Report from the Road at the 2017 Presentation Summit

By TJ Katopis

I am excited to report back from sunny skies and beautiful oceanside at the annual Presentation Summit 2017 in Clearwater Beach, where I spent a few days with some of the leading technical and creative folks in presentations.

Here’s a brief dispatch of what I saw and heard there.

The attendees

Attendees at this event are mainly presentation pros who want to connect and reconnect with peers, sharpen their skills, stay on top of the new technology, and enhance the effectiveness of their clients’ messaging. Attendees include freelance designers, like me. Others have their own design studios. Some run large operations with in-house departments at corporations and law firms, consulting firms, and other professional service firms. I met information architects, educators, trainers, master storytellers, filmmakers, and speaker coaches. Many PowerPoint MVPs were at the event (MVP is Microsoft’s highest civilian honor). Microsoft had its own squad of PowerPoint engineers and reps there. Software and hardware developers exhibited new tools. There were bloggers, authors, and podcasters whose work I had already long admired, like the team from Presentation Podcast — Nolan Haims, Sandy Johnson, and Troy Chollar. There was also a strong showing by the Presentation Guild, the leading membership organization for presentation designers, which also held its annual meeting during the conference.

There is a collegial vibe, with many attendees returning year after year, from around the country and around the globe. This is the fifteenth season Rick Altman has run this event; the first one was in 2003. He is the consummate conference host, and he and his team of staff and volunteers deliver a fun and well-run conference. It was my first time attending Presentation Summit, and as a newcomer, I was delighted to find a welcoming environment of like-minded peers. At one point I met up with Echo Swinford and Julie Terberg, who quite literally wrote the book on building PowerPoint templates, and inquired, “Could I ask you a PowerPoint question?” to which they replied, in unison, with an upbeat “YES!”

General sessions

Presentation Summit featured a varied lineup of speakers and presenters. In her Keynote Address, Dr. Carmen Simon explained her research on the cognitive science of memorability. Nolan Haims hosted the Entrepreneur’s Round Table that focused on the business-side of freelancing and running a studio. In his talk, Dr. Nick Morgan abstained from PowerPoint in favor of a flip-chart, and showed us how presentations can change the world. Fifteen-year-old internet mogul Caleb Maddix explained strategies for entrepreneurship and social media; also on hand was his dad, Matt Maddix. Sam Horn taught us her approach to designing brilliant 10-to-20 minute talks.

Dr. Carmen Simon’s advice for presenters: 1) Be yourself, 2) Be your best self, 3) Be your best self in the service of your audience.

A wide-ranging panel discussion with Carmen Simon, Nolan Haims, and Sally Koering Zimney (of the This Moved Me podcast) considered issues facing the industry. On the topic of speaker authenticity, I will never forget Carmen Simon’s advice: “1) Be yourself, 2) Be your best self, 3) Be your best self in the service of your audience.”


I have a lot of respect for Microsoft for being present at this event and for listening closely to its power users. Dan Swett of Microsoft led the deep Ask Microsoft “guru” session with his team, with hosting duties played by Ric Bretschneider. My impression is that Microsoft is taking a constant process improvement approach to PowerPoint, and is doing a good job actively seeking feedback to root out bugs and consider ideas for new features. Microsoft’s new subscription model has been a game changer for keeping users on a consistent platform, and in the last 18 months or so they have rolled out some exciting new features, including zoom, the morph transition, and 3D capabilities. Thanks to Dan and the rest of the PowerPoint team for your tireless work over there.

There were also many terrific vendors on hand. Logitech exhibited a super-cool presentation remote, the Spotlight. Sendsteps showed off an interactive polling technology that lets audience members send real-time survey data through their mobile phones and can feed that data into a live presentation. Shufflrr demonstrated its presentation management technology that’s loaded with features. Inscale Interactive demoed some impressive augmented and virtual reality technology. There were also some nice exhibits from EcosPrez, Made in Office, PresentationXpert, GetMyGraphics by eLearning Brothers, Indezine, and Poll Everywhere.

Morning sessions and afternoon “tapas”

Morning sessions were divided into Build, Design, and Deliver tracks, and I tended to steer toward the Build sessions. Afternoons were for rapid-fire 20-minute “tapas” sessions. Echo Swinford showed, over multiple sessions, XML hacks for PowerPoint, speaker ready techniques, ways to design templates that provide instructions to users, and some neat tricks using PowerPoint’s background styles feature. Mike Parkinson (Billion Dollar Graphics) demonstrated quick and easy methods for building infographics in PowerPoint. Taylor Croonquist revealed how to unlock some of PowerPoint’s hidden features and dazzled with wickedly hot keyboard shortcuts, hacks, and tricks; I can literally perform certain functions in PowerPoint 1000% faster after watching Taylor’s breathtaking moves. Lia (“P-Spice”) Barnakova, whose great YouTube channel I recommend to everybody, showed off some of PowerPoint’s incredible new 3D capabilities, as well as ways to spice up slides with ultra-chic effects. John Rahmlow of Vanguard talked about how to make presentations that work for diverse audiences. Heather Ackmann showed advanced techniques for animations for Hollywood-like effects. Rick Altman himself performed makeovers on real-live presentations.

Hurricane Irma

The event also raised awareness of the devastation of Hurricane Irma that is still being felt for many Floridians. As part of the event, Rick raised money for the Florida Keys Relief Fund.

Next year

Presentation Summit 2018 will be held in San Diego, September 23-26, 2018.

About TJ:

TJ Katopis is a freelance graphic designer and presentation designer based in New York City. He is a member of Presentation Guild. He is preparing a book on how to manage presentation design projects. Follow him on Twitter @tj_katopis.


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