These are some tips and traps when using electronic presentation tools. This was written for the Comp 1900 students learning to use Microsoft Power Point for scientific presentations. However, they can be applied to other presentation tools and for web pages used to prepare on-screen electronic presentations, overhead transparencies and slides. This is illustrated with examples from personal experience.
- Check You Have Rights to the Content
- Use a Template
- Check the target system is compatible
- How will you get it there?
- Shrink the pictures
- Squash the text
- Check with someone
- Put it online
Check You Have Rights to the Content
Before using any text, image, or other material, check that you have the right to use it. There are complex laws and social rules about how much of someone's work you can reproduce in a presentation. However, ignorance is no defence. Check that you are not infringing copyright or other laws, or the customs of academic discourse when using material.
Two examples of how you can get caught:
- IFIP96: I designed the logo for the http://www.acs.org.au/ifip96.html on a napkin at a conference organising committee meeting. I duly had the napkin signed by a witness and dated, along with an explanation of the inspiration for the design. This was so if the design was pirated we could defend it in court. Sure enough several months later a computer company on the other side of the world used the logo on a web page. They were contacted and apologised.
- Assignment: Students at a Canberra based University were set a web page design as an assignment. I was asked to asses the designs. One was very good, but used graphics from a Government agency without permission. This wouldn't have been noticed, except for the fact I had designed the web page for the agency. The student was disciplined.
Use a Template
Finding readable and pleasing colours, lettering, layout and backgrounds is a complex task and calls for some aesthetic skill. Beginners should start by using a provided template, from your organisation or supplied with the presentation package. Resist the temptation to change the scheme for just one slide. Don't make the text smaller; it was designed large to be readable on a screen.
Check the target system is compatible
If using electronic display, check that the hardware and software used is compatible with the presentation you prepared:
- Software version: Generally a presentation prepared with an earlier version of the software will run on a later one, but not the reverse.
- Special Hardware: If your presentation uses sound effects (not a good idea), check the target system has. If your development system doesn't have sound, check the template used doesn't produce sound on the target system. Check the screen colour range and resolution is suitable.
- Big and fast enough: If the presentation uses video, check the target system has enough memory and processor capacity to run the video.
- Monochrome Prints: If copies of your presentation are going to be produced as OHP transparencies or slides, check the format is compatible. If they are to be printed in monochrome, check the graphics are clear and don't obscure the text.
Many presentations are delayed while the presenter tries to get the slides to display correctly on the meeting room equipment. On occasions I have seen months of preparation ruined because the colours, resolution, disk or processor were not compatible.
How will you get it there?
Usually the presentation has to be transported from the system it was composed on, to the system to be printed or displayed from. Check that the presentation is not too big to transport. Less than a Mbyte is good. Less than 100Kbytes is better. Check the transport medium is compatible with the target:
- Fit on a floppy?: If using floppy disks, with the presentation fit on one? Does the display machine have a floppy disk drive and is it compatible?
- Small enough to e-mail?: Larger files can be e-mailed (several Mbytes), but can the display machine receive them?
- Download from web If the presentation is to be downloaded from the web for individual viewing, try to make it smaller (less than 100 Kbytes), for people with slow modems.
- Don't compress: If the presentation is too big to send, make it smaller (see below). As a last resort you can try compressing the presentation with software, but it is better to change the presentation. The target machine may not have decompression software.
- Got a removable disk: If using high capacity removable media, such as a CD-ROM or Zip disk, check the system has one, it is compatible and the machine can display a large presentation.
Shrink the pictures
Photographs and diagrams are the biggest cause of bloat in presentations. About 5Kbytes per slide will be used by the text, the rest is images, sound and video.
To make a presentation smaller, first find the biggest image in it. Check that the image is displayed full size, not shrunk to fit. If not, then use a graphics package to make a small copy of the image. For photographs, try using a higher level of compression.
In 1997 I received at the Defence Department an e-mailed briefing from the flag ship of the US 7th Fleet. This document was several Mbytes and had been segmented in transit from the ship at sea into several e-mail messages. When the segments were reassembled the presentation turned out to have a few large photographs of military equipment in it. When these photos were reduced to an appropriate size, the presentation was less than one Mbyte.
Squash the text
A very safe and quick way to prepare a presentation is from an existing electronic document, such as a conference paper or web site. Often the document can be simply copied and pasted into the presentation tool. You may have to convert the document in a compatible format (such as RTF) before copying.
After copying, convert each major heading in the document to a slide title. Convert minor headings to bullet points on the slide. Delete the body text of the document, until it all fits on the slides. Add graphics from the original as appropriate.
Add a reference from the end of the presentation back to the source document. This can be a hypertext link for electronic presentations.
Check with someone
Before making your presentation test it on a limited audience. However carefully prepared, mistakes will remain. It is better to find these on a dry run than the big day.
Put it online
As well as being presented live, electronic presentations can be placed on and internal web server or on the Internet for downloading. This can be done before or after a live presentation. The presentation should be linked from a web page which describes it, so that it can be found. But check your organisation rules, before putting material online