Magazine article Marketing

Screen Saviours

Magazine article Marketing

Screen Saviours

Article excerpt

The latest PC software offers a real edge when it comes to making your presentation grab listeners' attention

Grabbing an audience's attention has never been so difficult. Once upon a time, you could turn up with a few hand-scrawled foils, slap them on the overhead projector and launch into your spiel.

Then computerised presentations came along and changed the whole picture. Suddenly, the same quality as 35mm slides (which were expensive) could be achieved with a PC-based software application that was not only cheap, but allowed the message to be changed right up until the last minute.

It also allowed you to be a designer. Colours and fonts could be mixed and matched easily. That turned out to be not such a good thing, but soon the applications included built-in advice and templates to help users avoid the more garish combinations.

As a result, we all ended up with tasteful blue backgrounds, with yellow and white text in smartly selected fonts. These were usually created using Microsoft PowerPoint, because that is the product that practically everyone gets on their new PC when it is delivered.

And that's the problem: presentations have become extremely professional-looking but oh so predictable. The challenge is to try to produce something different, but without breaking the bank.

The great thing about using PowerPoint, of course, is that you effectively get it for free, so you might as well use it. But there are other products around. If money is really tight but you want to try something else, it could be worth looking at what's available on the World Wide Web.

Provided your company doesn't have a policy of banning free software, go to www.freeware.com where there is all sorts of free software that can be downloaded and used for nothing. I looked at the site, searched for 'business presentations' and came up with a handful of packages that looked worth trying.

One, called Astound, promised multimedia business presentations, while another, Slides and Sound Plus, specialised in "cool multimedia slide presentations". Another useful one, called Font F/X, allows you to play with fonts and give them a 3-D look. That might be a nice little extra to put a bit of zip into the plain old PowerPoint presentation.

Site suggestions

The Internet can throw up other useful sources of free information too. An Internet search using the words 'PowerPoint add-ons' came up with a Californian company called Presenting Solutions (www.presentingsolutions.com), which has plenty of material about giving presentations.

This includes advice and the chance to enter a 'virtual showroom' to see the latest printers, scanners, digital cameras, slide makers and projectors. All the prices are given in dollars, so they may not be all that keen to deliver to the UK, but the information held on the site is worth 20 minutes of surfing.

A site run by Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada, has a section called the 'Acadia PowerPoint Resource Center'. It is at http://plato.acadiau.ca/sandbox/ppt/ homepage.htm, and is a fount of information about everything to do with PowerPoint. The section has libraries of sounds and videos that can be downloaded; hints and tips about working with PowerPoint; guides to presenting; and a whole library of ready-made PowerPoint templates that can form the basis of presentations and be tailored to specific needs.

It is also worth remembering that Microsoft itself runs an excellent Web site with a lot of good advice about using Powerpoint, although registering is required before any advice is imparted. So far, we haven't had to part with any extra money, but with a little legwork it's not hard to get hold of some good sound, video, extra software and some variation on the fonts. Not bad for a start.

However, the choice grows when there's extra money available in the budget. For example, LA Vision, sold in the UK by Hampshire-based Imago Micro, has a couple of useful devices. …

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