You've got your toolbox — your notebook computer. Now it's time to pick the right presentation software, the package that best fits your particular needs.
ASAP is ideal for businesspeople who want to spend more time writing a winning speech — instead of spending hours adding audio-visual gimmicks. Its learning curve is about five minutes.
Anyone who's ever used Windows software will find ASAP's three basic screens for outlines, previews, and presentations so familiar they'll be finished creating almost before they realize it. You can apply any one of 22 graphic styles to each of the 13 basic templates. ASAP automatically reformats fonts so your text will fit properly on the screen, and there are a score of preset color schemes. ASAP doesn't have all the multimedia features of other packages. But if you make just a couple of presentations a month, it will save you a lot of aggravation.
Harvard Graphics 3.0 for Windows 3.1 is one of the most powerful software packages available. (An updated version for Windows 95 should be out by the time you read this; there's no Mac version.)
Harvard Graphics is best for those whose professional lives depend on making successful presentations. It lets you preview transitions between slides, edit text inside a slide, and experiment with different chart styles. The program is also the first to incorporate a variety of handy features, such as a black-and-white preview so you can see what your color slides will look like when they're printed out. An online tutorial shows you how to work with different graphic-file formats. All of this has earned Harvard Graphics a reputation as Microsoft PowerPoint's smarter brother.
Coordinates: $99 (ASAP), $290 (Harvard Graphics). Software Publishing Corporation, (800) 234-2500; http://www.spco.com.
Powerpoint has been the standard-bearer for the technically adept for a few years now, and its new incarnation — PowerPoint for Windows 95, which will run solely on Windows 95 (surprise!) — should solidify its popularity. (PowerPoint 4.0 for Macs is also available, for $339; it lacks a couple of features from the Windows 95 version, such as the ability to animate objects and titles.)
Harvard Graphics includes the same features as PowerPoint and is easier to use. Better yet, since PowerPoint is so ubiquitous, your presentation won't look like everyone else's if you create it on Harvard Graphics. So why opt for PowerPoint? Chances are, everyone else in the office is using it — which means you can easily upload part of a coworker's presentation if you are pinched for time.
Coordinates: $339, or $109 for an upgrade. Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400; http://www. microsoft.com
Gold Disk's Astound
Gold Disk's Astound 2.0 program is one of the best multimedia authoring packages. You can give inventory statistics and sales projections panache by making the numbers sliiiiiiiide onto the screen and the bar charts crumble. Astound does take patience to learn. Both Windows and Macintosh versions are available.
Coordinates: $249 or $79.95 for an upgrade from a competing program. Gold Disk,
(800) 982-9888; email@example.com
To complete your box of software presentation tools, consider two smaller digital wrenches.
Lotus Screencam 2.0 for Windows 3.1 keeps a log of your onscreen activity. Move your mouse pointer or click open a file, and Lotus ScreenCam records it. Once you've made a digital record of what you've done on the screen, you can add explanatory captions or a personal narration. These mini-movies can easily be stored as a single file — perfect for training-types of presentations.
Coordinates: $99. Lotus, (800) 343-5414; http://www.lotus.com
Presentation World from Cinemar Corp, a Windows CD-ROM disc, contains expert advice on making presentations without having to attend ... another presentation. Using video clips and graphics, it offers tips on content development, organization, multimedia elements, even hardware.
Coordinates: $99. Cinemar Corp., (800) 203-8502; firstname.lastname@example.org
John R. Quain (email@example.com) is a contributing editor at Fast Company and appears regularly on the CBS News program "Up to the Minute."