Three Golden Principles for Presentations

moses I’ve been looking at presentations for many years and I have concluded that nearly all presentations suck.

I am astonished that all those hard working professional people out there whose livelihood may depend on delivering an engaging, convincing presentation apparently have no clue about how to do it. And it never seems to get better.

It is so bad that some authorities have recommended outlawing PowerPoint, the most popular presentation creation tool, in the desperate hope that this will somehow make presentations more bearable. This is a little like abandoning Excel in hopes of getting better financial results. The simple truth, of course, is that the trouble is with the worker, not the tool.

There is a lot of good advice out there: reduce clutter, use visuals, tell stories, etc. This is all sensible but seems to have little impact on the millions of terrible presentations created every year.

I think the solution is more fundamental than just recommending certain practices, no matter how effective they might be. It is about changing the mindset of the designer/presenter. So, I’ll take a shot at it and come down from the mountain with a stone tablet. Why not?

I will guarantee that, if you follow these principles, the number of deaths and injuries that occur as a consequence of your presentations will be reduced.

Principle 1: It’s about the audience.

Oh, of course, you know that. Who are they, what do they know, what I want them to do, what is their deepest concern, etc. Simple Sales 101. Right?

No, I’m thinking of something more basic; what it amounts to is that you shouldn’t piss off the audience. It seems reasonable to think that if the audience is not bored, irritated or downright angry with you and your presentation, you may have a greater chance of success.

Angry? How could that be?

Have you heard of “Death by PowerPoint?” – of course you have. A Google search for this term yields more than 8 million hits. It has become universal shorthand for the terrible experience of sitting through a PowerPoint presentation. But somehow, you think this doesn’t apply to you. In fact, I’ll bet that you hate to sit in a presentation audience. Go ahead, admit it.

It has become so fashionable to complain about PowerPoint that you have an uphill battle before you start. Do people groan when you turn on the projector? Maybe you should just give up, sit back and join the majority and bitch about how awful PowerPoint is, or claim that “PowerPoint makes people stupid.” That way, it’s not your fault.

On the other hand, if you have the guts to honestly and sincerely put yourself in an audience seat, you will probably not:

  • Present things that cannot comfortably be seen
  • Present too much stuff at once
  • Present stuff the audience doesn’t need to see, even if it makes you look smarter
  • Expect the audience to read more than a few words at a time while paying attention to you
  • Think that your slides are a handout document
  • Read to your audience
  • And dozens of other abusive acts.

Principle 2: You deliver the message, not the slides.

What’s the most effective tool for delivering your message, you or your PowerPoint slides? I hope to god that you agree that it’s you.

PowerPoint is there to support and reinforce your delivery. In the dim past, we used to call this kind of thing a “visual aid.” Frankly, years later, I can’t think of a better term to describe what PowerPoint’s role should be.

If you follow this principle, you probably will not:

  • Use your slides as a teleprompter
  • Complicate your slides with stuff better conveyed by you
  • Wing it without rehearsal or even knowing your content
  • Refuse to deviate from your slide order, even to respond to the audience

In fact, what you will do is create simple, effective slides and take personal responsibility for engaging and convincing your audience.

Principle 3: There isn’t a third principle.

No one wants to read a post about two principles. It has to be at least three.

Animation Projects: Arriving and Departing

carHere are a couple more projects similar to the last post.

Here’s the first animation:

The truck appears to move towards the viewer; this is done by combining motion paths with Grow/Shrink animations. As it comes “forward,” the truck appears to drop behind hills in the scene and rise over them. Using several versions of the truck and arranging the scene in layers makes this effect (the technique used in the “putt” animation in the last post.)

As usual, the truck is constructed of standard PowerPoint shapes (although this is a little more elaborate than usual):


Since I need three different sizes of this image, I will use a png version in the animation rather than the original.

Faithful readers will recall that re-sizing (scaling) a PowerPoint object does not affect parts of the object that are measured in points (lines, text, etc.). Converting the object to a png or jpg removes this irritation as in this example:


The slide layout is organized in layers; this makes the animation work. Here’s a sketch:


Here’s the Selection Pane for this slide; objects in the list are In Front of objects below them (e.g., “front truck” is In Front of “forground”):


The foreground and background objects are groups of simple shapes.

There are three versions of the truck image. This is because, as noted in the previous post, an object can’t be in two layers at once. So, at the transitions, the truck behind a layer is replaced (Disappear/Appear) by a truck in front of the layer. Since the size of the truck is changing, the sizes of the truck images is important.

Here is the Animation Pane (annotated):


The last effect uses the Fracture transition effect to reveal the black slide with the text. You may want to try some other “breakthrough” effects outlined in the series starting with this post.

Here are a few details:

  • Start by building the layers of the scene and positioning and sizing the three truck images.
  • Use the Selection Pane to order the elements; naming the elements is also helpful.
  • Add the motion paths; I used the “targeting” technique described in the last post to set the end points of the motion paths.
  • Using the sizes of the truck images, calculate and apply the Grow effect With the motion paths.
  • Adjust the timing so that the animation looks as you want it to.
  • Add the Appear/Disappear effects.
  • Create the next slide and set the Transition effect. Set the first slide to transition at 0:00; this will actually transition after the animations. There is a side effect here; even if you set the animation to start on click, it will start automatically. I have no idea why the PowerPoint designers thought this was a good idea, even if they actually planned it.

Here’s an animation that “reverses” the effect:

Here’s how the car is constructed:


As before, I used png versions of the car image for the animation.

Here’s the Selection Pane for the scene showing how the elements are layered (top of the list = front):


As before, there are three versions of the car.

Here’s the Animation Pane and a enhanced picture of the motion paths:


Some notes:

  • This animation includes a rotation (Spin) along with the Shrink and motion.
  • A few Teeters are used to add some additional action to the motion.
  • The path is not vertical as in the “truck” animation. This makes the car appear to slide sideways a little. You should probably make the motion paths nearly vertical for this kind of animation.  Using diagonal paths realistically would require a 3d version of the object which is a little tough in PowerPoint although I may give it a shot later.

If you want a free PowerPoint file with these projects, use this form:

An Animation for Success: Sinking the Putt


Here’s a widely understood metaphor for success:

The “secret” to this animation involves dropping the ball into the hole.

The green is in two parts, the foreground and the background; the foreground is In Front of the background. The hole is at the boundary of the two parts. Here’s a sketch:


The foreground shape is a Rectangle; I Subtracted (a Merge Shapes option) an Oval to get the cutout for the hole. The background is similar; I Edited Points to get the curve on the top. Two Ovals representing the cup are In Back of the background shape.

The ball must start In Front of the foreground shape and move (with a Shrink) to the edge of the cup but it must fall In Back of the foreground. A single object can’t be both In Front and In Back of another object so the ball object must be replaced with another ball before it drops. Another sketch:


So, after the “front” ball reaches the edge of the hole, it Disappears and the “back” ball Appears before dropping behind the foreground. Here are some details:

  • The front ball is a 0.6 in diameter circle. I drew a “target” ball (0.3 in diameter) at the edge of the hole and set Drawing Guides at the center of the target ball. I drew the motion path (a Custom Path) so that the end point is at the intersection of the target drawing guides. Faithful readers will recognize this technique.

Later versions of PowerPoint display a ghostly image of the object when motion paths are drawn. This is meant to be helpful in constructing the motion path by indicating the location of the object as the path is drawn. In simple cases this is useful but I find that the motion path endpoint can be set more accurately using the “target” drawing guides.

Also, the “ghost” does not take into account other animations (e.g., Grow/Shrink or Spin) that occur With the motion path.  So, when other animations are involved, the ghost image of the original object is not very helpful.

  • I added a 50% Grow/Shrink With the motion path.
  • To make the putt more dramatic, the motion path has a double curve:


  • Also, I used the “Smooth End” option to make the ball  slow down and come to a dramatic pause on the edge of the cup:


  • The original ball Disappears and a second smaller ball Appears and drops into the cup.
  • The rest of the slide is made of objects layered as indicated in this sketch:


This simple, “flat” style is better than a more realistic rendering – it’s cleaner and less distracting. It’s also easier (and trendy). I used several clip art examples from the web for inspiration.

But what about the sound effect??? This is the first time I have used sound in these posts (if you didn’t hear the sound in the video above, you may have your speaker muted) and I don’t think I can get away without some comments on sounds.

In the first place, I am not convinced that sound effects are appropriate in the typical stand-up conference room presentation.  They can easily be distracting and off-putting; especially if they are over-used or used inappropriately. In larger venues, sound from your presenting device/laptop may not be supported. As with many PowerPoint features, some discretion is called for.

On the other hand, sound is certainly useful for web videos and similar applications; narrations and music (as well as sound effects) can be quite effective.

Here’s how the ball drop sound effect is done:

  • This particular sound effect is free from There dozens of sites that can provide a bewildering array of sound effects, not all free but not expensive. A favorite of mine is
  • Find out what audio formats are supported by PowerPoint here.
  • After you’ve downloaded the clip, use Insert/Audio/Audio on my PC to insert the audio clip. A speaker icon/image will appear on your slide along with a small player bar.
  • The Audio Tools/Playback tab will appear. Under Start, select Automatically; this option places the audio clip on the Animation pane so that it can be synchronized with the animation.

Apparently, the PowerPoint designers thought the primary use of audio would be that the presenter/viewer would manually click on the speaker icon to hear the audio (I’ve never used sound this way). So, when you select Start/On Click (the default), that’s the way it works. The clip will appear in the Animation Pane but will run only when the icon (the “trigger”) is clicked.

By the way, the Format option under Audio Tools simply provides the usual picture tools  applied to the icon; it has nothing to do with the audio.

  • You can select an option so that the speaker icon does not appear during slide show mode; I usually just move it off the visible slide space.
  • I used the Trim Audio to shorten the clip – the ball rattled around too long in the original clip, I thought. Trimming was surprisingly straightforward.
  • You can apply many of the usual animation options to an audio clip in the Animation Pane. Unfortunately, PowerPoint animation does not recognize the duration of the clip; it treats it as an instantaneous event. This means that synchronizing audio with animation effects may require some trial and error.
  • I positioned the clip to occur With the final ball drop; here’s the final animation pane (annotated):


Added 7/8/2015: A reader asked if “3d shading could be added to the ball and still make it roll realistically.” First, PowerPoint “3d” and animation don’t play together. There’s an example of applying animation to a 3d object in this post on 3d gears. And I don’t think it can be faked; the Spin rotation is in the plane of the slide rather than “in” to the slide. If the animation were “flat” (e.g. horizontal) a Spin might be convincing. In short, don’t expect too much from PowerPoint animation, Thanks, reader, for the comment.

As usual, use the form below to request a free copy of the PowerPoint file for this project. If you don’t receive a response in a few days, you may have made an error in your email address.

PowerPoint Secrets: My Tools

tools bannerAs a result of years working with PowerPoint, I have some favorite tools and methods that may be useful to you, too.

In versions of PowerPoint that implement the “ribbon,” a “quick access toolbar” is also provided; this remains on the screen regardless of which “tab” is active. The value of this is that you can select a set of commands that is always available, always in the same position, regardless of PowerPoint’s muddling around switching tabs trying to guess what you want to do next.

You can select commands using the pull-down at the right side of the toolbar and clicking on More Commands.

What you select for your toolbar depends on your habits and what you do with PowerPoint. In this post, I’ll tell you what’s on my toolbar and why; you can go from there.

(By the way, my choices are partly determined by the fact that I don’t have the memory or the coordination to make keyboard shortcuts work. Besides, with PowerPoint, my hand is almost always on the mouse.)

So, here’s the list:

  • Undo, Redo. Obvious unless you never make mistakes. Undo is probably already on the toolbar.
  • Copy, Paste. Again, obvious. These tools are on a couple of the tabs but not in the same location on each tab. I don’t seem to use Cut that much but you may want it on the toolbar.

By the way, why doesn’t PowerPoint have a delete tool?? I think there used to be an “Erase” but I can’t find it now.

  • Group, Ungroup, Regroup. These seem to be essential for the kind of work I do which involves a lot of drawing. Leaving the components that make up an object ungrouped is asking for trouble. Also, I tend to use groups of groups and, given the way PowerPoint grouping works, I often have to ungroup to edit a component.
  • Bring to Front, Send to Back. I use these to manage the layering of objects on the slide. If the layering is the least bit complicated, I use the Select Pane (see below).
  • Duplicate. For consistency and appearance, I create a lot of similar objects. Duplicating an object to help create a similar object seems natural. Also, using duplicate several times can create a series of objects with equal spacing (see this post for more).
  • Duplicate Slide.  When I working on a complicated slide, I often duplicate a version of the slide as a backup; that is, if I screw up the next step I can always go back.
  • Format Painter. Again, this useful in creating similar objects.

There appears to be space for about 14 icons in the “quick access toolbar.” I have suggested 12 above so you can add a couple more. Or you can just ignore my suggestions.

PowerPoint also provides a number of persistent “panes;” these are toolsets that, once evoked, stay available on the desk top.

I usually use two monitors: the Normal view is on one and the other is used for the “panes” below. This is not quite as convenient on a single monitor.

  • Format… pane.  This pane collects in one place all the tools used for fills/outlines, object and text effects, size/rotation, etc. Having the pane open avoids some of the clicks and scans it takes to find these functions in the ribbon tabs. You can evoke this pane by right-clicking on an object and selecting Format… or by clicking on the Drawing Tools tab. The pane will change based on the type of object selected. When a object includes text, be careful that you pick the appropriate toolset (Shape Options or Text Options).
  • Selection and Visibility pane. I lauded the virtues of this pane in a previous post. Briefly, it lets you control the layering and grouping of objects on a slide directly. You can also name objects (!) and make them disappear temporarily so you can work efficiently on complex slides.
  • Animation pane. Set effect parameters, sequence, timing, overlaps, etc. using this pane. Indispensable except for all but the simplest animations.

I usually have an Explorer window open on the second monitor, too. Did you know you can drag images directly from the Explorer window onto your slide? Fascinating.

Storms and Swarms – Part 3: Word Swarms



This is the third in a series of posts about “storms and swarms.”  These are animated effects that generally affect the entire slide space, involve a fairly large number of objects and exhibit a certain “randomness.” A single visual metaphor (e.g., rain or attack) is usually the goal of the effect. The first post used a “rain” effect to suggest the growth in the use of wireless devices. The second post demonstrated a couple of “attack” effects. This post will show you a “word swarm.”

My posts on word clouds (here and here) have been pretty popular. These examples use an array of words and a figure to suggest a prospect’s worry  or concern; this post uses an animated word “swarm” with a similar intention. Here’s the animation:

The animation of the individual words is more complicated that the previous swarm examples. It involves two Zooms, a Spin and a Dissolve. Here’s a single word:

Here’s the animation pane for the single word with some notes:

swrm 7


The Entry and Exit Zooms cause the word to appear to fly out of the slide; there is a Dissolve near the end of the Exit Zoom. A 30 degree Spin is simultaneous with the other effects.

You can apply the animation to the other words by using the Animation Painter. To achieve the appearance of randomness, I adjusted the position of the words on the screen, varied the start times and overlaps (the total duration is the same for each word) and changed the spin to Clockwise for about half the words. As I have noted before in this series, I don’t know any easy way to do this. I just made the adjustments one-by-one until it looked right.

Here is the layout and (part of) the Animation Pane:

swrm 8


If you want a free copy of a PowerPoint file containing these examples, use the form below:

Storms and Swarms – Part 2: Attack!


This is the second in series about “storm and swarm” animations. The first post described a “rain” effect to suggest the growth in wireless devices. That effect uses vertical motion, top to bottom. Horizontal motion can also be used as in this example suggesting hospital security threats:

The building is a simple combination of Rectangles and a projectile is a Union of a Rectangle and an Oval.

The projectiles are placed off the right (left) edge and Fly Out/To Left (To Right) animations are used; this is simpler than using motion paths:

swrm hosp 1

The animation timing is “random;” as I noted in the first post in this series, creating randomness is a challenge. The approach is basically to fiddle with the start times until you get the effect you want. In this case, the durations are all the same:

swrm hosp 2

You can also create effects where the motion appears to come out of the slide, or into it. Here’s an example that’s another kind of attack:

The UFOs are a couple of Ovals; the skyline is a series of Rectangles and Pentagons.

The UFO animation is a Basic Zoom/In To Screen Bottom with the starting positions off the top edge of the slide space. The “In” specifies that the observer moves in (the object gets larger). I also added two instances of the Teeter effect With the zoom to add to the flying saucer effect.

The zoom effects (PowerPoint 2010) are fairly bewildering. The Basic (?) Zoom has 16 variations, 4 of which are identical to the separate Zoom effect. You can, of course, create virtually any zooming effect you want by combining Grow/Shrink with motions.

Here’s the layout and animation pane for the UFO swarm:

ufo swarmIn this case, the sequence is fairly regular so it’s easier than the other swarms. Again, each UFO gets a zoom with two Teeters simultaneous with the zoom.

The next post in this series will create a word swarm.

You can request a free copy of a PowerPoint file containing these animations by using the form below. Please take care with entering your email address; if it fails, you won’t get your file. In fact, if you don’t get your file within a few days, try again.

Storms and Swarms – Part 1: It’s Raining!!

storm banner

I was working with a client on a video to explain the growth and importance of wireless devices in healthcare. He said he wanted to show it “raining iPads.” This is the “device rain” segment I created:

Wait a minute, you say? A video? Isn’t this a PowerPoint blog?

Of course, what I’m describing is a video created with PowerPoint. This is a much under-utilized way to create corporate/sales/web videos without the expense of hiring a gang of experts. I will revisit this topic.

The “device rain” is an example of the kind of animation I call “storms and swarms.” These generally affect the entire slide space, involve a fairly large number of objects and exhibit a certain “randomness.” A single visual metaphor (e.g., rain) is usually the goal of the effect.

I took a simple approach to this “device rain” effect; I created a Group of device images (pngs with transparent backgrounds):swrm 1

I duplicated the group twice, positioned the three copies above the slide space, and applied a Down motion path to each instance (after the text animation).  I overlapped the motion paths to get a mix of devices; here’s the animation pane:

swrm 2

This is a pretty cheap solution, I admit. It worked for the video because the “scene” lasted only a few seconds and it didn’t take too long to produce.

But why not take the obvious approach and animate each device separately?

In the interest of better PowerPoint and for all my fans out there, I tried that and got this result:

Here’s the animation pane for this version:

swrm 3And here are the motion paths:

swrm 4

Note that I cheated a little by repeating each path to get a longer sequence. Even so, this is pretty complicated.

It’s fairly easy to apply the animation to the 26 images; the difficulty is in the tedious process of setting the starting location, path length and effect duration for each object to get a random-appearing swarm. In fact, simulating randomness is the primary challenge for the “rain” effect. I’m not sure this approach is worth the trouble and time.

However, we can improve the first simple approach by observing that, in real life, objects falling close to you will appear bigger and faster moving than those farther away. To simulate this, create two groups, one for the foreground and one for the background:

swrm 5

swrm 6

Use animation like the first variation, remembering to make the foreground objects (larger) move faster than the background. Here’s what this looks like:

Attentive readers will notice a couple of other things about this version:

  • The text is animated word by word. Text animation is an important technique for videos; see this post on “kinetic typography” for more examples.
  • I used the techniques outlined in this post to create two continuous streams (background and foreground); for a standup presentation this would allow the swarm effect to continue until you click to the next slide .

The next post in this series will show you how to build other types of swarms.

As usual, a free PowerPoint file containing these examples is available; use the form below to request a copy. Be careful in providing your email address – if it’s wrong, you won’t get your file.

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