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How to Spruce Up Your PowerPoint Presentations

Low-cost software can make you a sophisticated PowerPoint user.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 01/12/2006

<P><EM>Get practice-building tips and information from our team of experts delivered to your e-mailbox every Thursday. </EM><A href="http://advisor.morningstar.com/products/enews.asp" ><EM>Sign up for our free Practice Builder e-newsletter</EM></A><EM>.</EM></P> <P>If you are in the financial-services industry, you almost certainly are using presentation software from time to time. If you conduct seminars to attract new business, persentation software is a must. If you present to your peers and local groups, presentation software is highly recommended as well. Presentation software can be an asset during periodic client meetings, too.</P> <P>In our industry, and in the business world at large, Microsoft PowerPoint has long been the de facto standard. Yes, there are other programs out there, but PowerPoint is used by an overwhelming majority of PC users. Unfortunately, PowerPoint presents some pitfalls for the novice user, which I described in " <A href="/articles/doc.asp?docId=4093" >Common PowerPoint Pitfalls, and How to Avoid Them</A>." With a little bit of practice, however, and armed with the tips I provided, it is possible for the novice to create a good, basic, PowerPoint presentation. The real challenge is moving beyond the basics. </P> <P>Creating high-quality, professional-looking presentations is a whole different matter. It requires patience and a lot of practice. In some cases, you can purchase ready-made presentations from a third party, but the quality of the content, as well as the overall look of the presentations, varies greatly. Another way to go is to hire an expert. But going this route can be time consuming and expensive.</P> <P>Wouldn’t it be great if you could create really dazzling presentations yourself? These would not only be visually pleasing, they would contain exactly the content you want to present to your audience. Recently, I discovered a low-cost solution that offers excellent results for just $99.99. It is a software product called <A href="http://www.seriousmagic.com/" target="_blank" >Ovation</A> from Serious Magic.</P> <P>Ovation can do two things: It can make your presentations look better, and it can help you present better. Getting started is easy. Once the program is installed on your computer, you can simply drag and drop an existing PowerPoint presentation icon onto the Ovation icon located on the Windows desktop. This launches the program and loads your existing PowerPoint file. As an alternative, you can launch the Ovation program and then, from the File menu, select the PowerPoint file you wish to open. Next, you select a “look.” This is a set of high quality, visually pleasing PowerPoint templates that can include animation and 3D effects. Depending on your selection, your hardware configuration and the size of the existing PowerPoint file, the conversion process from the old template to the new one can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.</P> <P>I selected to use Ovation’s Epiphany Cyan PowerLook. The transformation is impressive. For folks who just want to liven up their existing slides with a minimal amount of effort, the many Ovation PowerLooks alone may justify the price.</P> <P>Once you have created your new version, you can toggle back and forth between Ovation and PowerPoint to further enhance it. If you want to alter a slide transition for example, you can hit a button on the Ovation interface that will toggle you into PowerPoint. After the change has been made, you can jump right back into Ovation. </P> <P>There are a couple of other tricks that a new Ovation user can perform with no training whatsoever. Choosing the Options tab allows the user to create some very nice looking “special slides.” You can create a formatted, good-looking “walk in” and “walk out” slide in seconds by simply typing your messages in the fields provided. You can also create an introduction slide (presentation title, name organization, contact info) by filling in the fields, too. If your presentation contains a break, you can create an intermission slide that counts down the time remaining until the session starts up again. Or if you prefer, you can tell the audience the time that you will resume, and display a clock on the slide instead. All of the slides discussed above can be created, formatted, and inserted in your presentation in under a minute. </P> <P>With a little practice, you can perform a number of other tricks. For example, you can incorporate your brand or logo into the existing templates for your own, customized look. The “go deeper” feature is another nice touch. It is a quick and easy method of creating little detours to more detail within an existing presentation. Here’s how it works: Let’s say that you regularly give a presentation that includes a slide about various retirement plans for very small businesses. Often, someone in the audience asks about the custodial fees on a solo 401(k), but you don’t want to bring it up unless you're asked. You use the go-deeper feature and create a slide that will only be shown if someone asks the question. If they do, you hit the go-deeper button, and the custodial fee slide will come up. Once you have answered the question, you hide the slide and continue your presentation. </P> <P>Ovation also helps you improve your presentation skills. It can turn your computer into a teleprompter that only you can see, so you can view additional notes and data while you are presenting. There is a built-in time keeper to let you know if you are ahead of schedule or behind. If you are behind, you can either speed up, or decide to omit some slides. </P> <P>Another nifty feature is the “next bullet” feature. If you are working on slides with multiple bullet points, the program can give you a preview of the next bullet point before the audience sees it. This keeps you a step ahead of your audience at all times. </P> <P>Direct access allows the presenter to access any slide in the presentation, without scrolling back and forth through the presentation. This is very helpful when you need to go back to a previous slide as the result of a question from the audience. </P> <P>Overall, I was very impressed with the results I was able to achieve with Ovation in a short period of time. A few of the advanced features were less intuitive than I would have liked, but for a new product, Ovation is impressive.</P> <P>If there is any downside to the product, it is that it requires a modern, robust computer. Ovation only works with Windows 2000 or XP. Recommended processor is one of the following: Intel Pentium 4/Celeron 2.4 GHZ, Pentium M 1.7 GHz, AMD Athlon 2400. Also recommended: at least 512 RAM and a video card with 64 MB of RAM. </P> <P>The only other potential annoyance is that either Ovation or an Ovation player (a free download) is necessary to play Ovation presentations. I can live with that.</P> <P>I’ve only been using Ovation for a short time, so it is possible that the program has some flaws I’ve yet to uncover, but so far I’m loving it. If you use PowerPoint presentations in your practice, and you have novice or average PowerPoint skills, you are a candidate for this program. Go download a <A href="http://www.seriousmagic.com/products/presentations/ovation-for-powerpoint-templates.cfm" target="_blank" >30-day free trial</A> and see for yourself!</P>

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