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Add Pizzazz to Presentations With Multimedia
By Marjorie Brody   Printer Friendly Version

The days of relying solely on flip charts and Magic Markers® for business presentations are long gone. Business owners who want to be taken seriously must take advantage of all the multimedia tools available to them when presenting their companies to investors, potential clients or business associates: overhead projectors, slides, videos and computers.

In contrast with old-fashioned methods, sophisticated visual aids can help the audience understand what is being discussed by allowing them to see as well as hear the benefits of being presented. Not only does the use of multimedia clearly communicate a point, it holds the interest of the listener and does wonders for the credibility of the presenter.

How can you make these technologies work for you? There is no quick answer or easy solution to properly balance and incorporate these tools. Use this overview to decide which options work best for you. You don't necessarily need high-speed broadband or fancy projectors and programs. Even a simple Power Point presentation or photo slide show can help grab the attention of your audience. Don't be afraid to experiment and try incorporating visual aids, you won't regret it!

Overhead projectors and transparencies -- These may seem very primitive, but you would be surprised how many people don't even use these simple visuals to enhance their presentations. If you don't use any other aid, utilize transparencies for informal presentations to give your audience a break from a monotonous speech. Hold their attention with visuals of pie charts, graphs and bulleted points.

Transparencies are very inexpensive (about $12 to $25 per 100 sheets), and they make effective visual aids because of their flexibility. You can use them for large or small groups, and you can prepare them in advance of during your presentation. You can make your own by simply purchasing transparency sheets at an office supply store and using a photocopier to duplicate color or black and white pages. If you prefer, most printing shops can make the transparencies for you.
There are several points to keep in mind when using overhead projectors and transparencies:

  • If the text is typed, use a simple, 18-point font or larger (at least ¼ inch high). Smaller type will be hard for your audience to read.
  • Put the sheets in order of use and number them in case they get shuffled.
  • Make an index of pages for easy reference in case you need to go back and reemphasize a point.
  • Take advantage of color to make the visuals more appealing.
  • Use multiple overlays to convey different ideas.
  • Use a pointer and stand near the screen instead of standing at the overhead projector with your back to your audience. No one wants to strain to hear what you're saying.
  • Carry extra light bulbs and extension cords in case Murphy's law kicks in.

35mm slides -- Slides are more expensive than transparencies (about $7 to $8 per slide), and they are best used for formal presentations. However, you should limit the number you incorporate into your speech because they tend to lose their impact when used in abundance. Consider using them for the extremely important points that you want your listeners to remember.
You can have your presentation converted to slides by any major copy center in about one week. There are several other hints to consider when using slides:

  • Limit the information on each slide, and keep the wording brief.
  • Keep the lights on during a slide presentation. You don't want your listeners to use that time to take a cat nap. If the room is dim, use a lighted pointer.
  • Stand in front of the room and use a pointer so you can face your audience - not the slides.
  • Always check the order of slides and make sure none are inserted upside down. It can be embarrassing for you if you try to reorganize them during your speech.
  • Use a remote control so you are free to move about the room and interact with people.
  • Use blank slides periodically so you can reconnect with audience members. They are sure to be distracted if they are busy looking at the next slide while you are finishing a point.
  • Carry extra extension cords and light bulbs, and know how and when to change them.

Videotapes and films -- Videotapes and films are both good options for formal presentations that don't require or invite interaction. Both are expensive presentation tools (expect to spend several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on complexity), but if you make a lot of presentations, it may be worth the investment, especially if the subject matter is particularly artistic or technical in nature. Your audience will be duly impressed if you present a well-organized, professional video or film showcasing your products or services. Try to keep the video less than 20 minutes in length. After that point, viewers may lose interest and begin to get fidgety.

Some pointers for using videos and films:

  • Don't turn the lights off -- just dim them.
  • Learn how to troubleshoot in a pinch (fix VCR's tracking, speed, etc.)
  • Review the film or video prior to your presentation for focus, clarity and volume.
  • Fast forward the videotape to the starting point prior to your presentation. You don't want to be fumbling after you've started - it will only add to your anxiety level.
  • Thread film prior to your presentation, and have it ready to run at the starting point.
  • Use a remote control.
  • Locate and test electrical outlets. You want to ensure the proper placement of the TV/VCR or film projector.
  • Take extra extension cords, bulbs and videotape cleaner.
Computers -- There are many ways that computers can contribute visually to your presentations. Computers allow you to make simulations of products or structures before they are actually built, which can eliminate the need for expensive prototypes. They also permit you to go online during a meeting to showcase your Web site or dissect your competitors' sites. Computers can be used to create monochrome or color overheads and slides, and features such as color mixing, text outlining, spell check and templates allow you to easily duplicate logos and colors throughout your materials. In addition to color and flexibility, computer presentation graphics offer dynamic effects that enhance film and video such as fadeout transitioning between frames.

Before you decide to incorporate computer applications into your presentations, assess your needs. Know what you want your computer to do: Do you need a color or black-and-white monitor? How much memory do you need? Is it necessary to have a CD-ROM drive? Do you need to have a modem for fax or Internet access? Which presentation software do you want to purchase? These are just some of the questions you need to think about.

Some of the most popular presentation graphic programs are Harvard Graphics ($279.99, Software Publishing Corporation), Freelance Plus ($89.99, Lotus Development Corporation), and PowerPoint ($89.99, Microsoft). Most presentation software is available in both Macintosh and PC versions. Note: Some of these programs are not intended for beginners. Consider taking a course at a community college if you need instruction.

Here are more tips for using computers for presentations:
  • Ensure that your presentation is copied to the computer's hard drive and back it up on a floppy disk.
  • Have a back-up plan. Prepare another presentation format, such as transparencies, if technical problems threaten to overshadow your presentation. No matter how comfortable you are with the technology you must expect the unexpected.
  • Remember accessories, including a mouse, batteries (if a laptop will be used without AC power), a back-up modem, an external CD-ROM drive (if not installed on your computer), and blank formatted floppy disks.

Be Prepared!

Here are some important things to do at least 24 hours in advance of your presentation:

1) Do a test run of your presentation from start to finish at your office. It helps to practice in front of several people.

2) Test the setup of your computer, especially your presentation software. If you are unfamiliar with the system, allow yourself ample time to get acquainted with the software.

3) Locate and test outlets in the room where you will be speaking to ensure that all equipment will work properly and you'll have ample space.

4) Pick up any equipment you have rented for the presentation. Make sure it is scheduled to be completely set up at least one-half hour early. Ensure that there is someone at the presentation site responsible to receive the delivery and administer the setup.

5) Check the lighting and temperature of the facility. You'll want your listeners to be comfortable. If they're too warm, they're likely to get groggy. If they're too cold, they won't be able to sit still trying to stay warm.

Article copyright© Brody Communications Ltd. 1999

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