Anyone who has endured a lengthy business presentation understands "Death by PowerPoint." And while it's bad enough being a victim of a boring presentation that has inspired this phrase, it's even worse being responsible for one.
Fortunately, designers of presentation software are developing new ways to make business presentations more attractive, dynamic, and interactive. So far, however, Microsoft's PowerPoint continues to dominate the presentation-software market. Corel includes business-presentation software in its Corel Suite software package, and Apple's Keynote is popular among some Macintosh users. But neither has made significant inroads into PowerPoint's market share, which some in the industry estimate to be as high as 95 percent.
Many software companies have given up trying to compete head-to-head with PowerPoint and instead now design software that works within PowerPoint. "PowerPoint is still the 800-pound gorilla," says Tom Bunzel, a Los Angeles consultant who specializes in business, presentation, and Internet-authoring applications. "What I think really sets PowerPoint apart now is that, because it's the standard, other programs can be written inside [it to] expand its functionality."
The latest developments allow executives to turn PowerPoint slides into visually stunning presentations with three-dimensional backgrounds and rich graphics equivalent to those seen in movies and cutting-edge video games, Mr. Bunzel says. For example, Instant Effects, based in Santa Barbara, California, allows users to produce 3D backgrounds and foregrounds, visual effects, animations, and eye-catching transitions in a product called OfficeFX.
"The primary thing is keeping your audience's attention as well as their respect," says Phil Miller, chief operating officer for Instant Effects. "PowerPoint is the dominant [software] being used out there and it gets very, very old."
ProShow Gold also adds rich graphics and entertainment-style effects to presentations. Produced by Austin, Texas-based Photodex, the software offers 90 caption-motion effects, 280 transitions, and slide-motion effects such as panning, zooming and rotation of still images to give a static presentation movie-like effects, says Amanda Sahliyeh, communications director for Photodex.
"I think when you have a program that will create more of a movie or an overall presentation – as opposed to 'click to the next slide' – I think that will capture your attention much better," she says. Ms. Sahliyeh says ProShow Gold also allows users to upload presentations to Photodex's corporate Web site and e-mail them to others for free.
Internet-sharing of presentations is growing in popularity. Programs such as Webx, Raindance, Microsoft Live Meeting, and Macromedia Breeze use cybercams, chat, audio, and whiteboards to allow people to view, comment on, and even change presentations via the Internet.
Macromedia Breeze: Add narration, track viewer responses in real time, and evaluate usage with this presentation and training software by Macromedia Inc. Meetings can viewed in all standard browser applications. Price depends on license duration and web-hosting preferences.
Mary von Herrman, senior communication consultant for Rogen International, says Web-based presentations require a different approach by the presenter, including more interactivity. A chat box for incoming questions is an important feature, and presenters need to be more focused, concise, and energetic in their delivery. "It is much harder for a virtual audience to stay engaged during a Web-based event or meeting," she says.
The newest business-presentation software, spurred by increasingly affordable CD and DVD burners, also allows users to publish in a variety of formats including CDs, DVDs, and the Internet. And Mr. Bunzel says other trends in presentation software include animation, incorporation of video clips, formattable printing options, and audience-response systems that use specially wired meeting rooms to allow viewers using keyboards to respond to the presenter. Systems such as TurningPoint, offered by EduTek, can measure how much information people retain during training sessions, poll audience members, or divide the audience into teams for competitions.
But before rushing out to buy the latest software to make a presentation shine, experts say that ultimately the content of a presentation is what counts. "There seems to be such a preoccupation with the 'giving' part of the presentation that presenters oftentimes lose track of the fact that it's not about them giving a presentation, it's about their audience getting it," says Jim Endicott, owner and manager of Distinction Communication in Portland, Oregon.
ProShow Gold: Heavy on visual effects, Photodex Corp.'s ProShow Gold ($69.95) allows users to customize slide timing, add soundtracks, and publish streaming shows from their own web site. It also allows users to create their own DVDs and screensavers
Mr. Endicott advises clients to "tell a story," appealing to an audience's emotions rather than simply its intellect. Information that appeals to the intellect is stored in short-term memory, he says, while information that appeals to the emotions is stored in long-term memory. And, he notes, high-tech software cannot compensate for someone who is a lousy speaker. "If you don't have a compelling story to communicate," he says, "then everything else is for naught."
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