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PowerPoint

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PowerPoint presentations vary in quality, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sales people, instructors, corporate managers, consultants and network marketers deliver an estimated 40-million PowerPoint presentations every day. Many of these are totally effective, meeting the needs of both the audience and the presenter. But many more are only moderately successful, with monotonous media that leaves the audience bored and unfocused. And many others appear to be thrown together, undermining the presenter and destroying his or her entire message.

Many presenters have access to professionally designed media, but create their own, despite an obvious loss of quality. Although they may take this route due to time constraints, their choice is often because they are not comfortable with stock media that is available to them. Although it may have a professional appearance, it usually doesn’t fit the individual presenter’s personal style.

Most presenters personalize stock presentations, usually by eliminating some slides, adding a few new ones, or editing wording. The result unfortunately is often a patchy presentation that spoils an otherwise professional appearance.

Either approach—professional design or “roll your own”—has definite advantages and disadvantages. Professional designers can produce attractive slides with aesthetic appeal for audience members. But many presenters feel that they don’t tell the story in a way that matches their needs. Yet few front-line presenters have the training, patience or time to produce high quality media.

Some professionals argue that the best way to improve quality is to provide PowerPoint training for presenters. This approach may sound OK to people inside of company headquarters, but has little appeal to people on the front line who don’t have the time or patience for additional training.

The best approach is for design professionals to provide media that has strong, ongoing input from presenters. Although they may get their initial marching orders from internal managers or marketers, they need to have presentation content that actual presenters have approved and want to use.

Small companies—even home-based businesses—may have the best opportunity to use high quality presentation media. Since they don’t have in-house design departments, they can find a professional service that meets their budget, yet customizes presentations that are directly defined by the presenters who will use them.

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The most effective on-demand PowerPoint presentations tell a story online. And the most effective stories benefit from rich background music.

Used properly, background music can transform relatively humdrum subject matter into a compelling presentation. Like moviemakers who use music behind scenes to create different moods, online presentation creators need to select music appropriate to their subject matter. For best results it’s important to select music that fits each presentation. Music chosen only according to a presenter’s personal taste can make an entire presentation feel out of balance. For example, serious classical pieces might be out of place behind a presentation around contemporary subjects like social media strategies. So-called “big” pieces that seem to signify earthshaking announcements are incompatible with relatively simple material.

To ensure that music doesn’t violate copyrights, presenters can select royalty-free licensed material for their backgrounds. Online sites like Music Bakery (http://musicbakery.com) provide a rich selection of music catalogued by type and available for instant audition. Most pieces are available as inexpensive 30-second clips. PresenterNet users can upload short clips to their online Showrooms and set them to continuously loop during an online presentation. The result is a low-cost musical background that offers the same results as purchase of a more expensive piece.

Effective use of background music provides a polished effect that makes all presentation elements work harmoniously. Presenters creating on-demand material need to act somewhat like movie producers. A major element of their success is coordination of disparate pieces within their presentations. Background music is one of their strongest tools for pulling together voice, text, photos, and graphics so that they all fit together smoothly.

By using tools like music, concise voice narration, fast auto-advance, well-timed animations, and high-quality photos, presenters create an on-demand product that is entirely different from a typical PowerPoint file posted on a slide-sharing site. A fully integrated multi-media presentation flows smoothly and maintains viewer attention to meet the presenter’s goals.

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Engaging your audience during online presentations—either live or on-demand format—requires skills different from those used in a face-to-face meeting.

When we attend a face-to-face presentation, most audience members remain seated, despite a presentation that may be dull and boring. Even the worst examples of so-called “Death by PowerPoint” seldom cause a mass exodus. Audience members may mentally tune-out, doodle, or read online email from mobile phones and laptops, but they usually remain physically captive. That’s somewhat good news for struggling presenters who may find a way to recover after the first few minutes. However logistics, scheduling and travel constraints also keep their audiences comparatively small. And having all of the “right people” in a room at one time is virtually impossible.

Live online presentations and webinars provide better opportunities for larger audiences, and easier scheduling for the “right people” to attend. However, audiences can leave without being impolite. Many audience members will multi-task, since they have no presenter eye-contact. Presenters therefore must grab and hold their attention early. Online success requires attention to all aspects of the presentation: excellent script or notes, a well-practiced presenter, clear messages, attractive slide design, and perfect coordination.

On-demand presentations have the highest potential impact of any presentation medium. Often embedded on a website, they can be viewed 24 X 7 for months at a time. Along with typical web and search marketing traffic, on-demand presentations attract viewers through paid search like Google AdWords, and email marketing.

Nevertheless, every on-demand presentation must grab and hold viewer attention within the first 15 seconds or the presentation fails. Without the need to register or identify themselves, viewers treat an online presentation like any web page or video. If they’re not immediately engaged, they bail. And they are usually lost forever.

Our next few blog posts will explore the “Do’s and Don’ts” of on-demand presentation. We’ll begin here with our first “DON’T.”

DON’T ever post the slides from a live presentation on your website or a slide sharing site without embedding voice narration. Slides that may have been easily understood when supporting a narrator’s voice, do not deliver their message without narration. They are somewhat like watching a TV commercial with sound muted. And if slides are filled with text bullets, viewers will seldom read and completely understand them.

DO create a well-scripted narrative and embed it for each individual slide. Re-do the presentation to remove any unnecessary slides. Then embed narration and time it carefully to support the view onscreen, especially if the view changes through animation.

We’ll provide tips for creating a clear, professional style narrative in our next blog post.

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What’s the first thing that most people do in developing a new presentation? They open PowerPoint of course, and begin creating slides. That’s how they fall into the PowerPoint Trap!

Great presentations are stories. They may use pictures, graphics or charts as illustrations. But the words that come from the speaker’s mouth tell the story. A better tool for creating a presentation then might be a text editor like MS Word.

The easiest way to approach a presentation story is the traditional instruction: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you told them”. You also need to insert a call-to-action, identifying the most important takeaway of your presentation.

We recommend writing the story first in an essay format. Though you probably would never present it as such, writing it first makes the rest of the process much easier and more effective.

Once you’ve written the story, isolate each point as a separate sentence or paragraph, and paste each of them into the notes of a blank PowerPoint slide. Then looking at each slide, create the best way to illustrate the point. You might use one or more photos, PPT drawings, or charts to support the story visually. If possible stay away from text bullets, especially those that repeat the written text. Finally you can insert the obligatory chart, table or spreadsheet segment if necessary.

When the body of the story is in place, convert the text notes to speaker’s script segments. These vary widely, according to the project format, and your personal style. If you are creating an on-demand presentation for online access, you need an actual script, using short sentences and as few words as possible. If you have created the presentation for live delivery, you usually reduce speaker’s notes to a simple outline.

To capture the audience immediately, you might add an “attention step” to the beginning. This might be a cartoon, a news photo with a surprise caption, an inspirational scene, or anything else with a “wow-factor.” Then you can use the same or a related scene to close the presentation, tying it into the overall message.

And the final preparation step is: Practice, practice, practice!

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The first and most important step in creating a great presentation is planning. And effective planning begins with understanding your audience.

First we need to ask a few key questions: What’s the purpose of this presentation? Is it to sell, or persuade? Is to communicate and teach? Does the audience have a common thread or interest (e.g. technical people, energy conservation advocates, senior citizens, business people, parents, potential customers)?

What is the audience expecting? How long is their attention span? Is humor appropriate? Will they expect detailed information or should you just hit the high points? Is the audience online, or in-person?

Many presentation experts offer hard and fast rules: “Use no more than 20 slides”. “Never use text bullets.” “Sell the benefits.” “Don’t use complex diagrams.” Rules like these may apply in the right context, but they can be useless in others. So the best rule is “Forget about the rules. Consider the needs of the audience.”

How long should we make the presentation? This too is an audience question. How long can we hold their attention? If we are creating a sales presentation for example, the optimum size may be relatively short. But a presentation that communicates information that the audience wants to understand in detail, can hold attention much longer.

If we expect the presentation to last 30 minutes, how many slides will we use? There’s no absolute answer to this question, but we can consider a few guidelines. If the presentation is online, we want the screen to be active, using animations, scene changes, pointers, highlighters, etc. Each slide will probably be on the screen for no more than 1 minute. So a 30-minute presentation would require at least 30 slides. If we stay away from lengthy text and bullet points, we may use one slide for each point, making the total even higher.

Does that mean that all presentations move fast with large numbers of slides? Does that eliminate the use of tables, charts, and diagrams? No. But complex slides of that kind require special techniques. You might magnify key segments with animations, or use other methods to highlight pieces as you step through a complex slide.

In the end, it’s always about the audience. In upcoming posts, we’ll discuss presentation design considerations that provide the best experience for our audience members.

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Which of these statements is true?

• PowerPoint is the most effective presentation graphics tool in the world.

• PowerPoint creates the worst presentations possible worldwide.

Both statements may be true, depending on people, situations, and skill levels. PowerPoint has legions of fans and supporters. But for every proponent there is at least one detractor.

Occasionally we see PowerPoint presentations that are excellent. They communicate well and are visually pleasing. In parallel we see numerous PowerPoint files that are totally boring, confusing or amateurish.

The reason for this apparent contradiction goes back to the very first development of PowerPoint in the 1980’s. Early developers apparently explored a range of options. Some wanted to develop the most technically sophisticated tool in the industry, and to build the broadest set of capabilities imaginable. Others wanted to provide a tool that was so simple and easy to use that virtually anyone could open it and produce a presentation. At the same time, all developers knew that they would have to maintain compatibility with other tools that would eventually comprise a full office suite.

Predictably, developers were forced to compromise, and build the tool that eventually evolved to PowerPoint as we know it today. As with all new products, it was impossible for developers to foresee the environment they would create.

PowerPoint today has become extremely successful with hundreds of millions of users. Many of those users however, simply type text bullets then format typefaces, backgrounds, and borders to deliver presentation slides. This usually produces ineffective slides that people are supposed to read while a speaker is talking. Others insert diagrams, tables and charts to summarize their ideas. Unfortunately, those visuals are typically so complex as to require several minutes for audience understanding.

Why do we see so many weak presentations like these? They are the result of a well-meaning development team that hatched a product more than 20 years ago to enable unskilled people to use high-value capabilities.

Despite the many “death-by-PowerPoint” materials seen every day, there are also excellent multi-media presentations that communicate, inform and entertain. In upcoming posts we’ll explore some of these techniques and how they make presenters effective.

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How can a pre-recorded webinar be more powerful than a live presentation? Conventional wisdom says that viewers expect a webinar to be presented live. But pre-recorded, on-demand webinars offer several advantages over live programs.

People who can’t attend a scheduled online presentation can still view an on-demand version which is available 24 x 7. Offering an on-demand version therefore extends the audience. It not only reaches local people whose schedules don’t fit, but expands listenership across time zones. It even offers presenters the opportunity to be viewed globally.

On-Demand Webinar

On-demand webinars can also be embedded into a presenter’s website, so that they draw web traffic, and potentially create new sales leads. When viewed from a web page they can be surrounded onscreen with purchase links or additional offers.

Many audience members prefer on-demand versions. Pre-recorded programs enable viewers to control the presentation. They can start and stop as needed, and in many cases instantly back-space and repeat slides. And they can usually enjoy a program that wastes no time and has been optimized for quality.

Presenters who offer on-demand programs however, must create a presentation that’s different from record-and-playback of a live webinar. Viewers who know that presentations have been pre-recorded expect to hear highly professional programs. The quality level of a live webinar conference call or conferencing by VoIP (voice-over internet) is seldom good enough to maintain program credibility. When presenters offer live webinars, their programs typically include long pauses, mispronunciations, conversational fillers, and self-corrections. These are acceptable to viewers of live webinars since they are common in adlibbed conversation. Viewers of on-demand presentations however, expect them to be more deliberately paced, error-free, and less casual.

Presenters of on-demand presentations therefore, must prepare a version offline. Many record directly into PowerPoint. Others create small audio files and embed them into their slides. This process of course permits presenters to work from a script, listen to the results, and re-take any recording that doesn’t sound quite right.

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One of the greatest challenges for webinar presenters is maintaining attention of viewers that we can’t see. One great way to keep the eyes of all viewers onscreen is to create movement.

Viewers quickly tire of static images, and soon stop looking at a webinar screen until the slide changes. Presenters who stay on a single slide for more than a minute typically lose effectiveness. Attendees mentally tune out.

One good solution to this problem is to limit the screen time of any slide to 30 seconds or less. However, presenters may need more time to communicate their messages. The best tools then are onscreen animations.

The array pictured above for example, demonstrates how a single animated slide progresses onscreen. As the presenter speaks, animations advance to emphasize the next point in the slide’s overall message. The presenter controls them, ensuring that animations are timed to each point being made.

PowerPoint and other presentation graphics programs offer a rich array of animation features that can be used in many different ways. They can make photos, graphics or text appear or disappear, whenever appropriate. New items can fade in or fly in using a myriad of visual styles. Or items can morph into new forms.

Though animations can serve multiple purposes, their greatest value in webinars is to keep every viewer’s eyes on the screen, thereby keeping their attention. When they are used in pre-recorded on-demand webinars, animations can be perfectly timed to support a fast-paced narration. If accompanied by fast slide transitions, timed animations often create an effect similar to a tightly scripted video.

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Webinars have emerged as the web’s most effective and  inexpensive method of delivering business results. Businesses of all sizes deliver thousands of webinars daily. Sadly, most need to be greatly improved to deliver their true potential.

We view hundreds of webinars every year, and have been taking notes on the good, the bad and the ugly. We’re pleased to share seven tips that will enable any business to get far better results.

The first tip: Use Techniques that Maintain Audience Attention

Online Webinars are very different from face-to-face presentations. One obvious difference is that the presenter and the audience cannot see each other. The presenter therefore loses the power of eye contact. Even more important, there is no way to know whether audience members are paying attention. Are they still out there? Are they reading emails? Are they chatting with friends?

The best way to keep their attention is to make them into participants, by using interactive slides. Using the interactive slide example pictured above, the woman who is presenting begins her webinar by asking audience members to respond to the question onscreen.

The presenter then reads some of the responses back to the audience and mentions each respondent by name. She then promises to concentrate the webinar on the items that audience people have checked.

This request accomplishes two things. It empowers the audience to partially set the agenda, giving them a feeling of ownership. Equally important, the presenter has demonstrated that she is facilitating an interactive discussion, and each audience member must be alert to respond. This rapport uses the power of human nature as a presentation technique. No attendee wants to be embarrassed by being unavailable to answer.

Numerous studies have proven that participants learn and retain 70 percent more information when they are participating, instead  of  being passive viewers. And that’s the power of online interactivity.

(We’ll share the next six Webinar tips in upcoming posts.)

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Microsoft PowerPoint is one of the most important tools used by every successful online marketer. It is the medium of choice for creating a clear, concise online presentation. Sales professionals soon learn that they need a strong visual presentation to tell a compelling story, and PowerPoint is the obvious answer.

More than 40-million people use PowerPoint. It’s the world’s most widely used presentation tool. So many people have used it that we can safely recruit new salespeople and expect them to be PowerPoint users. That means that any organization can quickly train new people to deliver presentations using the same basic tools.

slidepresstack1Virtually everyone needs PowerPoint to build a business online. PowerPoint slides may be used like brochures in PDF format, for live presentations in a Webinar or as the basic medium of an on-demand presentation.

The negative side of PowerPoint is that many people think of a slide presentation as tedious and uninteresting. That’s because so many presentations are poorly planned and use only the weakest capabilities of the program. PowerPoint designers at Microsoft designed this tool with so much flexibility that presentations have an unlimited range of styles. Unfortunately, most people take the easiest road, resulting in the weakest possible presentations. We therefore want to offer recommendations for PowerPoint use that will provide the most compelling results for sales and marketing professionals.

Our most important overall recommendation is for every PowerPoint presenter to discover how to use the program’s full capabilities. Don’t re-use an unimaginative presentation produced for someone else. Customize every presentation to leverage yourself and create a professional, entertaining audience experience. Most people—even long-time PowerPoint presenters—don’t understand the incredible things that can be done with this powerful tool. Spending a couple of hours thumbing through “PowerPoint for Dummies” can deliver ideas that totally change the results produced by any presentations.

What are the basics for making presentations more effective? We can begin by following a few simple rules. The first simple rule is “keep presentations as short as possible.” Every slide should contribute to drawing audiences to “the next step” in a well planned sales, training or information transfer process. If any slide in a presentation doesn’t contribute in this way, delete it.

Rule number two is “use as little text as possible. Instead use graphics, photos, videos, cartoons, etc. to make visual statements. Although writing a virtual script of text bullets is easy, audiences don’t listen effectively when forced to read bullets. If the text bullets differ from the presenter’s speech they create confusion. If the bullets are identical to the spoken words, audiences assume that the presenter is simply reading from a script. PowerPoint provides much more powerful tools than simple text bullets. Successful professionals use these tools to be become master presenters, and master marketers.

We still need a few more rules to maximize the power of PowerPoint, and we will cover several of them in later posts.

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