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Traditional slides and overheads just don't grab attention like a computerized presentation can.

Fam Pract Manag. 1999;6(1):58-59

An integral part of medicine is sharing information. We must communicate not only with our patients and staff but with other physicians, too. Until recently, developing a presentation for a medical society meeting or a conference required many hours, if not days, of preparation. But presentation software for the personal computer (PC) has made developing a visually powerful presentation much faster and simpler. In recent years, one presentation program has become the standard — Microsoft PowerPoint.

Why bother with it, you might ask, if I already know how to put together a good slide presentation? Here's the bottom line: With Power-Point, you can create a much more compelling presentation, complete with movement and sound, in a fraction of the time required for traditional slides. And no expertise in graphic design is required. Here's what Power-Point can do and how you can use it.

The basics

PowerPoint 97, the current version, lets you create as many slides as you like for a presentation and display them in any order. Like any slides, these can contain text, graphs, photographs and art; unlike traditional slides, they can also incorporate animation, spreadsheet files, sound bytes and video clips. Because of the interest that animation, sound and video can add, PowerPoint presentations have their greatest impact if you show them directly from a computer. But you can also convert PowerPoint files to transparencies or 35-mm slides.

Getting started

When you begin a new PowerPoint presentation, the program gives you three options: AutoContent Wizard, Template and Blank Presentation. The AutoContent Wizard will guide you through the creation of a prefabricated presentation. For new users, this feature is priceless. Of course, in time you'll find that you can make presentations just as quickly without the wizard.

The Template option gives you more flexibility but less guidance. It automates only the design of the presentation (including the background color, text color and text font); you must choose the layout of each slide (for instance, whether it will include text only or graphics as well).

Selecting the Blank Presentation option takes the most courage. Not only do you have to design each slide, you have to design the look of the entire presentation, too. You'll find it much easier to modify a template or use the AutoContent Wizard than to start from scratch.

Creating a slide

As an example, let's begin a new presentation using the Template feature. When the New Presentation screen opens, you see a number of icons representing possible presentation designs. Clicking on each one displays a sample of that design on the right side of the New Presentation window.

When you choose a design, PowerPoint opens the New Slide window and displays the 12 most common slide layouts. Choose a layout, and double-click on the Bulleted List AutoLayout to create a slide. Click the mouse in an area where you want to place text. A box “lights up” (becomes activated), and you see a blinking cursor. Enter the text you want, and click the mouse outside the box when you're finished.

You've now created a basic, attractive slide. Pull down the Insert menu and select New Slide to add the next one. As you gain confidence, you can experiment with adding clip art, animated elements, sound, etc.

Helpful views

PowerPoint offers five useful ways to look at the slides you're working on (icons for each view appear in the lower-left corner of the screen):

  • Slide View, the one most commonly used, lets you edit and adjust the layout of each slide's components (this is the view we used to enter text in the example).

  • Outline View shows the entire presentation as a text-only outline. Although you can modify text in this view, you have little control over layout.

  • Slide Sorter View shows all the slides in the presentation and lets you change their sequence; copy, cut or add slides; and create animations within slides and between them as transitions.

  • Notes Page View lets you write “invisible” explanatory information for each slide. This text won't appear on the slides, but you can print hard copies to talk from or to give the audience as handouts. You can see the notes section when you're using the other views as well by clicking on Speaker Notes under the View menu items.

  • Slide Show View gives you the actual presentation; it lets you see what your audience will see.

PowerPoint's strength lies in its ability to help novices and experts create powerful, memorable presentations. With a little practice, you'll soon be comfortable creating presentations on your PC; and as you gain proficiency, you'll find more and more tricks to keep your audiences focused on you, not their watches.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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