Microsoft Powerpoint is a great product, but you've probably seen so many PowerPoint slide shows by now that you have all of its templates memorized. So break away from the pack, and test-drive some of these inexpensive accessories.
Slides & Sound Plus ($69.95) Instead of making your pitch in person, why not simply send a presentation to your hot prospect? InMedia's Slides & Sound Plus lets you do just that: You can design a self-contained presentation and then send it as an email attachment. (Your prospect doesn't even need special software to view it.)
Coordinates: InMedia Presentations Inc., 888-575-4337; www.inmediapresents.com
MasterClips 150,000 Premium Image Collection ($44.95) If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Premium Image Collection is worth 150 thousand words. This photo archive has it all - from faces to fedoras. There are also some nifty fonts, a batch of sound effects, and a score of video clips.
Coordinates: IMSI, 800-833-8082; www.imsisoft.com
Web Album 4.0 ($49.95) You've forgotten the file name for that photo of the new manufacturing plant, and now you can't find it on your hard drive. You need the image-cataloging abilities of Web Album. It creates groupings of tiny preview shots (called thumbnails) of all your images. You can also attach keywords and notes to each image - to make searching your albums quick and painless.
Coordinates: Ulead Systems Inc., 800-858-5323; www.ulead.com
Technology is a wonderful thing. but overuse it, and technology will bury your message. "We used to beg people to use visuals," says Peter Giuliano, founder and chairman of Englewood, New Jersey-based Executive Communications Group, which helps leaders to sharpen their pitches. "Now visuals are overused - they've become just another part of the script."
Here are five of Giuliano's favorite tips for focusing your message.
1. Use slides sparingly.
"I recently sat through a 30-minute presentation that featured 52 slides. That approach just inundates the audience with data. Use slides only to highlight and support your key points. In my four-hour seminar, I use just 12 slides."
2. Use video clips sparingly. "A video's entertainment factor can overwhelm the audience and upstage you. If you use a video clip, play it and put it in context for the audience - tell people why you used it."
3. Avoid laser pointers.
"That bouncing red dot can drive an audience crazy. Your hand is the best pointer, and using open-handed gestures can help you get rid of pent-up nervous energy."
4. Avoid clip art.
"Don't use the clip art that comes with PowerPoint - chances are, the audience has seen it before. Hire an artist or a cartoonist."
5. Don't fall victim to the data.
"Base your presentation on the outcome you want to achieve, not on the data you want to include. The goal of any presentation is to make something happen. Use only those data that support your key points."
Coordinates: Executive Communications Group, 800-874-8278; www.ecglink.com
Quain's Top Ten
Creating a slide show? Follow these rules to keep it clean and lean:
1. Limit bullet points to four per slide.
That's the maximum. Use more than four, and the slide becomes confusing.
2. Use words, not sentences.
Rely on keywords to make a point. You can fill in the details yourself.
3. Choose simple fonts.
Type can be hard to read on a big screen, so stick with bold, sans serif fonts. And use no more than three fonts in a presentation.
4. Cut the logo.
Don't put the corporate logo on every slide - it only clutters up your message.
5. Use solid shapes.
Don't make people in the back rows squint to see detailed illustrations. Use simple images, silhouettes, or line drawings.
6. Keep two color schemes.
Store your slide show in two versions: one using darker colors (like green), for projection systems; and one using lighter colors, for standard monitors.
7. Take a hard copy with you.
If equipment breaks down, you can pass around a paper version of your pitch.
8. Plan ahead.
Just because you can cobble together a slide show in an hour doesn't mean that you should. Give yourself at least two weeks to create a presentation.
9. Don't leave an image on the screen.
If a slide just sits there onscreen, your audience will stare at it - and pay no attention to you.
10. Don't hide behind your computer.
Gizmos should underline your points, not make them for you. Get out in front of your laptop or the podium.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.