Past Issues of Government Technology

Presentation Tools: The Vision Thing

The wide array of presentation tools currently on the market make it possible for anyone to put together an impressive exhibition.

by / February 29, 1996 0
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 kind of like being presented a jumbo jet control panel vs. a Volkswagen control panel."

Cindy Pope, an instructor for the TI IN Educational Network, a remote learning facility based in Texas, said, "We appreciate the improved user interface, especially the floating palettes and the fact that we can add our own approved colors to the palette. The accessibility of the fonts, line widths and other tools also reduces lesson development time and helps new instructors learn the software very quickly."

Persuasion's basic features include advanced precision tools to fine-tune any presentation right down to kerning the text on slides, transparencies and handouts. Using the built-in multimedia features, add animation, sound, branching and video clips. Choose from 80 chart formats, then manipulate, rotate and customize them.

Roberts, who helps run a service bureau at the University of Utah, appreciates the way the program is so easy to manipulate on the fly. "When we get a job and it doesn't look quite right, we modify text, color ratios and get perfect slides out of it," explained Roberts. "In a medical teaching environment, professors are conservative -- they don't want a lot of flash in the pan. What's excellent about Persuasion is what you see on screen is what you get. When professors deliver text, we import it and see what's going on. If the screen is off-center, we fix it. Once we've perfected it on screen, the finished output goes direct to film. Other packages don't offer this kind of control."

Persuasion also features on-screen ruler guides, the ability to preview and optimize color systems according to output media, an integrated outliner with a two-way link between slide text and outline, tabs, multiple levels for titles, autotemplate technology, comprehensive illustration features and flexible output options.

For more information, contact Adobe Systems Inc., 1585 Charleston Rd., P.O. Box 7900, Mountain View, CA 94039, or call 415/961-4400.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
So you want a different kind of presentation tool -- one that is specially designed to create powerful multimedia presentations? You may want a package that is more versatile and flexible. This is where Macromedia has a solution with its variety of graphics applications, from Director 4.0 to Freehand 5.0, and from Authorware 3.0 to SoundEdit 16. If you're looking for a comparable product to PowerPoint or Persuasion, consider Director for Windows and the Macintosh as an excellent alternative.

Like its competitors, Director combines text, graphics animation, sound and video to develop a full-scale presentation. Its many features allow you to create presentations, entertainment, educational CD-ROMs, simulations and visualizations, digital publications, electronic reference material, software demonstration disks and more.

Dr. Stewart Grauer, a teacher from North Coast Independent High
School in Encinitas, Calif., used Director to put together a CD-ROM yearbook done by students. He said that users have to be prepared for a steep learning curve that may take patience to master, but once over the hump it's well worth the effort. "Director enables us to tie in basic text or literature and make it come alive. You can instantly connect it with sound and video. It's like reading and getting a little show to go along with it," he said.

Features like the Cast Window allow you to put a production together -- similar to the methodology applied in a Hollywood production. Start by assembling a group of "cast" members, which in Director are the multimedia elements that comprise your movies. Then assign cast members to various parts of the score, which is a detailed record that tells Director what cast members should do on a frame. This information is stored in the cast window, which is a multimedia database. Assemble your production by combining features such as the paint window, which contains a complete paint program that allows you to edit graphics, add animation and more.
e person to master. "Persuasion has many more visible tools than PowerPoint," said Roberts. "It's kind of like being presented a jumbo jet control panel vs. a Volkswagen control panel."

Cindy Pope, an instructor for the TI IN Educational Network, a remote learning facility based in Texas, said, "We appreciate the improved user interface, especially the floating palettes and the fact that we can add our own approved colors to the palette. The accessibility of the fonts, line widths and other tools also reduces lesson development time and helps new instructors learn the software very quickly."

Persuasion's basic features include advanced precision tools to fine-tune any presentation right down to kerning the text on slides, transparencies and handouts. Using the built-in multimedia features, add animation, sound, branching and video clips. Choose from 80 chart formats, then manipulate, rotate and customize them.

Roberts, who helps run a service bureau at the University of Utah, appreciates the way the program is so easy to manipulate on the fly. "When we get a job and it doesn't look quite right, we modify text, color ratios and get perfect slides out of it," explained Roberts. "In a medical teaching environment, professors are conservative -- they don't want a lot of flash in the pan. What's excellent about Persuasion is what you see on screen is what you get. When professors deliver text, we import it and see what's going on. If the screen is off-center, we fix it. Once we've perfected it on screen, the finished output goes direct to film. Other packages don't offer this kind of control."

Persuasion also features on-screen ruler guides, the ability to preview and optimize color systems according to output media, an integrated outliner with a two-way link between slide text and outline, tabs, multiple levels for titles, autotemplate technology, comprehensive illustration features and flexible output options.

For more information, contact Adobe Systems Inc., 1585 Charleston Rd., P.O. Box 7900, Mountain View, CA 94039, or call 415/961-4400.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
So you want a different kind of presentation tool -- one that is specially designed to create powerful multimedia presentations? You may want a package that is more versatile and flexible. This is where Macromedia has a solution with its variety of graphics applications, from Director 4.0 to Freehand 5.0, and from Authorware 3.0 to SoundEdit 16. If you're looking for a comparable product to PowerPoint or Persuasion, consider Director for Windows and the Macintosh as an excellent alternative.

Like its competitors, Director combines text, graphics animation, sound and video to develop a full-scale presentation. Its many features allow you to create presentations, entertainment, educational CD-ROMs, simulations and visualizations, digital publications, electronic reference material, software demonstration disks and more.

Dr. Stewart Grauer, a teacher from North Coast Independent High
School in Encinitas, Calif., used Director to put together a CD-ROM yearbook done by students. He said that users have to be prepared for a steep learning curve that may take patience to master, but once over the hump it's well worth the effort. "Director enables us to tie in basic text or literature and make it come alive. You can instantly connect it with sound and video. It's like reading and getting a little show to go along with it," he said.

Features like the Cast Window allow you to put a production together -- similar to the methodology applied in a Hollywood production. Start by assembling a group of "cast" members, which in Director are the multimedia elements that comprise your movies. Then assign cast members to various parts of the score, which is a detailed record that tells Director what cast members should do on a frame. This information is stored in the cast window, which is a multimedia database. Assemble your production by combining features such as the paint window, which contains a complete paint program that allows you to edit graphics, add animation and more.

"Director integrates all of its resources," said Grauer. "Students can take just about anything and make it jump off the page with sound, video and still photos. It integrates well with other programs, such as ClarisWorks or Photoshop. Virtually any computer technology can be integrated into Director so you have a full circus."

For additional information, contact Macromedia, 600 Townsend, San Francisco, CA 94103, or call 415/252-2000.

MAKE A NOTE OF IT
For managers looking for a product that works well for groups trying to put together a presentation, Lotus Corp. has thrown its hat into the graphics ring with Freelance Graphics 96, a program that provides a start-to-finish approach to creating all types of presentations, including reports, plans and proposals. Unlike the other programs previously mentioned, this one stands out from the crowd because it offers team computing, productivity and integration features.

The program incorporates specialized tools so you can electronically incorporate feedback and collaborate on a project. The following features help make a team work more efficiently together:

* TeamReview provides mark-up tools that allow team members to make edits or suggestions.

* TeamShow allows users in remote locations to communicate through the program.

* Presentation Reviewer uses custom-designed tools to facilitate the review process and uses a feature called Quick Comments to give reviewers the ability to comment on a presentation.

Freelance Graphics 96 also features interactive charting, diagramming and outlining tools that provide instant visual feedback via a thumbnail sketch. Other enhancements include the ability to transition effects, an integrated animation player, 75 ready-made animated movie clips and sample
sound clips.

To learn more, contact Lotus Development Corp., 55 Cambridge Pkwy., Cambridge, MA 02142, or call 617/577-8500.

Michelle Gamble-Risley is the publisher of California Computer News.


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