Non-traditional Scenarios for PowerPoint

The traditional presentation scenario is a conference room meeting, using a projector throwing a 4:3 image measuring about 5-7 feet diagonally.  The presenter faces an audience ranging from five to thirty people.  At conferences, the venue may be a larger space with a correspondingly larger audience and projected image.

Most of the expert advice on presentation design is in reference to this kind of scenario.  However, other scenarios are increasingly common:

  • 16×9 flat screen monitors may replace projectors in corporate conference rooms.
  • Tablets and smartphones, maybe with pico projectors, are being used for presentations.
  • Presentations are made available on the web, either on corporate sites or on specialized sharing sites, as a marketing or sales ploy.
  • Webinars recreate the traditional scenario, but with remote audiences and intervening communications technology.
  • PowerPoint (and similar tools) can be used as an easily accessible, low cost video development platform for web applications, kiosk-style scenarios and trade shows.

These applications have a clear impact on the design of the presentations; your standard “corporate presentation” will not be appropriate for all these scenarios.  Also, some of the common (mostly good) expert advice available on creating effective presentations may not always be applicable.  Following are some of the issues that apply in these non-traditional scenarios.

Viewing Platform

Legibility is crucial for any presentation scenario; a presentation is pointless if the audience cannot clearly see your slides.  The size, brightness and resolution of the image are critical.

The pico projector descriptions and reviews I have seen claim an image size of 8 to 50 inches diagonally.  I suspect that 50 inches is a stretch, depending on the ambient brightness; some reviewers say 25-30 inches is the sweet spot.  Clearly, this is not usable for an audience of more than a few people.  (This review addresses other projector issues.)  Laptops and tablets used by themselves are even more restricted due simply to the size of the screen, even though resolution and quality may be good.

So, even though these approaches may work for smaller audiences, I’m not sure they’re appropriate for business situations.  A serious salesperson, for example, won’t limit the size of a meeting with a prospect for the sake of the convenience or novelty of a pico projector.

For “widescreen” platforms, don’t use PowerPoint to “automatically” convert a standard 4×3 presentation to 16×9.  You should design (or re-design) your presentations to take advantage of the aspect ratio and cope with the smaller image (compared to the traditional projected image); you may be surprised at the opportunities and challenges involved.

For webinars or web-based presentations, a single viewer at a traditional computer screen is the audience.  For this case, you may want to take advantage of the relaxed legibility concerns (e.g., font size).  However, don’t be tempted to overstuff your presentation – clutter is distracting, even at this scale.


Some projectors claim to support PowerPoint as a standalone device.  Webinar services, sharing sites and video converters may also claim to support PowerPoint.

However, these tools may lack support for animations, transitions, hyperlinks (used for onscreen navigation and linking to other applications or demos).  Video/audio imbedding may also be problematic.  Beware of a projector or tablet that suggests you convert your PowerPoint to PDF for presentations.

Readers of this blog know that I believe that animation is an important PowerPoint tool.  Also, a viewer’s ability to navigate can be the key to a web-based presentation.  It can be frustrating to discover that these tools are not available in some venues.  How can SlideShare claim to be an effective presentation sharing site without this support?

An effective solution in a tablet-based presentation is a cloud-based Microsoft Office implementation – these may provide true compatibility (see this NYT article) but require reliable Internet bandwidth.


Another dimension of these scenarios is the presentation dynamic: the relationship between the audience, the presenter (if any) and the slides can differ significantly from the traditional one-to-many “public speaking” scenario.

The popularity of tablet computers may encourage the use of presentations for casual one-to-one meetings (see this post).   You can expect more interaction here than in the traditional setting.  To make sure you can react smoothly to questions and requests, you may want to consider on-screen navigation (hyperlinks). Here’s a post on that subject.

Obviously, scenarios with no presenter (web-based or “kiosk” presentations) are radically different from the traditional setting.  The challenge here is to compensate for the lack of a presenter without overstuffing the presentation and turning the presentation into a document.

An audio narration is supported by PowerPoint and is a good idea for this kind of presentation.  However, doing this smoothly and “professionally” is challenging – even music and sound effects may require tools and skills you don’t have.

You can also include on-screen navigation to compensate for the lack of a presenter and allow the viewer to browse information of particular interest.  Simplicity and obviousness are the key ideas here.

By the way, web presentations are usually converted to video to improve accessibility.  Video usually doesn’t support navigation.  For tradeshow “kiosks,” native PowerPoint can be used.

Large trade show video displays also represent a different dynamic; the goal is usually to capture the attention of a casual passerby.  A series of short punchy vignettes with arresting graphics is an appropriate strategy.  TV commercials are a better model for this than the traditional setting.

All of these platforms and scenarios are different but are well within the capability of PowerPoint and you may enjoy the challenges involved.  However, you will need to reconsider some of the traditional expert advice on design and presenting in these non-traditional settings.

1 Response to “Non-traditional Scenarios for PowerPoint”

  1. 1 Paul Marganski June 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    There are, indeed, a number of pico projectors that will work we for presenting to a few people. It really depends on your budget, how small of a device you want, and whether you *need* a battery-powered unit or can accomodate a plug-in unit. Cheers!

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