Just-in-time education and training is becoming increasingly important to keep pace with rapid advances in technology. User group conferences, in-house agency staff training and retraining all require fast, effective transmission of technical concepts. A lecturer standing before an audience is a poor substitute for hands-on technical training, but presentation tools can help transform those distant ideas and concepts into well-understood practical tools.

Happily, the technology of presentation has progressed from poster board and opaque projectors to modern presentation tools that make it possible for anybody to put together an effective exhibition. There are a wide variety of tools to choose from, making it a challenge for a first-time buyer to discern which will suit their needs. The following is a rundown of some of the most popular and common tools available on the market.

POINT OF POWER

Microsoft PowerPoint 4.0 for Windows and the Macintosh is the most popular presentation application on the market today. Does that mean that it's the best? It depends on your expectations. PowerPoint effectively creates overheads, on-screen electronic presentations, high-quality 35-mm slides, speaker's notes, audience handouts or outline notes.

According to PowerPoint for Windows: A Visual Quickstart Guide, "This type of software provides you with tools for creating the components of your presentations. You can create bulleted lists, numerical tables, organization charts and business graphs (pies, bars, lines and more)." You can also import documents you've created in other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Word or Excel.

For the inexperienced, PowerPoint offers IntelliSense technology -- a built-in intelligence that senses what you want to do and helps produce the desired results. For example, choose from a set of templates with the Pick A Look Wizard and have it customize the look of your displays. The AutoContent Wizard includes a number of subjects -- such as "Selling a Product" or "Communicating Bad News" -- to help simplify your displays.

"PowerPoint contains a lot of advantages compared to many other packages," said Jerry Roberts, a computer graphics specialist at the University of Utah Medical Illustrations Service Department. Roberts said the key to PowerPoint's simplicity is its interface. The opening window contains an application control box, a variety of command buttons, a standard toolbar, presentation control-menu box, slide buttons and more.

The toolbar -- a standard feature in many of today's word processing applications -- contains all of the buttons necessary to drive the program. Instead of choosing a command from a menu, click on a button. If you don't understand how that button functions, click on a little yellow bubble called a ToolTip. This provides a brief description of the button and the status of the toolbar. As an added bonus, every time PowerPoint starts, it displays a message box that contains short tips to help make designs go smoother. Experienced users may want to switch off this feature.

When it comes time to create the actual presentation, PowerPoint's features make it possible for slides to include text, graphs, clip art, tables, pictures and objects done in other applications. According to Field Guide to Microsoft PowerPoint for Windows 95, "Visual elements of a slide get inserted as objects. PowerPoint lets you add charts, clip art, drawn objects and organization charts to slides."

PowerPoint offers a number of other features that couldn't possibly be covered in this short review. If you're considering investing in the product, be sure to pick up one of the dozens of books on the subject. For more information, contact Microsoft Corp. at 206/882-8080.

PERSUASIVE ACTION

Though PowerPoint may be the number-one seller in the presentation application market, Adobe Persuasion isn't far behind. Many users give Persuasion high marks for an intuitive interface and a learning curve low enough for the average person to master. "Persuasion has many more visible tools than PowerPoint," said Roberts. "It's