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Software now makes it easy to make professional looking slides
that can be animated and accompanied by sound.

Computer Multimedia Presentations

By Carol Klinger and Joel G. Siegel

A multimedia presentation can help get the message across. But there is more to such presentations than having the right hardware and software. Use of the right color and text and other tricks of the trade are equally important.

The newest method of presentation at meetings is computerized multimedia. Recent improvements in technology have made it simple to prepare slides on the computer and develop these slides into presentations that can incorporate animation and sound. It is now possible to develop slides that can be made into transparencies or shown directly on a computer screen. Slides can be produced literally within a few minutes with no need to send them to a professional. You can do it yourself. There are many programs on the market that will enable anyone with a little imagination to produce very sophisticated visual aids. Products such as Powerpoint, Toolbooks, or Astound can be purchased at low cost and mastered within a short time. Art work and different text styles are included in the programs and can be supplemented with additional materials from other sources. Transparencies or slides can be used in the traditional way or they can be shown right from the computer with the use of a projector. You can prepare a slide show and even rehearse the timing of the show within the program as well as prepare printed handouts. There are preformatted layouts available within these programs so that an inexperienced user can produce a slide within a few minutes that will look quite professional, or a slide can be developed from scratch on a blank background. The pre-formatted layouts might get to be a problem after a while due to overuse by many users, but this can be rectified by simple changes in color or text.

To make a slide tell a message in the most effective way requires some knowledge that is not included in these packages. You need to know how to use color and text, and when to use illustrations to make slides more effective. You can emphasize certain points by highlighting them with color and set a mood with the colors selected. Used incorrectly, however, color can make a slide difficult to look at and create negative audience feelings. Just as color is important, so is text.


Let's look at color first. A typical slide has three areas that can be colored. The first is the design for the background and for areas that recur such as a company logo. Colors next can be added for charts, bullets, graphs, and other illustrations. The third area for color would be text.

Contrast. A simple rule to follow is to use a dark color for the basic design called the format color, a midrange of brightness for illustrations, and light colors for text. If you plan on using overhead transparencies rather than computerized slides, reverse the colors. In other words, the basic design should be light and text should be in the darkest colors. Remember, overhead transparencies are usually shown in a room with the lights on. Having the text in a dark color makes it easier to read. Contrasting colors will also increase readability. Putting yellow and white side by side will not be as easily read as dark blue against white.

Different Strokes... When choosing colors, bear in mind that different colors create different emotions. If you wish to stimulate and excite your audience, such as when speaking to salesmen or marketing people, try using warm colors such as reds, oranges, and yellows as background colors with contrasting colors for text. But be careful, if the colors are too bright, they can be too flashy. On the other hand, if you have an audience made up of the business community, you might prefer to create a more relaxed and receptive environment. In that case, cool colors would be preferable, such as blues and greens.

You can always use neutral colors for your backgrounds, ranging from white to black, that act as a plain background upon which you can use brighter colors. For example, you can place text in a box of a bright color against a background of light brown or tan. The color in the box will draw attention to the text. You can also use a specific color to identify an item. Products or services in a sales analysis presentation could be identified by a different color. Whenever that color is seen, it will relate to that particular product or service. In a similar vein, major clients, business segments, geographic service regions, etc., may be assigned different colors.

Moving Highlight. One of the features of presentation software programs is that you have the ability to emphasize different parts of a slide by the use of moving highlights. When shown in sequence, the color will draw attention to whatever part of the slide you want to emphasize. These programs allow shading a slide from top to bottom or from side to side to achieve a dramatic effect.


The style of type (font) used for your slides can also have a strong impact. The typestyle must be clear and easily readable. There are literally thousands of typestyles available and most programs will allow you to select from a long list. Once selected, a style can usually be varied by making it bolder or italicizing. It is not necessary to have the skills of a professional printer, but it helps to have some basic idea of the differences of type styles and which ones to select for your own slides.

Type Styles. Print styles have certain characteristics in general. One major distinction is Roman or Italic. Roman print is strong and regular and upright while Italic is slanted. Most print types are either considered to be serif or sans serif. Serif means there is an extension at the end of a stroke such as illustrated in "h" while in sans serif type there would be no such extension as follows: "h."

The other main distinguishing feature of a style of type would be the thickness and width of a stroke called stroke weight. Most publishing today tends toward using a modern serif style because it is clear, easy to read, conservative, and solid. In selecting a style for your slides, remember that typefaces can portray an image. A serif type creates a traditional look. An old style serif, where capital letters fall below the line are particularly traditional and give a feeling of history. If you want to create a more modern look with a dynamic feeling, select a sans-serif style.

The style selected is called a font on your computer program. The fonts displayed on your screen, called screenfonts, may not always match exactly to the fonts printed on your printer, called printer fonts. Print a sample of your slide to make sure the final output is what you expect.

Once you have selected the style of type or font you must also decide on the size of the type. Size is measured in points. One point is approximately jQs of an inch. The typical size for a written letter would be 10 or 12 points. In selecting size for slides, generally you should pick a large size for the title and go down at least one size smaller for text that appears in the body of the slide. If there are footnotes on the slide (generally it's best to avoid them), they should be one half the size of the body copy. The size of the type should relate to other elements of the slide. Text that is much bigger than other parts will overwhelm the slide. As you progress from one slide to another, try to keep the type size the same. If you must change size, do it progressively. Make one slide 14 points, the next 20, then 28, and then reverse the order.

Emphasizing Text. You can also vary the type and emphasize it by using different thicknesses for the strokes. Some programs allow a choice of regular type or making the regular type bolder. Other programs provide more thicknesses to choose from. You may also elect to italicize the type without making it any bolder. Underlining is a method often used in print to draw attention to certain text. In a slide, however, it may not be effective since it is harder to see the underline at a distance. But don't forget that the best way to emphasize text is by using color. A bright yellow word against a dark background will really stand out.

Readability. When designing a slide, the most important element is readability. Stay away from type that is too unusual or overly ornate. Mix typefaces on a slide but don't use too many different ones. Two are usually sufficient. Use an unusual typeface for emphasis but don't go overboard. Remember, you want the last row of an audience to be able to read the slide just as easily as the first.

There are some other factors to consider regarding text such as the amount of space between each letter on a slide. Most programs don't give you much choice; but if you are working with one that does, text read from a distance generally needs wider spacing between letters. It is also worth considering where you place text. People tend to look in the center first and then the eye will travel from upper left to the right and from bottom left to bottom right. If you place information in the center, however, you won't have much room for anything else. It might be preferable to start in the upper left. It is customary to use left alignment for titles, body copy, and bullets. Use right alignment for columns of numbers. Many computer programs allow justification when printing text. To justify means having the left and right margins evenly aligned as you see in a published book. In slides, this creates unequal spaces between letters and words and should be avoided. Most programs allow you to create shadows to your text or let you zoom in or out. Both techniques can be very effective in emphasizing a message; but use them sparingly or they will be distracting.


Although words used in presentations are essential, words by themselves can become boring. Try to mix text with pictures. Pictures can include charts, graphs, clip-art, or even photographs. Using pictorial material presents information in a format that is easier to understand. You should not only use readable typestyles but your chart or graph should be accurate and properly chosen to explain your message.

Types of Charts. Most programs allow a selection of either a bar, pie, or line chart. Bar charts are useful when data must be compared with other data or the quantity of one item is compared with another. The bars can be made to be horizontal or vertical and can have many variations. A pie chart is best used when trying to relate a part to its whole, such as when showing sales of one division in relation to sales of the whole company. One segment can be shown in a contrasting color or pulled away from the circle, in which case it is said to be "exploded." A line chart is best used to show trends and changes over time, such as monthly sales for the past year. Other types of charts may include tables that show rows and columns of information. These are usually harder to read and not as effective as a graph and can usually be turned into a graph. You can also present maps to show locations, such as sales in each area, and diagrams, which are pictorial representations of a subject such as a flowchart or an organizational chart. Using any one or several of these methods of illustration can add much interest and understanding to a presentation.

Clip Art. Most presentation programs allow importing clip art to slides. This provides the ability to bring in pictures, cartoons, and photographs by just pushing a few buttons. Powerpoint, for example, has many pictures as part of the program that can be brought into a slide. You can also use art from other sources such as CD-ROMs or even download art from the Internet. You can use the simple geometric shapes available in most programs to draw shapes or outlines and fill them with one or two colors for use as simple illustrations. Pictures will enliven your presentation enormously, and, if you choose, you can print them out as handouts with an inexpensive color printer or in black and white.

You can also bring pictures into your presentations by using a scanner. Scanners allow you to take text and pictures and convert them into use with your multimedia computer. If you do decide to use a scanner, be sure you have the necessary software and compatibility to go with it.

Chart Organization

Don't try to put too much information in a chart. Generally it is best to keep the chart simple. If the information is detailed, use more than one chart. If one element is to be emphasized, use a brighter color, move one section of a pie chart out of the others, or darken one bar on a bar chart. Be sure the scale of a graph is evenly spaced. Irregular spacing can alter the message. Use colors so they progress from dark in the foreground to light in the background. Light colors tend to jump forward. Be careful in using patterns. Vertical lines tend to make something look taller. If vertical lines are placed next to a pattern of horizontal lines, they will appear even taller. Grid lines on a graph may interfere with other elements of the graph. If possible, try to eliminate the grids, but if you must use them, make them lighter than other lines and make the chart lines the heaviest. Labels are best placed horizontally on the chart so the reader doesn't have to tilt his or her head.

Sound and Animation

Once you have begun to experiment with color and text, the next step will be to think about using sound and animation (movement). To produce sound, your computer must be equipped with a soundcard and a microphone. Most multimedia computers have the necessary equipment to reproduce sound and are available at relatively low cost. You do not have to be a musician or sound effects person to place sound on your slides. There are CD-ROMs available of pre-recorded sound effects and compact discs that hold almost all recorded music that can be incorporated into a presentation.

Not only can you utilize sound but many programs allow for movement or animation in a slide show. Imagine being able to have an image, such as a person (e.g., employee or client), enter your slide from the upper left and then leave from the bottom right. Movement can be created in any direction. A presentation comes to "life" and has a dramatic effect. This can be easily done with certain software and with a little imagination.


Once the presentation has been made, it may be desirable to hand out some information. Giving an audience a handout will eliminate the need for them to take notes. It will also give them some material to study and analyze later so as to make intelligent business decisions. Many presentation programs prepare these handouts for you.

These are some suggestions to make the notes professional looking. Be sure to include your name and the firm name on every page. Don't put too much information on a page. You might want to prepare the pages for insertion into a three-hole notebook. If the handouts exceed 20 pages, place them in a binder and be sure the pages are numbered. If you have slides that are complex, have a handout that clarifies them. To avoid interruptions, it is best to give handouts to the audience before the slide presentation begins. However, if you feel the audience will get ahead of your presentation, wait until the end to give out the

Things to Know

There are some disadvantages to using computerized slide presentations. If you are presenting the show away from your own office, you will need to bring a computer and projection equipment with you. Fortunately, there are portable computers that weigh only a few pounds that can be connected to a projector. But they are still considerably more expensive than desktop varieties. The projector can be a special display screen attached to the computer and placed on an overhead projector or a video projection unit directly attached to the computer. The former is less expensive but does not give as clear a picture as the latter. The video projection unit can be more cumbersome to carry. Without a projector, it would be almost impossible to show your slides unless everyone in the audience has access to a personal computer. When using a computer for presentations, it is always wise to have a backup disk of the materials in case of problems. Be sure to test your presentation prior to the actual show.

There are some good rules to follow when making any kind of presentation, but there may be some times when the rules are meant to be broken. It is not a good idea to mix 35 mm slides with overhead projections or other media that require lit rooms. Turning the lights on and off will irritate the audience. Do not crowd a slide with too much text. If the audience takes too long to read the slide, they will not be listening to you. Don't use more slides than you have to when telling your story. Keep it simple. Don't mix too many styles or colors. It is the message that is important, not the slide. Avoid using the color red when talking about money or profits. Red is identified with losses. Remember, the brightest colors look as if they are forward. Stay with a horizontal format for the slides. Changing from horizontal to vertical is confusing to the audience. Know what you want to say, introduce your material, give your message, then tell your audience what you have told them. *

Carol Klinger, CPA, is a lecturer and Joel G. Siegel, PhD, CPA, a professor, both at Queens College, The City University of New York.

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