Indian Pediatrics 2002; 39:539-548
Exploring the Power of PowerPoint
Electronics and in particular, micro-electronics is creating new spheres of life and communication. In this age of the communication revolution, almost nothing is left untouched by information technology and computers. Presentation of education material has also evolved with computers offering ideal opportunities to create dynamic and innovative presentations.
Microsoft® PowerPoint® software is a component of Microsoft Office® package that combines text, images, drawing features, and other objects to create self-running or interactive displays to support oral presentations. Each file created by PowerPoint is called a presentation and each presentation is made up of slides. Not only does this software simplify the once tedious process of making slides for a lecture/presentation by photographing them and then developing them as projection slides, it has provisions for incorporating audio and video clips so that the presentation can even be made in the absence of the speaker itself!
The present article seeks to cover some basic points for communicating effectively through PowerPoint software. The paper is meant for those who have always wanted to utilize modern communication options but require a little push to go ahead. The vast array of options provided by this tool provides scope for great ingenuity and creativity but their use should be rational and in context with regard to our purpose. It is very easy to be tempted and go overboard with all the fancy frills. The basic idea is to stimulate the readers to do things in the right manner, taking care not to fall prey to the hidden pits and crevices that may trap the novice. It is however assumed that the reader of this article is equipped with basic Windows skills. The article discusses a five-step approach to effectively utilize the PowerPoint, as depicted in Fig. 1.
Step 1: Define Session Contents
The first thing to do is to organize your thoughts and arrange the matter you have in an orderly and logical sequence. This necessitates a decision on the topic, learning goals, and specific learning objectives related to the topic. The logical flow of content material includes the title, introduction, aims and objectives, the body of presentation, and finally the summary and/or conclusions. This framework devoid of color, text, pictures, audio/video, etc. is to be followed by storyboarding, i.e., to create a paper presentation. Storyboarding is a preclude to building the PowerPoint presentation and provides a clear understanding of the overall content and its arrangement. For a presentation to be effective, the content should be dictated by five major elements (Table I).
The user must also decide whether the presentation is going to have text only, or text and pictures interspersed, and whether any sound or video clip needs to be added to a particular slide. Remember that audio and video clips require a lot of space on the disk and incorporating these in your presentation may not enable you to carry the presentation in a floppy disk (1.44 MB).
Fig. 1. A five step approach to prepare a Power Point presentation.
Step 2: Creating a Presentation
Once the content and other material is ready, start off by opening the Power Point software (click ‘Start’, go to ‘Programs’ and then click on ‘PowerPoint’ or use a shortcut which can be created on the desktop, if you are a frequent user of this program). It will open a file tentatively named ‘Presentation 1’ (which may later be renamed as per user’s choice) and ask the user about the type of presentatio to be made through an Opening Dialog Box, which shows three options: (i) ‘Auto Content Wizard‘ (automatically guides the user through pre-designed background and placeholder settings and content suggestions); (ii) ‘Design Template’ (providing a selection of pre-designed backgrounds and placeholder settings without content suggestions); and (iii) ‘Blank Presentation’ (which allows total freedom to the user to choose various parameters).
One can also edit/view an existing presentation, by clicking for the same. All PowerPoint files have the suffix ‘.ppt’ after the file name) from which the user can select the desired file.
Choose A Layout
For a beginner, it is advisable to use the auto content wizard. Placeholder settings are already decided as per the user’s requirement and one just has to keep on inserting text/picture at the desired place. However, it has got its own limitations and can not hold a creative user for long.
Using the Blank presentation mode, the user has to choose the desired layout of the slides depending on the type of presentation. The layout can be changed with each new slide that is added to the presentation as prompted by the PowerPoint software. Various types of slide layouts are available, few are listed below:
To create another slide, click on the ‘New Slide’ button on the Standard Toolbar or click on ‘Insert’ and then on the ‘New Slide’ option in the drop-down menu that appears.
To add text to a blank slide, click on the ‘Text Box’ option at the lower toolbar followed by a click on the part of the slide where the text is to be inserted. In certain slide layouts (autolayouts), the position of the text box is already decided and the user simply has to fill in the text at the appropriate places. The font style, size, and other enhancements like bold, italics, shadowing or underlining can also be added from the main toolbar. The alignment (center, left or right) of the text can also be specifed from the main toolbar, keeping center alignment for the main headings and titles and a left alignment for rest of the text.
Stick to a maximum of two different clear and reasonably bold fonts (preferably sans serif type) during the entire presentation, one for the headings and the other for the remaining text, rather than trying to create a spectrum of fancy yet illegible fonts on the slides(1). The fonts are of two types, serif and sans serif. Serif type is preferred for the printed word while the other for electronic media. The serif is a small tail added to the ends of letter strokes as a decoration and helps to guide the vision of the reader along the line (e.g., ‘Times New Roman’, ‘Book Antiqua’ and ‘Centaur’). The Sans Serif type (which means ‘without’serif) being of a uniform thickness throughout is much easier to read when projected on a screen (e.g., ‘Arial’, ‘Helvetica’ and ‘Tahoma’).
The size and amount of text per slide should be dictated by the size of the venue. Font size should be no less than 24 point for the main text and 36 point for titles. Changes in font type and size may be resorted to when one wants to emphasize main points or key words in the presentation but they should preferably be used as sparingly as possible. Highlighted bullets on successive frames are very effective tools to get the point across.
While creating the slides, it is essential to use economy and tact and make judicious use of upper case letters. Choose predominantly lower case letters for obtaining maximum presentation effect, and improved reader comprehension. When a word is in capital, the eye is presented with a rectangular shape that is more difficult to read and less intuitive(2). It is also not a must that the titles be in capitals. They also look better when presented in ‘title case’, i.e., a mix of upper/lower case letters.
‘Rule of Six’(1), i.e., six lines per visual and six words per line, ensures that the audience is not bombarded with too much at a time and is able to retain more data. Presenting only one idea or concept per slide also helps. Everything that needs to be spoken need not be included in the presented text. The overall aim should be to combine the visual cues provided by the slide with verbal explanations to improve understanding and attentiveness. Example of good and bad presentations are given in Fig. 2.
Other things that may be added to the slides include Headers and Footers (under ‘View’ button), which may carry the date, time, slide number, and/or additional text. Comments (under the ‘Insert’ button) may be added to each slide just as a notepaper pasted on a slide, acting as reminders and suggestions for the speaker. These may be hidden during a presentation and revealed as needed (using ‘Show/Hide Comments’ button on the Reviewing Toolbar).
Charts and tables can be created on slides using these options from the Formatting toolbar. There are two features to create tables; ‘Insert Table", which creates charts with a preset number of columns and rows, and ‘Draw Table’ feature, which requires manual creation of the tables. The size of the text in the tables remains unchanged even if the size of the tables is altered.
Flowcharts may be created using the ‘Organization Chart’ tool (under the ‘Insert’ menu, go to ‘Pictures’ and then select ‘Organization Charts’), which guides the user through its creation in a separate window. Once the flowchart is complete, go to ‘File’ button on the main menu, then click ‘Close and Return to Presentation’ and a dialog box asking whether one has to update before closing the chart. Click on ‘Yes’ to insert the chart into the presentation.
Pictures and graphics may be incorporated into presentations to make them more lively and interesting. However, they should be relevant and not mere decorations. To add pictures onto a slide, click on the ‘Insert’ button on the main toolbar and go to pictures menu to specify the source (either from clipart, file, scanner, or a digital camera). Symbols should better be avoided, as these are likely to change with the computer. Cliparts are better in that respect. While adding pictures, it is prudent to use the format that takes less disk space (e.g., .jpeg and .gif) and avoid those taking more space (e.g., .bmp) so that the presentations could be easily copied on to a single floppy. The size and magnification of the image should preferably be edited in an image editing software before bringing it into the PowerPoint file. The position, size and magnification of the picture can be changed by dragging and using the arrows at the corners of the picture. It is essential to make sure that the picture is clearly visible even to the last row of the audience. Some of the details may not be legible when they are magnified too much or contain too small a text font.
Bar diagrams, pie charts, and line graphs are effective tools to show trends and statistics. The impression received from such figures seems to be more vivid and lasts longer than the impression from numeric data(3). Use ‘Insert’ menu from the toolbar to insert the desired graph. Use contrasting, bright colors to delineate between categories. Do not include too many bars in one chart. Simplify the graphs and show more of them.
Rulers, which appear on the sides only in Slide View, can help view the exact placement of objects on the slide. This is further aided by Guides which are dotted lines placed on the slide acting as reference points when moving objects to a specific location. These lines neither appear in printouts nor in the slide shows and can later be hidden or removed without affecting the placement of objects.
Once a portion of the presentation has been created and its various settings made, it is important to save the changes to the hard disk so that the material is not lost in case of a malfunction and these may be edited and updated later.
Fig. 2. Examples of bad (left hand slides) and good (right hand side slides) presentation (a) too much use of capitals, use of serif type (Times New Roman) font and fancy backgrounds; corrected in (b); (c) too small font size (20), too many words in a single line, too much text in one slide and everything that needs to be spoken is written on the slide ; corrected in (d); (e) use of fancy fonts and too many types (4) in a single slide; corrected in (f).
Step 3: Slide Design
One may also make a choice of the Backgrounds, Color Schemes, Design Templates and Fonts (all are placed under the ‘Format’ drop-down menu) to further enhance the look of the presentation but it is important to retain the emphasis on simplicity and clarity of content rather than going overboard and ending up creating unnecessarily decorated slides. The name of the game when it comes to slide layout is KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)(4).
Design Templates are pre-designed presentations that contain a wide variety of styles and designs, such as coordinating background, fonts, colors, objects, etc. which allow the presenter to focus more on content than on design while preparing the presentation. A design template may also be changed for a particular presentation or even for individual slides. Similarly, backgrounds and color schemes may also be changed individually but it is always better to maintain uniformity throughout the presentation and follow one particular format.
Use a uniform color scheme throughout the presentation. Limit the number of color regions on any one slide to a maximum of four. The changing colors should arouse interest towards the key concepts and not distract the reader from it. Avoid busy and confusing backgrounds. A dark background (e.g., blue) with a light colour of text (e.g.white or yellow) should be used. A white background with dark colors e.g., green or blue, remains equally effective. Colors have important psychological effects with blue and green being more ‘cool’, while orange and red being more ‘hot’and white being more cheerful. Red color should be used as sparingly as possible. The colors that may appear on the monitor of your computer may not appear in the same hue on the screen and so it is imperative that the text color should be easily distinguishable from the background(5). The colors used in the slides may create difficulties if one has used exotic shades because most computers can provide millions of shades but most projection systems provide a limited array of colors (about 256). When projected in large theatres, the colors usually appear darker than they are, with the opposite being true for smaller venues.
While speaking along with the presentation, it is important to hold the attention of the audience on the speaker and not on the images. Therefore, when you share an example that does not need a visual or when, during your talk, the audience members have a long discussion among themselves: the screen should be turned blank. This can be conveniently done by pressing the key ‘B’ to make a blank screen or ‘W’ to make the screen white so that the audience remains focussed on the content.
Making a Global Change
Slide Master is a helpful tool that allows the user to make a global change to all the slides, both existing and new ones that may be created in the future (except the title slide). This may be done in the form of adding a picture or logo (say, your institution’s logo), changing the background, or font size/style, etc. Decide whether a common theme is going to run through the presentation. For example, a presentation on breast-feeding may carry a logo of mother feeding the child as background or in a corner on each slide.
Change the Order of the Slides
Slide Sorter shows all the slides lined up on the screen as thumb-nails. In case one wants to change the order of the slides, one has to drag the slide number up or down the list in the Outline view to do so. However, one should be careful as dragging it sideways will delete the slide.
Sound files may be incorporated into the presentation at appropriate points e.g., to demonstrate a cardiac murmur. However, most ordinary sound cards cannot satisfactorily reproduce the sound right upto the rear end of a large venue, so either avoid it or have some amplification.
Step 4: Fine-Tuning Your Presentation
Once the material assimilation is complete, it is important to give it the finishing touches to make it more refined. The various size parameters may be changed and the slides modified for any type of presentation media (e.g., 35mm slides, Overhead Projection, etc.) by clicking on ‘Page Setup’ under the ‘File’ menu. The default orientation of the slides is the Landscape (horizontal) mode but it may be changed to Portrait (vertical) if necessary. If a ‘vertical’ slide is used in the presentation, the entire presentation will need to be ‘zoomed’ down in order to fit on to the projection screen. Avoid vertical format slides whenever possible.
Transition is the term used to describe how a slide is introduced onto the screen. The images can fade on and off, slide or drop, or be built up in different ways. The user has to define the various parameters of Slide Transition by clicking ‘Slide Show’ followed by ‘Slide transition’ on the drop-down menu. The slides may be changed by the user himself or at preset times during the presentation with or without accompanying sounds. In addition, various special effects in moving from one slide to the next may be added and its speed controlled. However, one should avoid repetitive changes in the transition effect. It may be distracting to have the slides popping in from different sides of the screen and in different manners.
The option of animating objects on the slides can also be used to make things livelier, using ‘Preset Animation’ and ‘Customs Animation’(5). This overcomes the major drawback of 35mm slide projection, i.e., its static nature; as all the information present on the slide is presented instantaneously. The presentation can begin with a simple framework that subsequently grows in details with sequentially added data and/or superimposition.
Animation should only be used sparingly and one should not try to incorporate every feature on offer as it may distract the audience rather than reinforce the message. It is also to be noted that animation takes its own time and thus increases total presentation time. The Preset Animation function animates the appearance of specified objects and text from among 14 types of settings. With this, one can reveal each point in the bulleted list one by one as one goes through discussing them and not all at the same time, so that the more impatient ones among the audience don’t wander off to the next point while you’re still discussing the previous one. Custom Animation gives the user more control over how, when, and in what order objects and text will be animated on a slide. All this can also help create interesting visual effects (like a bulleted point flying in from the left or dissolving etc.) to keep the audience hooked onto what’s coming next. The type of animation that is used is also important, e.g., wipe right for text (as natural for eyes) and wipe top for bars, etc. Another option is to dim the previous points so that the point under discussion only is highlighted. Readers interested in working through the examples of animating in PowerPoint may refer to the article by Carmichael and Pawlina(6).
Step 5: Rehearse, Pack, and Go
When a presentation is complete, it is better to print a rough draft and proof-read it for errors and readability. To print a rough draft of all the slides, select the ‘Print’ command under the ‘File’ menu and choose the ‘handouts’ and ‘slides per pages:6’ and check the ‘pure black and white’ and ‘scale to the paper’ check boxes.
It should be borne in mind that multimedia techniques could never replace or substitute the need to prepare and practice the presentation. It always helps to have a practice-run of the presentation, preferably at the venue itself, in order to make sure that all the things are working uninterrupted and in order.
If the user is not aware of the specifications of the projection system at the venue, it is best to use the ‘Pack and Go’ wizard. This allows the user to pack together a number of PowerPoint files with all linked files (clipart, sounds, etc.) along with all the True Type fonts in case it is not available at the venue. It also has the PowerPoint viewer application, which enables presentations to be viewed on computers that do not have PowerPoint 2000 installed.
Once the packing is complete, it may be carried to the venue on a floppy disk or stored on a laptop or if there are too many attachements and the file size is too large, on a CD-ROM (provided a CD writer is available). One should make sure that the venue has provision for LCD display and the systems at the venue support the version (like PowerPoint 1997 or 2000) used by the presenter or have appropriate hardware (like a CD-ROM drive in case one is using a CD-ROM) to avoid last minute embarrassments.
Inspite of all preparations, snags can appear at any stage. It is therefore necessary to have a back-up plan to avoid giving an unstructured presentation. It is advisable to carry the copies of presentation on adequate number of floopy discs in case one fails to open. If the presentation venue is far away from one’s place, it is a nice idea to e-mail the presentation to one’s own e-mail account so that it can be retrieved any time from any part of the world in case all floppy discs fail to open or the systems at the venue do not support the floppy disc drive used by you. To be safe, keep a printout of the slides at hand, which may be referred to while speaking. Another option is to use overhead projection by photocopying or printing the contents of slides on transparencies as a back up. If all else fails, one can just provide handouts to the audience in case there are major technical difficulties at the venue like electricity failure.
During the presentation, the speaker may manually advance the slides using the mouse or arrow keys on the keyboard. If available, a wireless mouse (GyroMouse Pro) could be preferred. It allows the speaker to move about without being tied down to the terminal. While a slide show is running, a Presenter’s Shortcut Menu appears on the lower left hand corner of the screen (can also be accessed by right clicking the mouse anywhere on the screen). This can help display the speaker notes, provide an on-screen pen to highlight or mark text items on the screen with the pointer, and provide manual slide advancing.
Timed slides (i.e., slides with auto-matically timed transition) should preferably be avoided. If at all used, it should be tested in advance to ensure that the timing of the transition is appropriate and the audience finds it comfortable to follow the presentation.
One should have a fair idea of the size of the venue and of the audience as well while deciding the size of the Fonts so that the presentation material is legible for the whole audience and not just the first few rows of people. The distance of the projector from the projection screen will alter the size of the text and therefore it is important to rehearse with respect to visibility of the slides from the last row of the venue. Do not forget to test for appropriate lighting in the room. It is important to be able to see your audience to gauge their reaction. The lights close to the screen may be switched off and those towards the back rows are turned on.
Multimedia applications for slide production and presentation such as PowerPoint can improve attention levels, learning capacity and retention rates. In the long run, it appears to be more cost-effective than traditional 35 mm slide presentations. Although it does require initial effort but the learners find it to be an efficient and effective method that enriches their studying experience(6). Moreover, computer generated presentations are amenable to last minute changes unlike the earlier methods where, an error, if committed, remained an error throughout.
To conclude, PowerPoint is a powerful tool to enhance the learning process and make any educational activity more interesting, both for the learner and the learned. It allows the presenter to step out of the realms of the printed word and be more imaginative and creative in one’s approach to expressing the same data on the receptive and impressionable minds of the students.
Note: This is meant to be a basic guide for effective use of PowerPoint as a teaching tool and not a technical treatise on the various functions and components of this software. For more detailed information on the functions of the program, the reader is referred to more detailed texts(5) or the ‘Help’ menu of the Microsoft PowerPoint. The authors do not intend to endorse the product and have used the most current version of this software available at the time this article was written.