laura Foley helps people become more fluent in PowerPoint through workshops, consulting, and presentation design services. She has developed presentations and provided training for clients such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Juniper Networks and the Harvard Business School. Her Cheating Death by PowerPoint training has been featured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Simmons College and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.  For more information, visit

How to Look Sleek With Smooth PowerPoint Transitions

A major problem that people have when creating presentations is a lack of fluidity and cohesiveness between slides. Not only do smooth transitions make the deck more aesthetically appealing, they also remove interruptions in the flow of information, which can give an audience an opportunity to tune out. Below I will discuss some transition techniques from a basic to a more advanced skill level. Test some of these out on your next presentation and seduce your audience into a state of both relaxation and attentiveness.

The Simple Fix 
Since people are generally more concerned with the style and content of their slides, they generally tend to neglect the transitions tab on their PowerPoint ribbon.

PowerPoint 2013 Transitions
PowerPoint 2010 Transitions


Applying these basic transitions is a simple and fast way to make your presentation look just a bit better. Look at the examples below to see the difference a fade transition can make. Without a transition, moving between slides feels a bit glitch and unplanned. Although it is a small touch, the transition makes things feel more professional. You can even check “apply to all” to quickly add this effect to all the slides in your deck.

Speaking of professionalism, if that is the look you’re going for I’d be careful when using the other preset transition effects. Even some that appear to be more basic such as wipe can look funny when applied to branding template. Not to say that you shouldn’t use them, but pay attention to how it affects any objects you may have on the top and bottom of your template.Some of the fancier ones may look cool on a slide or two if they have a specific relevance, but your audience is going to get sick of seeing the screen “shatter” or break into “random bars” if you use these effects throughout the presentation. Remember, you want to look sleek and smooth, not like a child who has just been given computer privileges in elementary school.

More Advanced Tricks

My personal favorite way to tie two slides together is to keep one (or more!) objects on screen from one slide to another. I like this because it forces you to use the same symbols to talk about the same topic, which facilitates understanding for your audience members. Below is a short presentation I’ve created to demonstrate some of these different techniques for you.


Slides 1-2

For this transition I kept the toy horse from the first slide to the second slide, but I shrunk it and moved it over to the left so I could add information to the story.

Start out by copying the object from the first slide to the second slide. It should paste in the exact same spot from which you copied it. If this is giving you trouble for some reason, you can also duplicate the slide (by pressing CTRL + D while the desired slide is selected) and deleting out all unwanted objects.

Now it’s just a case of manipulating the object to the right size and location. To shrink the horse and move it over to the left, I used a simultaneous combination of a motion path and grow/shrink animation. In order to do this, copy the object again. Now adjust the copy to the new desired size and location.

motion path and resize

Now is when those tiny little gray lines on your screen come in handy…also known as drawing guides. When you select the copied image (the one which is the size and position you are aiming for) four white boxes will appear around the edges.

Line up the drawing guides so they are centered within these boxes. This will give you an exact center point of your object. Knowing this will make your life much easier in the next step, because motion paths start and end points are concerned with an object’s centre.

Add a motion path animation that suits your needs (right, left, up, down, etc.). Now adjust the end point so that it is perfectly lined up with the center point that you’ve created with your drawing guides.

drawing guides

In order to resize the object you’ll have to do a bit of math. Open up the format tab and compare the sizes of the two objects. Calculate the percentage of size increase or decrease between your two objects.

Now add a grow/shrink animation on the object you are manipulating, and right click effect options in the animation pane. Adjust the size change to match the proportions.

Finally it’s just a bit of fine tuning. Ensure that both the motion path and the grow/shrink are occurring simultaneously by right-clicking on the grow/shrink and selecting “with previous.”

With both the motion path and the grow/shrink selected, right-click and select “effect options.” Adjust the smooth start and smooth end so that it is the matches for both animations. How much of a smooth start and a smooth end you apply is up to you, but make sure it is the same for both otherwise the effect will look jerky.

smooth start smooth end

For more information on how to master this and other tips, click here for all of our PowerPoint tricks

Slides 2-3

For the transition between second and third slide, the toy is already where I want it to be, however it isn’t facing the right direction. This is an easy fix.

Copy the object from the previous slide (so you are copying the copy you made last time) and paste it on to the succeeding slide.

Copy the object again and use go to Format>arrange>flip horizontal to make the image about face.

Now add an exit fade animation to the old copy, and an entrance fade on the new copy

Open up the animation pane, and right click so on the entrance fade animation, select “with previous” to make the two animations occur at the same time.

Personally I think this looks better if you put a slight delay between the fade out and fade in. I put a 0.25 second delay on the fade in.

Now you have to play with the alignment a little. Every object will be different, so try a few options to see what looks best. Some objects may look great right on top of one another. My toy horse looked best with the new copy a little right of center.

about face


Slides 3-4

This transition is a bit different than the previous too. Instead of manipulating an image I am manipulating what looks to be like the background. In reality it is a rectangle fit to the size of the slide and filled with the texture, but when you are in show mode it appears to be the background. The rectangle hasn’t done anything up until this point in the presentation, but now I’m going to move it in order to give off a panning effect.

Note: If you aren’t familiar with the “arrange” functions, this is where you go in order to play around with the layers in your slide. Select your background rectangle and go to arrange>send to back.

Start out with a slide that is completely blank other than your background rectangle.

Use a motion path to make the rectangle move in the desired direction. In the example I used down. I recommend sticking to either up, down, left or right in order to keep things looking neat.

Adjust the motion path to the exact desired ending position. You may want to pick back up on our tricks from slides 1-2, and make a copy of the rectangle in order to get a better idea of where you want it to be. For PowerPoint 2013 users this adjustment process will be easier because of the ghost that appears when you are playing with motion paths. I recommend using a copy anyway in order to spatially plan the rest of your slide.

These simple tricks help to make a simple PowerPoint presentation look more professional and polished.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Stodolski of Bright Carbon makes visual representations of information that would otherwise be far less exciting and engaging. She also is a proud member of the company’s newly-initiated USA team.


3 Ways to Determine What Your Audience Really Wants

Knowing what your audience truly desires is a critical success factor for any presentation meant to motivate or persuade. In order to influence your audience, connect your content to their wants and needs. Poorly informed assumptions about your audience’s hopes and fears results in an ineffective presentation.

This is the process I use to define audience desires:

1.    Ask the right questions
2.    Research
3.    Understand human behavior

1. Ask the right questions

Your audience will not change unless the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. You need to show how change is better than the alternative. To do this, you need to know your audience’s goals and challenges.

Assuming you have a dialogue with your audience (or someone representative of your audience), ask open-ended questions. Let them share as much as possible.


The following are effective open-ended questions to discover more about your audience’s goals and challenges:

1.    What is going on?
2.    Can you be more specific? Give me an example.
3.    How long has this been a problem?
4.    What has not solving the problem cost you?
5.    If you could wave a magic wand, what would the solution look like?
6.    Why haven’t you done this (solved the problem)?
7.    How do you feel about that?

Dr. Robert Frey, author of Successful Proposal Strategies for Small Businesses, asks prospects and current customers a specific question, “How would you paint a picture of success now and going forward?” He listens closely to his audience’s response. His goal (and your goal) is to learn about the audience’s current state, what caused the current challenges, and what is the desired outcome—short and long term.

Recently I was teaching a workshop. In an effort to explain the difference between a feature and a benefit, I asked attendees to tell me why they own a drill. Most said, “To make a hole.” Surprisingly, one attendee replied, “To keep my father-in-law from coming over.”

When she needed a drill in the past, her father-in-law would arrive, drill in hand, and overstay his welcome. I would have never guessed her specific benefit had I not asked.

Because people can be guarded with information related to their hopes and fears, I ask them to tell a story about their challenges. Through stories people relive their challenge. Most importantly, they will relive how it felt to encounter and try to overcome it. Emotional responses reveal more about true desires and personal fears so you can uncover how to connect your solution with their objectives by listening to their story.

Images are another way to get to the heart of a challenge. Sketch a solution and you will quickly discover disconnects between your suggestion and what the audience really desires. You do not have to be a great artist like Michelangelo to do this. Draw a rough sketch and walk your audience through your idea. Then ask them, “What am I missing?”

Images are another way to get to the heart of a challenge. Sketch a solution and you will quickly discover disconnects between your suggestion and what the audience really desires. You do not have to be a great artist like Michelangelo to do this. Draw a rough sketch and walk your audience through your idea. Then ask them, “What am I missing?”


2. Research

Search online for articles and information your target audience has posted. Explore relevant websites, blogs and LinkedIn groups. Find people who have a relationship with your audience and ask questions (e.g., friends, colleagues, vendors). Seek different perspectives. The more you understand their world, the more likely you are to determine their real goals and challenges.

My research helps me choose words and images for my presentations that reflect the audience. In turn, they will see themselves in my presentation and connect the content to what they really want.

3. Understand human behavior

Behavioral psychology teaches us that decisions are not as logical as we want them to be. In fact, all decisions our audiences make must involve their emotions. Our audiences’ choices are driven by a combination of conscious and subconscious (emotional) thoughts.

Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Prize winning scholar at the Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, studied corporate decision-making and found that people often ignored formal decision-making models because of time constraints, incomplete information, the inability to calculate consequences and other variables. Intuitive judgment was the process for most decisions.

Neurologist Antonio Damasio reviewed research on patients with damaged ventromedial frontal cortices of the brain, which impaired their ability to feel but left their ability to think analytically intact. Damasio discovered that the patients were unable to make rational decisions even though their ability to reason was fully functional. He concluded that reasoning “depends, to a considerable extent, on a continual ability to experience feelings.”

For example, would you buy from someone you did not trust? Trust is an emotion. We feel it in our gut (subconscious). The science behind making decisions proves that, although we are not logical, we are mostly predictable in the choices we will make.

Understanding human behavior gives you insight into why your audiences choose what they choose. It helps you select which intrinsic elements must be addressed (and how) to improve the likelihood of a win.  I recommend reading the following books to learn more about behavioral psychology and how to use it to create effective proposals:

1.    Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely
2.    Nudge, Richard H. Thaler
3.    The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

I use graphics to make clear, compelling, award-winning presentations. My understanding of human behavior supports the benefits of visual communication. For example, based on mountains of research (and personal experience) the quality of the presentation communicates the quality of the content and the presenter.

Humans cannot isolate emotions from decision-making. Knowing how our audiences think improves success by connecting stated goals with unstated desires.

By far, the best path to understanding what your audience really wants is by asking the right questions; however, science tells us that our audience may not want to or may not be able to articulate their true wants or needs. For this reason, use research and an understanding of human behavior to fill the gaps and connect the dots for your audience. Do this and you will be more successful.

About the Author:

Mike Parkinson is an internationally-recognized visual communications guru and presentation expert, professional trainer and award-winning author. He is a partner at 24 Hour Company, which specializes in proposals and presentations. His Billion Dollar Graphics website and Get My Graphic website share best practices and helpful tools.

Use Pop-Up Text To Highlight Slide Content

powerpoint--tips-add-pop-up-text-to-explain-slide-1Sometimes you need to explain a specific area of a chart or diagram. This is hard to do either by just talking about it or adding general text, because neither points to the specific area you are referencing. One choice many presenters make is to use a laser pointer. The laser pointer has a couple of disadvantages:

  • You have to face the slide with your back to the audience.
  • It’s almost impossible to keep the pointer still, distracting the audience.

A better option is to add an arrow or circle around the area and animate it it to appear when you click anywhere on the slide. The problem with this solution is that you may not always want to discuss the chart or diagram in the exact same way. So if you have 3  arrows, sometimes you want arrow 3 to appear first but other times you want arrow 1 to appear first. With simple animation, the animation always occurs in the same order.

Another issue is that you might want the shape (such as the arrow or circle) to contain text and those shapes make it hard to fit much text.

So how do you add pop-up text that can appear in any order you choose?

The Power Of Triggers

Triggers let you specify that an animation happens when you click an object on the slide. So you can control in which order an object appears.

I think that a great use for triggers is to add explanations to a chart. There’s one problem though – the chart isn’t made up of separate objects and I don’t usually recommend pulling it apart,  in case your data changes or you need to change the layout. So instead you can put invisible or almost invisible objects nearby and click on them.


Here’s the original slide. It uses the 2-Content layout so that the chart is on the left and the explanation is on the right. But this makes the chart too small to see clearly and as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t an easy way to specify which part of the chart each line of text relates to.


Instead, you could use callouts, which are shapes that point at something and are meant to hold text. Here’s what the slide looks like with the callouts.


I think this is a better slide because the chart is much clearer (bigger) and the comments now point to the right place. Here are the steps to making the callouts appear when you want them to:

  1. Create the callouts with their text. You’ll find them from the Shapes gallery, under Callouts. I used the Rounded Rectangular Callout. You can not only resize them, but drag the little yellow square or diamond at the point so that it points where you want it to.
  2. Display the Animations tab.
  3. Select one of the callouts. Click Add Animation and choose Appear from the Entrance section. (In PowerPoint 2007, choose the Animations tab and click Custom Animation. Choose Add Effect, Entrance, Appear. If Appear isn’t on the list, choose More Effects, then choose Appear and click OK.)
  4. Do the same for the other callouts.
  5. Create a shape that you’ll click to trigger the animation. It can be any shape. Drag it on top of the area that you want to bring attention to. Note: When you add the shape, make sure that the chart isn’t selected, because you can lock it inside the chart–a frustrating situation in some cases. Also, you might have difficulty selecting the shape later–in that case, either click off the chart and drag a selection that includes the entire shape or select any object and press the Tab key to cycle through the objects.
  6. You can make the shape invisible by right-clicking and choosing Format Shape. Then set its line to No Line and set its fill to any color, increasing the transparency to 100%. If you discover (after setting the trigger) that you can’t find it, set it to 98% or 99% transparency or give the shape a color that is almost the same as your background (a very light gray worked well on my white background). 
  7. powerpoint--tips-add-pop-up-text-to-explain-slide-4Tip: You’re going to have to select which object you’ll click to make the trigger work and with several callouts and several objects to click, it can be hard to figure out which is which. So start naming your objects. On the Home tab in the Editing group, click Select, then Selection Pane.
    Click the object you wanted to select to see it highlighted in the Selection pane. Then click that object, select the default name and choose another one that is more meaningful. Do this for all of your shapes and you’ll have an easier time of it. Here you can see the names I gave my objects.
  8. In PowerPoint 2010 and 2013, click Animation Pane on the Animations tab to display it. In all versions (2007  & later), select the 1st callout and you’ll see it selected in the Animation pane. Click the down arrow to its right (in the Animation pane) and choose Timing to display the Timing tab of the animation’s dialog box.
  9. powerpoint--tips-add-pop-up-text-to-explain-slide-5Click the Triggers button if its options aren’t visible and choose Start Effect on Click of. Then click the down arrow to the right and choose the shape you created–the one you want to click to make the callout appear. Then click OK. Repeat this process to connect all of your callouts with all of your clickable shapes. Here you can see that my callout will appear when I click the object called “advances.”
  10. People often don’t want all of the callouts on the slide at once and you can add animation to make them disappear. One way to do this is to add an animation to the callouts that makes them disappear and set the trigger to the same objects that make them appear.
    In this way, you can click once to make the callout appear and again to make it disappear. To add a Disappear animation to a callout in 2010 & 2013, select it and choose Add Animation on the Animations tab. Then choose Disappear from the Exit group. In 2007, choose Add Effect, Exit, Disappear.  Finally, apply a trigger in the same was you did before.

Watch the Demo!

Here you can see how I run through this slide, clicking to display a callout and again to make it disappear. I could do that in any order.

 About the Author:

Ellen Finkelstein is a PowerPoint MVP who can train you or the presenters in your organization to create high-impact, engaging, professional presentations for training, sales, business, or education. For more information visit

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