Lights, camera, action
But does it have to be PowerPoint?
When it comes to preparing a pitch you can always go for the ‘Industry Standard’ PowerPoint, but these days you can also push the boat out and take a more integrated approach. It’s a bit like whether you drive a sensible family car or – like Jeremy Clarkson – yearn to drive something a little sportier. They both get you from A to B but with Mr Clarkson’s jalopy you get to travel with a bit more style.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint is one of those product names which – like Hoover - have entered the language much to the annoyance to the owners of the brand. While PowerPoint hasn’t quite reached the stage of becoming ‘verbed’, the fact that it is taught in schools as part of the ICT curriculum means that most of the current generation will have at least a passing familiarity with the software. So PowerPoint is undoubtedly going to be the first port of call for anyone knocking together a presentation.
And if you want your presentation to have a life outside the board room then PowerPoint has features that allow you to get your message to a wider audience, using built-in features like ‘Package for CD…’ or you can simply save the file as a set of web pages. Another alternative is to use the companion application Producer for PowerPoint to integrate video footage with a video of your presentation. A good example of this can be found here (click on the Slide Show tab, select the presentation and then click on view to restart the streaming video). You can find out how to do this from the Microsoft website.
However, if you want to get past the simple, linear click and talk stage and take a more integrated approach to presenting your information to the world at large then you might want to look at something with a bit more oomph. A lot of this territory actually lies between the hand-to-hand combat zone of talking directly to your audience, albeit with a bit of multimedia technical support, and the long range artillery of interactive applications and World Wide Web based resources. Apart from anything else it would be nice if you could use the hard creative graft of your original work and move it out to a wider audience without having to start all over from scratch.
One example of an application that does this is Opus Presenter from UK based company Digital Workshop which has been producing various multimedia authoring tools for a number of years. The Presenter software appears to be a cut-down version of their Opus multimedia authoring application and comes in two flavours; the standard and the Pro Version. The basic version is essentially a multimedia authoring package aimed at creating stand-alone presentations while the Pro version adds the ability to connect to a database and edit the built-in scripting language to provide a high level of customisation to create what are essentially multimedia rich interactive applications.
While the user interface of the software generally has the same feel of the Microsoft product, Opus has somewhat more sophistication, both in terms of the additional tools and the ways of showing the structure of the presentation. I actually found using Opus more intuitive than PowerPoint as it gives you far more information about what is going on within each page. Both packages have a raft of standard page formats and templates which you can use to quickly bolt together a presentation, but Opus has an interesting ‘Quickbuild Brainstorm Editor’ which is designed to help you quickly outline the overall shape and content of the project.
If you are only creating basic ‘bullet point’ style presentations then the most significant functional advantage that Opus Presenter has over PowerPoint is that you can create your presentation in number of different independent playback formats. These include a stand-alone application (i.e. an EXE file), a video or Flash (SWF) playback file and a standard consumer DVD disc. Each of these formats has different inherent capabilities which will effect the options that Opus presents to you when you create the presentation. This plethora of playback options allows you to produce a raft of different formats types that cover all bases when you get to the ‘stand-alone’ stage. The ability to stick the presentation on a pen drive as a fully stand-alone application should make an Opus presentation more portable - and you can always take a DVD version along as a backup.
The real power of Opus Presenter comes when you want to add interactivity, essentially taking your presentation to the next stage. By adding buttons, check boxes and giving interactive control of the show to the user you can turn the basic presentation into an automated ‘pitch’, using the rich media facilities for the additional content that you add when giving the presentation personally. And you can even go further than this by using the Pro version’s scripting features. The underlying programming methodology is object orientated with scripted actions associated with each object. These can be kicked off either by user interaction or timers. You can both access and amend the automatically generated scripts as well create your own in the C++ like scripting language (OpusScript) using either the built-in editor or your external editor of choice. While you probably wouldn’t want to do this straight off, it does give a route to customising or expanding the functionality of anything you create using the package.
If you take the original preparation of the presentation as just the first stage in a longer development cycle, one in which you incrementally add sophistication to your project as required, then building on your previous efforts using Opus Presenter looks very much like an alternative to PowerPoint that is suitable for grown-ups. Also, as Presenter is part of a larger family of multimedia development products you can see it as part of an open ended development system allowing you to recycle code and functionality rather than have to constantly re-invent the wheel.