Archives for September 2017

Dishing on Presentations with the Presentation Guild’s Echo Swinford and Sandra Johnson

Happy First Anniversary, Presentation Guild!  It has been a year since the Presentation Guild was launched at the Presentation Summit.  And what a year it has been.  Watch my “Dishing on Presentations” conversation with Microsoft PowerPoint MVPs, Echo Swinford and Sandra Johnson.  Listen to how it started, what they have accomplished and what the future plans are.

Behind the Scenes Look Of “PowerPoint: Designing Better Slides”

“Take care of my baby!”

Those were my parting words to my LinkedIn producer, Christen Beck, as I left beautiful Carpinteria on the way back to Chicago following a busy, cram-packed week recording PowerPoint: Designing Better Slides. I wasn’t trying to be funny or dramatic. I was dead serious. That course was my baby.


I’ve been making computer training courses now for over 10 years and for ten years I have wanted to make a course on PowerPoint slide design. But for many reasons, it just never happened (to say I am thrilled this course is out in the world now, is an understatement).

In the last decade, I’ve worked for a lot of people, some full-time as employee relationships, some as contractor gigs. I’ve seen it all, and not all of it is good. It seems I am contacted weekly by some “company” looking for some naïve contractor willing to work for peanuts, like a full-time employee but without any of the benefits, rights to their work, or royalties after the fact—all for the “exposure” it will bring to their name or a byline on their résumé.

Lynda|LinkedIn is not that way—they are the rare good guys in the business, willing to pay their instructors fairly and to make a course that enhances the learning experience for their learners.

As an instructor, I never heard my course referred to as a “product” or my students as “customers.” I had a message to communicate in my head and Lynda|LinkedIn wanted to help me with that task.


If you’ve heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” then so it also takes a village to make a quality video course. I’m not saying a solo act can’t do it (of course it might take a heck of a lot longer), but everything that goes into the process, to do it right and timely, takes a team of people.

My course, I’m glad to say, had a wonderful team. After my LinkedIn Content Manager, Marjorie Page, helped whittle down my lengthy outline (anyone who knows me knows I can talk for days about PowerPoint), I was paired with a skilled producer, someone who had a great interest in my course subject and a background in instructional design: Christen Beck.

Christen took on the roles of project manager, instructional designer, and my main contact within LinkedIn. Anything I could possibly need to create my course she’d connect me with the right team within LinkedIn to make sure I’d get it for recording day 1. It sounds like a crazy job, right—a lot to keep track of, and a lot of work? But she was completely awesome!

There was one clip in particular that I was having a really hard time getting right. I was on draft number 10 and almost to the point of tears when I hopped on a call with Christen and asked for her help because I was just out of ideas and couldn’t figure out what I was trying to say anymore. It was this introductory clip on color, (which is one of the unlocked videos you can view for free on and incidentally now one of my favorite clips).

The original draft was a random, rambled mess. I read it out loud to Christen once, then she read through it herself a couple of times and pulled out what she saw as the key main ideas or “takeaways” which we then began to rewrite it together.

Afterwards, I reorganized and rewrote the script around those main takeaways. In the final video, here are the three main color takeaways we present to viewers:

(1) Color should attract viewers; (2) color should contrast between other slide elements; and (3) color connects important elements on the slide, as well as throughout the presentation.

Without Christen’s help, I don’t think I could have communicated those ideas so succinctly, or organized a video that demonstrated what I had in my head in both a fun and “me” way that still made sense. But I do think we nailed it on this one clip.


When I tell people that I make computer training videos, they think it is the coolest job in the world. But when if I tell them I teach people how to use PowerPoint, they look at me horrified and respond, “Oh God! Why?” while slowly backing away. That is why I wanted to create a course that DIDN’T teach people how to simply USE PowerPoint; I wanted to make a course that taught people how to use PowerPoint better.

This isn’t a course for designers or master PowerPoint users. This course is for non-designers and introduces business professionals to beginning design concepts, to teach them to begin to see slides and space the way designers do. This course touches on time-tested, key design components and principles like space, unity, similarity, contrast, and hierarchy—all of which align to what I identify as three key presentation “pillars,” or three things that you just can’t ignore when designing effective visuals: your audience, your presentation environment, and your message.

And sure, there are some things that looking back I’d wish I’d phrased differently or added to the course (there always is). But I am glad that in the end this course, my baby, is alive and well, and published at and LinkedIn Learning.

Heather Ackmann is a PowerPoint MVP, an instructional designer, and author. She has written over 200+ hours of video training for Pluralsight,, ClipTraining, and other private companies, and is currently working on a master’s degree in Human Computer Interaction at DePaul University in Chicago. Her book, Conversational Office 2016, is available for free download compliments of

Throwback Thursday – Our Favorite Presentation Summit “Dishing on Presentations” Conversations


It is our favorite time of year…the annual Presentation Summit conference is coming up in about two weeks.

At the New Orleans conference, we interviewed speakers and presentation experts about the conference and other hot topics. So, I thought it would a good chance to go back and listen to some of our favorite conversations from that conference.

Let’s start with our host, Rick Altman of Better Presenting. We caught up with Rick on the last day. He shared some thoughts on the conference and its community.

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Carmen Simon

We chatted with Dr. Carmen Simon, who is one of the keynotes this year in Florida. I also interviewed her last month for Dishing on Presentations.  In the first conversation, we ask the brilliant Dr. Carmen Simon, a highly respected cognitive scientist point she made in her #PreSum15 keynote. She said that people only remember 10% of a presentation and they forget 90% of a presentation. Listen to what she says.

They also talk about what presenters to counter the power of the unexpected to enhance memory at #PreSum15

We asked Dr. Carmen Simon to share her most memorable presentations based on exceptional memory-based techniques. Carmen states she is always on the lookout for where she can find memorable presentations. She found one in a salt mine in Poland. Listen to her story!

Keith Harmeyer, Author, Smart Storming

Keith Harmeyer is a recognized thought leader on the topics of innovative thinking, creative problem solving, idea generation and advanced presentation and communication skills. An accomplished speaker and writer, Keith is the co-author of the book, SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas. He has shared his insights with an international audience of thousands of corporate professionals from a wide range of industries. In his interview with #PresentationXpert – Sharyn Fitzpatrick, Keith shared his own game changing life moment.

Nigel Holmes

The brilliant Nigel Holmes, known as the creator of infographics, was the morning keynote at the 2015 Presentation Summit. He wowed the audience with his humor and fun graphics and a tremendous knowledge base of what works and what doesn’t in creating informational graphics. He chatted with Sharyn Fitzpatrick after his keynote.

Our Community of Presentation Experts and Microsoft PowerPoint MVPs

Mike Parkinson, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

We had a great discussion at #PreSum15 with Microsoft PowerPoint MVP, Mike Parkinson, about sales presentations and how to do them effectively.

Nolan Haims, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

We caught up with Microsoft PowerPoint MVP, Nolan Haims at the 2015 Presentation Summit in New Orleans. Listen as they talk about the importance of imagery and how to use it like a pro.

Julie Terberg and Echo Swinford, Microsoft PowerPoint MVPs and Best Friends

#PresentationXpert ‘s Sharyn Fitzpatrick talked to these two amazing MVPs about their book. “Building PowerPoint Templates: Step by Step with the Experts,” a one-of-a-kind guide to building templates that work well beyond your desktop. It is easy to see how their camaraderie has really resulted in a great partnership – in business and in life.

Geetesh Bajaj, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

We talk to Microsoft MVP Geetesh Bajaj about design trends in presentations such as “flat” designs.

We asked Geetesh to talk about how to manage expectations about managing your slides – either as too much info or not enough.

He talks about number of slides vs length of presentation.

Shawn Villaron, Microsoft

It was great to catch up with Shawn Villaron, Microsoft’s Partner Group Program – Analytics and Presentation PM – US. He chatted with #PresentationXpert’s Sharyn Fitzpatrick and shared what he and his team learn from the #PreSum15 attendees, what they will take back to their software team and more.

Taylor Croonquist

Taylor is an amazing wealth of knowledge about the nuts and bolts of PowerPoint. He has learned to push the technology to its limits. We asked him to share his tips on how to maximize pictures in PowerPoint. He shares his advice with us in three video conversations.

John Ramhlow, Vanguard

John Rahmlow shared his thoughts on the #PresentationXpert webinar series with Sharyn Fitzpatrick and Dave Zielinski.

I can’t wait to see what the conversations are this year.  So stay tuned for more “Dishing on Presentations“.   See you in Florida later this month.



Sharyn Fitzpatrick

Bios: Ask the Experts Speakers


Ric Bretschneider, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

Most people know Ric Bretschneider because he spent 17 years at Microsoft helping make PowerPoint into the business communications juggernaut it is today. He’s a technologist, trouble maker, and problem solver whose interests outstretch his available time by a significant magnitude. Professionally he splits his time between attempting to raise the quality of business communications, particularly presenting, and a love of software design and development. Ric founded the Silicon Valley’s branch of the Pecha Kucha presentation event, and can occasionally be heard on his Presentations Roundtable podcast promoting excellence in design and technique through interviews of industry professionals. He consults when he thinks the project and people are cool enough, and when all involved are committed to being awesome.

Stephy Lewis:

She can’t grow plants without killing them, but she sure can grow websites—all while simultaneously tiling her kitchen. Oh, and presentations, too. She’s got an uncanny ability to get to the heart of your message and craft a presentation that will leave your audience enthralled, not snoozing. She loves sketching little people on tiny post it notes and doesn’t like symmetry unless it’s on her face. She’s a kick-ass problem solver and she’s in love with PowerPoint.

Sandra Johnson, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

She helps presenters PowerPoint. Responsibly. A certified Woman Owned Business Enterprise, Sandra has been creating presentations for corporations and individuals around the globe since 2001. She’s been a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP since 2008. Visit her website at

Steve Rindsberg, Microsoft PowerPoint MVP

Steve Rindsberg is the CEO, COO, CFO, and Lord of All He Surveys at PPTools, where he develops popular add-ins for PowerPoint. There, he presides (he’s the President, too) over a vast staff (himself)and reports to the cats and any of the many foreign students that he and his wife have serially adopted.

He began his professional life with a degree in Political Science. Armed with that, and little else, he’s spent his career as a photographer and multi-image slide show producer; doing computer graphics and service bureau work; and for the last ten years writing add-ins for PowerPoint. From developing film to developing software. Some bright day, perhaps, he’ll find a use for the degree.

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