This article originally appeared at American Express OPEN Forum:Although I’ve previously written about PowerPoint, it wasn’t until I had to construct a presentation that I realised how much more robust it’s become since the last time I opened the application — which was probably in 1997. Ignorantly, I associated the program as “old school” until I spoke with Nuri Pazol, a graphic designer specializing in new business development and design in Chicago.
Here is our Q&A about the powerful platform.
Q: PowerPoint has evolved tremendously as a program in the last decade, what about the program today makes it so exciting and innovative?
A: People who aren’t presentation specialists think PowerPoint is about as far from “exciting” and “innovative” as it gets; those may be fairly lofty attributes from a lay person’s perspective. The Print Preview tool, which was improved across all of the Office Suites for PC, especially, has made my life a lot easier by the sheer fact that Microsoft now uses the “backstage” File menu pane, which completely fills the screen before I’m about to print. The Animation Brush is probably my second-favourite addition. The addition of the Quick Access Toolbar and the Ribbon has really made repetitive tasks, like aligning objects on a page, so much faster. The first thing I do when I sit down at a new computer in Office is to move the QAT below the ribbon and add my favourite, most-used commands to it.
Q: What are a few of the features the average user typically never takes advantage of?
A: I think the QAT is probably the most important feature of PowerPoint. customising it can mean the difference between one click and 3-4 clicks of the mouse. That adds up dramatically in a matter of seconds when aligning a slide full of logos in a grid. One of the lesser-known tools is the Combine Shapes tool. I no longer have to worry about not being able to find the perfect shape or Clip Art. If I can’t find one, I can easily create one myself. The most underused tool I’ve seen in PowerPoint thus far is the Outline Pane — users who don’t think graphically, but instead with words, can write either in the Outline Pane to quickly construct the skeleton of a presentation and then fill it in with supporting copy; they can also write the outline of it in Microsoft Word and import it directly into PowerPoint and the presentation will extrapolate slides, titles and bullets based on the first and subsequent tier-levels the author has written.
Q: What does every PPTX need?
A: The best gift anyone can give a team that has to present a PPTX is to assign them: 1) a leader who will organise the team’s ideas into coherent thoughts and bullets, and then cut as much of it out so that the audience doesn’t have to read so much; and 2) a graphic designer with a specific background in presentations.
Q: What do you personally love about PowerPoint? What have you been able to create with it that you are most proud of?
A: I get a lot of pride out of my work when I get to make people gasp, “I cannot believe this is PowerPoint!” Recently, I created a pitch-winning presentation for my company to a potential client: a full-service and tire automotive retailer. I created a title slide, which looked like the interior front seat of a car with independently animated radio, speedometer, tachometer, turning wheel and windshield wipers. As the presentation started, the image through the windshield revealed the journey the clients took to arrive from their home city to my office — using landmarks in NYC and Chicago. It was a huge hit.
Q: Are you partial to PowerPoint over Apple’s Keynote? Why would one be preferred to the other?
A: There are several other applications on the landscape that are out there, but by far, PowerPoint still, I believe, holds the title of most-used, but that may be due to the fact that the Microsoft Office Suite has been around a lot longer than Apple’s iWork Suite. In my view, Apple’s Keynote was cast into the spotlight in 2006 as Vice-President Al Gore’s presentation application of choice for An Inconvenient Truth. I have nothing against Keynote — I use it on a very regular basis for my job. While I believe Keynote has some impressive features — especially in terms of animation — that PowerPoint lacks, Keynote itself still manages to fall short with the robustness that comes from PowerPoint’s length of life and larger user-base.
Q: What is in the future for PowerPoint? What’s next?
A: Now that PowerPoint allows users to place and embed video and audio directly into a presentation — as opposed to linking, and requiring the user to carry the media around with the PPTX — there’s so much to speculate on. If I had to make a wishlist, it’s all nit-picky stuff, like a better type-setting engine and creating more complicated animations that are either right out of the box or custom-created without having to be a programmer/developer.
Q: What are a few absolute Do’s and Don’ts for a PPTX?
A: DO write less. PowerPoint is a show, not tell, application. The best presentations I’ve seen use type in one of two ways: 1) as a reminder to the speaker of what to say next which also helps the audience to track where the discussion is based on other bullet points on the slide; and 2) slides with minimal type which are evenhandedly balanced out with strong, appropriate imagery.
DO use appropriate type point size. Nothing irks me more than sitting in a conference and from the fourth row back, having no clue what’s on the slide—and I’m wearing my glasses. The minimum type size, as a general rule, is 18 points in Arial.
There is such a thing as “too low” when it comes to resolution. PowerPoint is fairly kind to making a very tiny graphic larger by simply changing the scale of the image to 115 per cent. Always start with a large, higher resolution image whenever possible, and then scale it down. Afterwards, you can use the Compress Images tool to remove the excess data.
DO take risks by using a non-white background. In fact, your slide’s readability rate will go up if you use light text on a dark background; but sparingly.
DO use a program like Adobe Photoshop to outline the object and output a transparent PNG-24 image so that the graphic looks cutout and shapely. Images that are not squares and rectangles ought to be outlined or “clipped” images. It’s an eyesore.
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