Archive for the 'Rant' Category

Weighing Your Options – Spring and Digital Scales


The previous post demonstrated animated “balances” as presentation metaphors. Other forms of weighing devices use an indicator of some kind rather than a direct comparison of two weights. Mechanical scales using springs and electronic scales with digital displays are examples.

The simplest kind of spring scale is a “slider;” here’s an example:

The animation suggests that outdated legacy technology puts the organization in the red danger zone. The bouncing effect adds some life to the animation.

Here’s how the scale is constructed:

  • There are 4 parts (groups): the static body (blue outline), the load (black), the pointer (red), and the “hanger” (green). Each is made of standard PowerPoint shapes.
  • The load is labeled using an OCR style font to suggest obsolescence.

Here are the animation details:

The load appears with a Fade; the load, hanger and  pointer are animated by a Down motion path with a Bounce End option (I added a red rectangle to the animation pane to show the bounce timing). These parts move together but are separate groups; after you apply the motion path to one part, use the Animation Painter to apply the motion to the other parts.

NOTE: The Bounce End option is available for motion paths and some other effects; the option is set in the Effect Options pane:

The option is set by using the slider to the time you want the bounce to start relative to the start of the effect; in this case the duration of the motion path is 0.8 sec so the bounce occurs in the last 0.2 seconds of the motion.

The motion path actually moves beyond the end point temporarily to implement the bounce.

The next example of a spring scale is the type you might see in a grocery store; it uses a pointer on a round dial to register the weight in the suspended pan:


Here’s the construction:


There are three parts: the body/dial (blue), the pointer (red) and the pan assembly (green). The pointer (a Diamond, an Oval and an Isosceles Triangle) includes a dashed circle to establish the center. The pan assembly is a Pentagon (rotated) and a Chord.

I used the techniques discussed in my seminal post on clocks to build the dial. Briefly, create a group containing opposing tic marks and digits, duplicate and rotate around a common center. Editing the digits completes the dial:


TIP: You can rotate an object precisely using the Size options (Format Shape/Size & Properties/Size/Rotation).  Changing the Rotation value (degrees) rotates the object relative to its initial position. You can use negative numbers for counterclockwise rotations. When a rotated object is duplicated, it retains the edited value.

Here are the animation details for the spring scale:


  • I used a Fly-in for the entrance of the load; it’s easier than a motion path. The duration is 0.6 seconds.
  • I used the Bounce End option for the Fly-in; I set the timing at 0.3 seconds. This means that the load will reach its lowest point at 0.3 seconds and the bounce effect will start at this point, lasting until the end of the Fly-in – 0.6 seconds.
  • As in the motion path, the object will temporarily move slightly beyond its expected endpoint.
  • The Teeter effect on the pan starts when the load reaches it (0.3 sec).
  • The Spin of the hand also starts at this point.
  • The Spin also has a Bounce End option. In this example. the Spin has a duration of 0.7 seconds with the bounce timing at 0.5 seconds. This means that the hand reaches a point slightly beyond its endpoint at 0.5 seconds and bounces until 0.7 seconds.

TIP: Teeter is an “emphasis” effect (not associated with Entry or Exit). It causes the object to rotate slightly, return and repeat (4 times). With short durations, it is useful for simulating vibrations or shudders. You can see the details of the effect by creating an example with a long duration. The center of rotation can be altered by grouping the object with a properly sized and positioned circle.

You can use red-yellow-green segments on the dial to show a change in status or add indicative text.

A variation can show a negative effect; maybe too much workload:


Another “last straw” load has been added with the same animation of the load and the pan as before. However, the hand has a motion path with a simultaneous Spin and the dial falls. A dashed circle has been added to the dial so that a Spin makes it fall to the side. You can invent additional chaos if you want;  see the explosions post, for example.

Close observers will note that the pan doesn’t actually drop when the weights are added in this example. This slide has enough going on. If you disagree, you can add motion paths as in the previous examples.

Removing negative things like debts or distractions can improve the situation. Here’s an example demonstrating this using another kind of spring scale:


The construction of the scale is straightforward using standard shapes.

Here is the construction of the red-yellow-green indicator:


TIP: The 5-pointed Star (and several other standard shapes) are not symmetric when their height and width are equal. Use a circle as a guide to manually adjust width and height to get a radially symmetric shape.

RANT: I have had trouble using Artistic Effects like Blur; the effect may work once but then becomes unavailable or inoperable. Some others have reported these problems. I suspect that it’s because I use a $400 Chinese laptop and the software is badly designed. I have no problems using other software (e.g., Corel Paintshop) to create blurs and other effects.

The objects disappear via a Dissolve and a simultaneous motion path. Here’s the animation:


Digital scales don’t create a lot of action, except for the display – and we can take advantage of that. Here’s a personal “bathroom” scale:


I used a font that mimics a 7-segment LCD display (from ), common for these devices. There are 5 text boxes that appear, one after the other – an Appear animation, followed 0.2 sec later by a Disappear and an simultaneous Appear for the the next text box.

Here’s an animation  about relieving burdens that uses a digital scale:


Here are notes on this animation:

  • For simplicity, I created all the text boxes spread out on a separate slide.
  • The first text box (HELP) uses a Start After Previous/Blink animation with the Repeat Until Next Click option. The HELP text will blink when the slide appears and will continue until the first click.
  • I applied After Previous/Appear to all remaining text boxes. Then I added Disappear after 0.2 sec  to  each box. You can do this in two steps by selecting the boxes in order (Cntrl/Click) and then applying the two animations.
  • I modified three animations to Start on Click.
  • Here’s part of the Animation Pane:


  • Next, I selected all of the text boxes and aligned them Center and Middle; this stacks the text boxes. Then, I copied and pasted the text boxes on the indicator window on the scale.
  • To complete the project, I animated the loads.

If you want to see more details, use the link below and click on the PowerPoint icon to download a free “source” PowerPoint file containing these projects:

Powerpointy blog – spring and digital scales

See this page for more on downloading files.

If you have questions, praise or complaints, please add a comment below. If you appreciate my efforts, liking or following this blog might be a good idea. To contact me directly, use the contact form on the About page.

PowerPoint People – 3D Robots


This is another post on adding characters to your presentations to help tell and sell your story. There’s an earlier series on simple cartoons (basic figures, characters and expressions) and one on using Lego people.

Since robots are not confined to a human shape, you can create a variety of characters and “occupations.” And, if you think robots can’t have personalities, remember Hal, Bender and WALL-E.

Here’s an example of a humanoid robot figure created in PowerPoint:

RANT: My posts on PowerPoint “3d” are exercises in using tools in ways for which they were never intended.  In addition, PowerPoint 3d is poorly integrated with other PowerPoint drawing features (e.g., shadows) and poorly documented (e.g., 3d rotations and lighting). So, expect serious limitations and disappointments if you venture here without guidance.

I created this robot using techniques I have used before making 3d blocks, buildings, vehicles and other things. Basically, it involves assembling separate objects, each with a “Parallel” rotation, to achieve a “3d” construction.

As usual, I started with front and side views of the robot. Only standard PowerPoint shapes are used; no freehand drawing required:


Here are some notes:

  • For clarity, I used different outline colors for the body/head, the legs and the arms.
  • I strongly recommend using Snap to Grid with a rather  coarse grid setting (I used 0.05 in.) to make it easier to draw and align the shapes.
  • Drawing Guides are used to align the parts in the two views. If these alignments are wrong, it will be obvious when you try to assemble the 3d construction.
  • The “chest” is a Union of two Rectangles; I’ll try to make it clear why I used Union rather than Group later.
  • The”hand” is a Chord shape and two Rectangles.

Next, I made a temporary copy of the front view and rotated it 90 degrees. Using the side view, the rotated front view and drawing guides I drew several “cross sections” of the robot that will help align the parts in the 3d construction. Here’s how I drew the cross section at the top of the “hip” section (outlined in yellow); it includes the outline of the disc that connects the hip with the chest section.


It’s easier to draw these sections one at a time than to draw an entire top view.

Here are the sections and where they will fit in the 3d construction:


The sections that will locate the arms and legs are simply copied from the side view.

Here’s the process for the construction of the body and head:

  • The parts and yellow “sections” are rotated (Parallel/Isometric/Left Down and Right Up) and moved into position to form the outline of the head, chest and hip parts.
  • The circles are rotated and filled to form the discs that connect the parts. 3d Depth is added (72 points per inch).
  • The other parts are filled; Depth is added using the yellow sections as guides.
  • Using the yellow sections as guides, the discs and body parts are moved into position. For example, the first “neck” section is aligned with the head. Then the neck disk is aligned with the circle in the neck section. The section representing the top of the chest is then aligned with the neck disc, allowing the chest to be aligned next. Imagine that you are stacking the parts.
  • Keep the sections “in front” during this step; this keeps them visible and allows easy removal later.

The next step is adding the limbs:

The arm and leg parts are Unioned to form the arm and leg (more about this later). Depth is added to the arm and leg. The rotated yellow sections are aligned with the side of the body allowing the arm and leg to be positioned. The other side is completed using copies of the leg, arm and sections. Even though the “disc” parts are invisible in this view, they establish the relationship between the body parts.

To finish, remove the yellow section objects and color the body parts, adding details as needed:

RANT: For various reasons, the Material, Lighting and Lighting Angle tools are useless for this project. After considerable experimentation, I recommend the method documented here rather than endless fiddling with combinations that are ultimately faulty.

For the robot coloring, I want front surfaces to be darker and visible side surfaces to be lighter, as if light were coming from the robot’s left. Here’s my method:

  • Since the “lighting” can’t be turned off, I have picked a combination of settings that seem to minimize its effects: Flat material, Contrasting lighting and zero Lighting Angle.
  • To control the color of each component, select Fill and Outline colors to create dark and light surfaces. In particular, use dark gray fill and light gray outline on components that “face the front” and the opposite for components that face the side; here are the chest and an arm:

  • This is the reason that the limbs are Unions, not Groups – if they were Grouped, extraneous outlines would appear when the Outline color is added.

By the way, here are some ideas to give the robot expressions (you can also survey various toon robots for inspiration):


You can “pose” the robot; here’s a walking version:

Here’s how the walking robot is constructed:

The limbs are constructed and positioned as before. If the orientation is not as shown, the 3d rotation will be incorrect.

TIP: The orientation of a Union is determined by the first object selected. In these examples, the red-outlined object is selected first:

For the first Union operation the top rectangle (red) is selected first, followed by the other (blue) rectangles. The result has a vertical orientation (note the “rotation handle”); the 3d rotation works as expected. For the second Union the red rectangle is selected first; note that it has been rotated. The result of the Union has a rotated orientation and the 3d rotation is different.

Of course, robots don’t have to be humanoid and use legs for locomotion:

I used the same techniques as before; here are the construction details:

The “hand” is made by subtracting a rounded rectangle from the arm/hand object.

Once you’ve made a few of these, you can position the parts and add depth “by eye” and avoid some of the tedious steps, at least for fairly simple robots. That’s how I made this example:

  • The positioning and depth were created by eye without using yellow “sections” as guides.
  • The right arm is a copy of the left arm, Flipped twice.
  • The eye shapes have a smaller depth than the head; here’s a close up:


TIP: Selecting an object within a group can be tricky, especially in 3d; the image above shows that the head is selected and the eye is selected within the group (faint outline). Use the Selection Pane if you have trouble.

Here are the details on constructing a robot with another form of locomotion:


  • The arms are Line Arcs. You could draw a freehand line using the Curve tool if you’re comfortable with that.
  • The hands are Pie shapes.
  • I used a section (yellow) to help position the legs; the other parts are positioned by eye.
  • The rocket plume is a Triangle with a Gradient Fill.

If you need a villain in your story, try this one:


  • Two parts are made from the outline drawing: the head/chest/shoulder unit and the whole body. Each is Unioned.
  • The two parts are rotated and Depth is added.
  • Material, Fill, Line and lighting are set as before but with darker colors.
  • The two parts and a copy of the smaller part are “stacked” as shown to complete the figure.

Robots are also modeled from nature; here’s an insectoid version:


The robot is made using the techniques discussed above except that an additional X-Rotation has been added to the front and back legs. Here’s  what the 3D Rotation looks like for a couple of the legs:


The middle leg has the preset Isometric Left Down rotations; the back leg has the X-rotation reduced by 10 degrees. WARNING: Do not use the rotation icons (circled in red) for this; mysterious, undocumented things happen when these are used.

RANT: I haven’t been able to find adequate documentation on rotations, materials, lighting, etc. If you know some sources, please let me know by adding a comment.

You can exercise your imagination by adding body segments, antennas, stingers, wings, etc., and other coloring. Why not consider other beasts as models for your robots?

If you want to see more details, use the link below and click on the PowerPoint icon to download a free “source” PowerPoint file containing these projects:

Powerpointy Blog – 3d Robots

See this page for more on downloading files.

If you have questions, praise or complaints, please add a comment below. If you appreciate my efforts, please like or follow this blog.

PowerPoint Secrets – Where’s the Center?


Here’s a a 144 pt Calibri character:


An outline has been added (blue). The alignment is Center; the text box attributes are:


Since you have read my post on the size of Calibri, you will not expect the character itself to be 144 pts high. The actual character height (green box) is about 1.26 in. The text box (blue) is 2.42 in high; I don’t know why (maybe it has something to do with line spacing). I have added a red bar 144 pts (2 in) high. None of the other dimensions seems to have any obvious relationship to 144 pts.

The situation is similar with Arial:


The “graphical center” of the character is as indicated by the “handles;” rotating the object manually bears this out.

Or is  it?

Here’s the object with a Spin animation:

I added the blue lines to the object to indicate its “graphical center” and the red lines to show the position in the background.

Note that the Spin animation rotates the object around a different “animation center.” Some other animations are also affected; here’s a Grow/Shrink animation:

The gray image indicates where the animation should end up, based on the graphical center. The animation thinks the center is somewhere else,

Text typed into a shape has (apparently) different dimensions; here’s a 2 in circle with a 144 pt character (Do not autofit is selected):

c25The alignment tools treat this shape as expected, given the bounding box and handles.

However, animation treats this kind of shape differently. Here’s what a Spin animation looks like.

The shape wobbles because it is Spinning around a point different than the graphical center. Here’s how a few other objects containing the text Spin:

There is another area where the presence of text has an unexpected effect: conversion to pictures (pngs). Here are examples:

c24The first object is a rectangle with some lines added; the png version appears identical. The second object is the same but with text typed into it.  The png version is substantially bigger and the center is offset. I don’t know why.

The moral to this overall story is that when you’re working with text, there can be some unexpected results. There may be other anomalies than those mentioned here.

Following are some workarounds for these examples:

  • You can deal with the picture conversion issue by cropping the result to any size and shape you need.
  • You can also cure the wobble by converting the object to a picture and then cropping to get the center of the picture congruent with the geometric center. The disadvantage is, of course, that the picture can’t be edited like the original object.
  • You can group the object with a containing circle to force the center of rotation to any desired position.  Here’s an example; the circle is green but would normally be made invisible (No line). The circle must be made fairly large to eliminate the wobble:
  • When a character is typed into a shape, these anomalies occur when the text is large relative to the shape (even though it appears to be contained within the shape). You can fix them by reducing the text size but I assume there’s a reason you wanted the text large in the first place. By the way, I had to reduce the text size to 60 pts in a 2 in circle to get the wobble to go away – a reduction to about 40%.

Well, dear reader, I tire of these irritants and end this treatise. Resume your duties.

PowerPoint Secrets – Using Transitions as Animations


In my last post, I used a slide transition to simplify construction of a “photo carousel” effect. This post is about using transitions in other unusual ways.

But first, I beg your indulgence for a short rant about transitions. To wit: transitions are like animation in general; using transitions just because Microsoft says they are “exciting” is poisonous. They should be used only for a reason (see this post for a more complete essay on this subject). See this article for a similar view. Finally, see this source to see how bad this kind of thing can get.

The carousel post used a “dynamic content” transition; this essentially allows you to specify which objects on the slide are affected by the transition effect. Other objects (e.g., the slide title, background and your logo) remain fixed during the transition. So, the effect looks like an animation rather than a transition.

In the usual transitions, the entire slide is affected. Of course, in some cases, this not apparent. Here’s an example using a transition to a second slide to mimic an Entrance animation:

This is a Random Bars transition but, since the two slides are identical except for the “review” box, only the review box “appears.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t add much to our toolbox, since only 8 of the 45 available transitions (in my version of PowerPoint) work this way. And these don’t add much to our animation repertoire.

In some cases, a transition that affects the entire slide can be used effectively. Here’s an example:

This is a version of an effect I developed in my earlier breakthrough post. This one uses a Fracture transition and is much simpler to create.

Only a few dynamic content transitions (7 in my version) are available. Is there a way to use the other transitions as animations? The answer is, as you might expect, sort of.

The trick is to build the transition effect in a separate file, convert it to video, and then insert into your presentation where needed.

Whoa, you might say. Isn’t this overkill? Is it worth it to get involved in the complications of video?

Don’t be intimidated, dear reader. PowerPoint video conversions are easy and work quite well. How do you think I made all the demos you see in these posts? In fact I think I’ll look at some more video-related projects in upcoming posts.

Here is a project that uses a video for the “curtain” effect:

Here’s how:

  • The basic slide is created first, with the text.
  • In a separate presentation, create two slides. The first is the customer service agent, and the second is a rectangle with the text “PLEASE WAIT.” The rectangle is sized and positioned so that, after the transition to the second slide, the rectangle will cover the agent. The slides look like this:


  • On slide one, set the transition to None, and check the Advance Slide/After 00:00:00 box. This will make the transition to the nest slide occur automatically, immediately after the presentation starts. On slide 2, set the transition to Drape and set the Duration (2.75 sec in my case). Also, check the Advance Slide/On Click box; this prevents the presentation from ending with a black screen.
  • Run Slide Show to check the results. Edit the slides as needed.
  • Now convert to video: select File/Export/Create a Video.
  • Select Internet Quality; this is usually sufficient for presentations.
  • The Use Recorded Timings and Narrations box should appear; this means that the conversion will  use the transition timings you have set. If this box doesn’t appear automatically, go back and make sure that the slide transitions are timed rather than “on click.”
  • Click Create Video. I usually use the filename of the PowerPoint file (the default) for the video. Conversion may take a while; there is an indicator that the conversion is happening at the bottom of the PowerPoint window.
  • Here’s what the video looks like:
  • Next, insert the video in the original slide. Select Insert/Video/Video on My PC… and select the video created above. I used the same slide size for the video as the original so the inserted video placeholder will cover the whole slide.
  • In Video Tools/Playback, set Start to Automatically. This will put the video in the Animation Pane like an animation effect.
  • Click on the video placeholder and use Video Tools/Format/Crop and resize to get the video placeholder to the right shape, size and location. This is just like working with a Picture.
  • Open the Animation Pane. You will see the video as an event and as a “trigger” item. The trigger is not needed in this application; Remove it from the animation pane.
  • Animate the text and set the timing relative to the video as needed. Note that the duration of the video does not appear, unfortunately.  Here’s the slide and animation pane:


  • Run Slideshow to verify the effect: the second line of text and the “curtain” should appear on click.

Here are some additional notes on this technique:

  • In the example, the backgrounds of the presentation and the video are the same (white); that is, the background of the PowerPoint file used to create the video is the same as the background where the video will be used. You can get away with this for a uniformly colored background but a more complicated (e.g., gradient) background may cause problems.
  • Some transitions involve extra “background” elements. For example, Gallery moves the slide images against a black background that you may not want and there is no way to make this disappear.
  • Using a bigger crop of the video may increase (or not) the impact of the effect. You can set the aspect ratio (slide size) of the PowerPoint file used to create the video so that you can use the entire slide if you desire.

Wow. This is getting more complicated than I intended. So, I’ll show some more examples in a follow-up post. You can try experimenting with the technique in the meantime.

As usual, if you want a free copy of the PowerPoint files used in this post, use the link below and click on the PowerPoint icon to download a “source” PowerPoint file:

Powerpointy blog – transitions as animations

Here is the source file for the video:

Powerpointy blog – sm cutain video source file

See this page for more on downloading files.

If you have questions, praise or complaints, please add a comment below. If you appreciate my efforts, liking or following this blog might be a good idea.

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.

Making Screenshots Work in PowerPoint

fryScreenshots (-grabs, -captures, -caps) are used in a lot of PowerPoint presentations to show software product user interfaces, web content, results from analysis software, etc. They are probably essential in software training presentations.

The problem with screenshots in presentations is that they are almost always illegible. Presenters do little more than paste the image onto a PowerPoint slide, not understanding that the audience sitting more than a few feet from the projected image will not be able to discern the text or other details; if a “widescreen” monitor is used, the problem is even worse. Any value that the screenshot adds to the presentation is lost.

Excuse me while I engage in a brief rant:

  • Presenting illegible material is not only pointless, it is irritating. It is a symptom of a major (and astounding) fault in most presentation designs: failure to consider the audience
  • Presentation gurus will often tell you to “simplify” – in your world, you may deal with complex subjects and your challenge is to present complexity clearly. Making screenshots work for you is an example of how to approach this challenge.

You will usually use screenshots because they add credibility – the software exists and it really works, the analysis tools show these results. etc. The challenge is to show details within the context of the screen. This suggests zooming in and out of the screen; I’ll show you a few techniques in this post.

To capture a screenshot In Windows, press a function key (look for “print screen” or a similar caption) or a function key plus a modifier to copy the current screen contents to the clipboard. Software is available to capture screens on other systems/devices. In Windows, adding the Alt key captures only the active window or you can use the Crop tool to get the appropriate part of the image after Pasting the image to a slide.

PowerPoint 2013 includes Insert/Screenshot which allows you to capture (and crop) any active window directly.

If your screenshot comes from someone else, try to get a high resolution version since we will be enlarging parts of the image for clarity.

For no particular reason, the examples will use a user interface screenshot for Audacity, an open source audio editor:


Imagine that the presenter wants to explain individual parts of the Audacity interface; for example, the “toolbox” at the top center.

To start, make a copy of this tool box – duplicate the screenshot, position the duplicate directly over the original and crop the duplicate to contain only the tool box. The copied/cropped tool box should be directly over the original:


Next, enlarge the toolbox, while keeping it in position – use Shift/Ctrl while adjusting the corner handle or use the Size and Position pane to enlarge the image by a specific percentage. The larger toolbox is outlined in red for this demonstration:


Add the Enter/Zoom/In animation effect to get this result:

Another slightly more convincing zoom uses Grow/Shrink animation. Start with the duplicated toolbox at its original size and position and apply Enter/Fade animation followed by Grow/Shrink/200%; this is the result:

You may notice that the result of the Grow is poorly rendered. You can correct this by replacing the Grow result with enlarged version of the original after the Grow animation. Here are the steps:

  • Set drawing guides to locate the center of the cropped tool box.
  • Copy the cropped tool box and Paste/Special to convert to png (this step will allow the outline to be scaled in the next step).
  • Use the Size and Position pane to resize the png 200% – this is the amount used in the Grow animation,
  • Using the drawing guides, position the png over the original cropped toolbox.
  • Apply Appear to the png and Disappear to the cropped toolbox after the Grow.

Here’s the animation sequence:


Here’s the result:

The rendering of the Grow animation is improved in recent PowerPoint versions; you may not need this replacement step.

You can add a motion path so that the original location of the tool box is not obscured – this will make the context clearer. Here’s the process:

  • Set drawing guides to the target location for the “zoomed” tool box (the center of the slide in this example).
  • Add a Down motion path to the tool box and move the endpoint to the target location identified by the drawing guides. To move the endpoint, click on it and drag to the target location.
  • Order the animations so that the motion path occurs With the Grow.
  • Move the replacement tool box to the target location and add the Appear effect as before.

Here’s the setup:


The resulting animation looks like this:

You can relate the zoomed tool box to its location in the user interface more clearly by adding a “beam” that connects the tool box to its location, The beam is a semitransparent Freeform with a Wipe/From Top animation With the motion path. Here’s the setup:


Here’s what the animation looks like:

You can add a call-out to indicate the properties of the tool box:

An alternative approach is to zoom in on the screenshot and highlight the area of interest (the tool box).  I used techniques like this in the Prezi style PowerPoint post; it might help to refer to that post. Here’re the steps:

  • Copy the screenshot and enlarge it by 200%.  
  • Position the enlarged version so that the tool box is in the center of the screen.
  • Draw lines between the midpoints of opposite sides of the enlarged screenshot (the endpoints of the lines will be red when the line is located exactly at the midpoint). The intersection of these lines is the target for a motion path (see below)
  • Here’s the setup so far:


  • The slide boundary is highlighted in red to show that the tool box is at the center of the slide.  The “target” lines are yellow.
  • Now add the animation: apply Grow/200% to the screenshot With a Down motion path; the endpoint of the motion path is moved to the intersection of the yellow “target” lines which are then removed.  Then apply Disappear to the screen shot and Appear to the enlarged screen shot.  Here’s the set up:


  • To highlight the tool box, add a mask to “gray out” other parts of the screenshot. The mask was constructed by starting with a Frame shape, converting it to Freeform and editing the points. A semitransparent fill was added. Apply Enter/Fade to the mask at the end of the animation sequence. Here’s the setup with the mask:


  • Here’s what it looks like:
  • To get back to the original perspective on the screenshot, make a copy of the last slide and remove the animations.  Then Fade out the mask, Shrink the enlarged screenshot by 50% and add a motion path back to the center of the slide. Here’s what this looks like:

Obviously, there are other applications for this technique; block diagrams, floor plans, networks, scientific illustrations, assembly drawings, maps and even spreadsheets come to mind. In any situation where you want to show a complex slide and show the details in context without losing legibility, try zooming.

If you want a copy of a PowerPoint file demonstrating these techniques, use the link below and click on the PowerPoint icon to download a “source” PowerPoint file:

PowerPointy blog – Making Screenshots work

See this page for more on downloading files.

If you have questions, praise or complaints, please add a comment below. If you appreciate my efforts, liking or following this blog might be a good idea.

PowerPoint Secrets – Scaling Text

SecretsObjects containing lines, text, shadows and other characteristics measured in points do not scale as expected when you change the size of the object (using the “handles” or the Size and Position panel). This picture demonstrates the result of scaling such an object:


The size of the text, the width of the outline and characteristics of the shadow do not change as the object is scaled to 50% and 10% of its original size.

I have pointed out this issue in earlier posts (like this one) and suggested that the easiest workaround to this issue is to convert (Copy and Paste Special) the object to png format to get proper scaling.

But, it turns out that there is a way to scale text when objects are made smaller (almost). If you check Shrink text on overflow and uncheck Wrap text in shape in the Format Picture/Text Box pane, the text in an object will change (point) size when the text box (or other object containing text) is made smaller. Here’s what the settings look like:


As an experiment, I created a text box with these settings and shrank it to 10% of its original size in 10% increments. Here’s the result:

scaling 2

“Point size” is the size of the text after the change in size of the text box has been changed to the “relative size” indicated. The bottom row shows png versions of the text box changed to the same relative size.

Whoops! Wouldn’t you expect the 60 pt character to be 54 pt at 90% reduction? Thirty pt at 50%? Six pt at 10% rather than 15 pts? Compare to the png version to see something ain’t right.

I suspect that the actual size of the text box, the margin settings and who knows what else are involved in the text “shrinking” process. I might be able to figure this out but I’m bored with this subject.

Conclusion: the settings discussed above will work sometimes when shrinking objects; conversion to png will always result in properly scaled text (as well as lines, shadows, etc.). Remember to save the original PowerPoint object when you convert to png.

By the way, you should never use Shrink text on overflow in other situations. If your text boxes are overflowing, the last thing you need is smaller text. Rather, edit the text to about two-thirds the number of words. Then eliminate half of those.  Set the text size to a minimum of 18 (20 for some fonts) points. Remember, you deliver the message, not PowerPoint.

Lessons from the “Experts” on Presenting

salesman(This is a contribution by Billy Joe Spatchcock, Jr., a guest blogger)

Always ready to improve my presentation skills, I recently read this: “7 Lessons From the World’s Most Captivating Presenters” and I would like to share my thoughts on this “expert” advice.

You might say I’m an old hand at presenting – I’ve been an old-fashioned face-to-face on-the-road sales guy for my entire career and I have worked for dozens of companies. I give three or four sales presentations a week.  (Frankly, the product is not that great and my strategy is to present to as many prospects as I can to find the customer who “gets it.”)

So, I think I know something about presenting and my reaction to this article should be worth reading.

First, why all this attention on Steve Jobs? If I had millions to spend on writers, designers and equipment, I could give pretty flashy presentations, too.  So, let’s get real.

Next, what about this?


Thirty slides in 60 minutes? I present at least 70 very detailed slides for my presentations and they last much longer than an hour. My bosses expect a thorough job and I need to cover a lot of details. And, usually, customers don’t seem to mind. So, again, let’s get real.

And, 30 hours to “craft the story?” I’ve been doing this a long time and, believe me, the story is always the same: who am I and what am I selling.  Then I add the stuff the technical people want me to say; this is always a lot of detailed information and I copy and paste a lot of  graphs, spreadsheets and diagrams. Also, I have to include the fluff from Marketing. By the way, I find that copying and pasting from the company’s brochures is an easy way to fill slides.  (And that’s a real tip from an expert!)

Then 30 hours to “build the slides?” You’ve got to be kidding. Even with my poor typing skills, it doesn’t take that long. And I have hundreds of slides from my previous jobs that are usually a pretty good fit.

And finally, 30 hours of rehearsing? Come on. I give live presentations constantly in real situations so I know what I’m doing. Although I do admit that for a new or updated presentation, I go over it on the plane on the way to the meeting. Also, I have occasionally given the sales presentation to our own team as an exercise. And since this audience already knows the material, this is a pretty good “rehearsal.”

Then there’s “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  I think this is probably true in a lot of situations; after all, those Chinese are pretty smart. But it doesn’t seem to work that well in my world. For a while, I did use some pretty funny clip art and a picture of my dog to try to “break the ice” but it didn’t seem to go over very well. At least, my boss didn’t like it. Plus, I don’t have time to search for good pictures and they’re pretty expensive. Besides, isn’t that a  job for Marketing?

Finally, I want to say something about this “emotion” thing.  I guess it’s all right for some kind of motivational speech but my customers are hard-headed business men looking for a way to beat the other guy and keep their jobs.  Emotion doesn’t have anything to do with it.  Plus, I feel a little uneasy in this area and I think my audiences do too.

Well, I’ll probably have more to say about this later.  Right now I have to catch a plane (Cedar Rapids tomorrow).  Damn quota.

(If you liked this post, you might enjoy Why PowerPoint is Brilliant!)

Warning! Defective “Template!”

scaffolding-incomplete_1274873258Inevitably, when  a client  gives me their corporate PowerPoint “template,” what I get is a default PowerPoint presentation file with, at most, a slide background and a title slide background.  The client has asked the company’s design firm (or department) for a “template” and this is what they got.

So, I spend the first hour or so of the project completing the “template” so I can get on with the assignment.  This is OK with me since these are paid hours, but I can’t help thinking that there are a lot of companies out there that are being treated in this shabby way by their design teams.

So, why does it matter? The purpose of the “template” is to assure that the look and feel (part of your corporate branding) works in your presentations as well as your web presence and printed collateral.  A defective “template’ will allow  the presentation color scheme, fonts and graphics to be all over the place.

The reason you have a defective “template”  is that graphic designers are generally PowerPoint-illiterate.  Certainly, PowerPoint is a poor stepchild as  a design tool and beneath the  contempt of a truly creative graphics designer. Besides, if designers produced their work in PowerPoint, their customers might make small changes on their own, without paying the design firm to do so.  Bad business.

I also believe that designers (and many others) misunderstand the role of PowerPoint in the presentation scenario – for example, that there is usually a presenter, who is primarily responsible for delivering the message.  Designers and marketing types generally seem to think in terms of a printed document.

Oh, but I digress.  Here is what you should get when you ask your designer for a complete “template”  (Microsoft uses the word Theme) :

  • Color scheme – when you select a color for a fill or outline, you choose from colors in the color selection pane.  The colors that show up here are the Theme Colors.  If these have not been specifically assigned, a default palette shows up and these colors (or random ones) will be selected and your presentations will loose your corporate identity.
    I have thoughtfully provided some guidelines for color schemes here.
  • Fonts – you probably have corporate fonts;  specifying these as  your Theme Fonts will make them the default for PowerPoint text rather than Arial or Calibri.
    I have recorded my guidelines for fonts  here.
  • Master slide and layouts – slide backgrounds;  slide title and bullet formats; layouts for the title slide, section title slides, etc., are all determined by the Master Slide and a number of Layouts.
    Slide backgrounds are an area where graphic designers like to exercise their skill, usually at the expense of the actual slide content.  Here’s my rant on bad slide backgrounds.
    I have also provided some details on working with masters and layouts in this amusing post.

So, to assure that your presentations are not crippled by an incomplete “template,” make sure your designer provides the elements noted above.  Or, hire a PowerPoint specialist, like me.

PowerPoint’s Evil Influence


In June 2012, UPI reported that a Massachusetts woman blamed her GPS device for leading her into a golf course sand trap. Is this like blaming PowerPoint for poor presentations? Does GPS, like PowerPoint, “make us dumb?”

Of course, ignoring your good sense and blindly following the lead of a piece of technology is the dumb part. Or, driving while drunk out of your mind as was the case with the woman in the bunker.

Some do claim PowerPoint is, in fact, an evil force driving its poor users to create execrable slide “decks” that figuratively murder their audiences.

However, I’m really not convinced that PowerPoint drives users to create text-heavy, boring presentations. It is true that PowerPoint seems to have a bias towards text and bullet points (see my earlier post about disarming PowerPoint).  But I don’t think this is the problem.

I think the real “evil influence” is that 98% of the PowerPoint presentations you (or your boss) have seen are simply crap. And, as a result, you are expected to produce similar crap and encouraged to avoid anything else that might somehow risk offending the delicate sensibilities of your management, customers or investors. That’s what drove you into the bunker.

How do I get to 98%?  I have searched the net for presentation examples for this blog and other purposes and I am overwhelmed by overcrowded slides, unending text blocks, bullets, bad clipart, amateurish color schemes, distorted photos, illegible screenshots and Excel tables, inexplicable diagrams, and all the rest. Try it.

Is this a fair sample?  Of course, it is possible to design a presentation for the web, intended for perusal by a single person, without a presenter, using a personal device (laptop). The rules are different when there is no presenter and the presentation itself has to carry the message. So, one could say that a sample from presentations published on the web does not represent the presentations that are actually used in meeting scenarios.

I don’t buy this. The vast majority of presentation creators are simply unaware of these fine distinctions that arise from actually considering the audience. So I’m pretty confident that these are the presentations that are actually used in meeting scenarios. And they are overwhelmingly crap.

So, you are expected to produce bad presentations, and it may not be worth the career risk to do better. Is there any way out?

Well, maybe.  Good advice is available – there are dozens of gurus writing books, hosting websites and blogging about better presentations. Generally, these are useful and even inspiring resources. But, of course, you must understand your specific challenges and audiences and interpret this advice accordingly. Techniques that are good for motivational speakers may not apply to a crusty investor who primarily wants facts. And don’t blindly follow simple “rules;” this can lead to the bunker.

There is some science (at least experimental results) that supports a lot of this advice – cognitive load theory, studies of attention and retention, etc. Unfortunately, most of this material is from educational fields; I’m not sure that college students are good stand-ins for the typical business presentation audience. However, understanding how your audience processes your presentation will help convince you that this advice is usually well-founded.

And convincing yourself is not enough – you will have to get support from your bosses, colleagues and that hide-bound marketing department. This is a real challenge and risk – maybe you should invite an expert to help. Or just make yourself comfortable in the bunker with millions of others.

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