From the January 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

When making a presentation to a client, it's essential to put your best foot forward. Attractive slides with bulleted points, charts and graphs not only drive home the information in your speech but also help you appear more professional. Fortunately, today's presentation software makes it easy to create presentations with professionalism and flair.

If you're like most business owners, you use your word processing, spreadsheet or database programs on a regular basis, so you probably invested some time learning how to use the software. However, few people create presentations that frequently, so most want software they can learn quickly and don't have to relearn each time they want to use it.

Software makers have begun responding to this demand. The newest presentation software packages, including those reviewed here-Software Publishing's Harvard Graphics, Lotus' Freelance Graphics and Microsoft's PowerPoint-all make ease of use a priority. The major differences lie in their secondary features.


Cheryl J. Goldberg is a former editor of PC Magazine and has reported on the computer industry for more than 13 years. Write to Cheryl J. Goldberg in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92714. You can also reach her through CompuServe at 70641,3632 or through MCI Mail at 367-2295.

Be Creative

Few ideas are truly new; most are simply modifications of existing concepts. Presentation software packages use this approach to help make designing your presentations easier.

All three packages provide sample content and style templates that make it easy to create slide presentations on a wide range of topics. You can then use the text, graphics and charting tools provided in each package to modify the templates and customize the presentation. (All three packages also provide text and drawing tools you can use to create slides from scratch.)

For example, all the packages give you detailed tips to help you determine the content and organization of your presentation. Freelance's SmartMasters, PowerPoint's Wizards and Harvard's Quick Presentations give you suggestions on what information to include and how to structure presentations on common topics such as selling a product, service or idea; training; reporting progress; and so on. You simply type over the content suggestions for individual slides with the information you want to include. While Harvard and PowerPoint provide simple headings to indicate the type of information you should include for your presentation, Freelance offers more detailed help.

To give your presentations a consistent and professional look, all three products offer pre-designed style templates that control the format and placement of the titles and text you type on the slides. Harvard Graphics, for instance, lets you choose styles via a series of thumbnail sketches that lead you through a variety of style possibilities.

All three programs let you place graphics, such as clip art, on every slide. If you decide to change text or graphics throughout your presentation, you simply change it on the master page, and it automatically appears on subsequent slides.

Easy Does It

Although all these products let you type the contents of your presentation on top of the sample contents provided, it may be more convenient to type (or import existing text) into each program's outline view. This view makes organizing your presentations easier because you can see all the slide titles and text on screen as you work. In any of the packages, you can rearrange slides and bulleted items by selecting the contents you want to move and dragging them to a new location. You can also expand or collapse text for selected slides to either view or hide the slides' details.

Another way to get a quick view of your entire presentation in any of these packages is through a slide show view. Slide show views display your presentation as thumbnail sketches so you can see all or most of your slides on screen at the same time.

Before finalizing your presentation, you'll probably also want to create special effects to spiff up your slides. All the packages reviewed here allow you to specify various special effects that make the transitions between slides more exciting. These include dissolves, fades and wipes; you can even display bullets sequentially.

PowerPoint and Freelance also offer a full array of multimedia features to add to your presentation, including musical and animation clips, sound effects, photos and more. Harvard offers only sound effects.

It's Show Time

When you're giving a presentation, it's helpful to have notes close at hand. Each of these packages allows you to create accompanying note pages that include a smaller version of the slide, along with room for your notes, which you can print out for either yourself or your audience.

Although you may decide to present your slide show right on your computer screen, all these programs also output to a digitizing camera that can convert your computer images into film you can have developed as slides.

If you decide to present your show on your computer screen, you also have the option of presenting it to multiple users on a network. Many software packages have taken advantage of the networking trend and offer a group networking feature. Both PowerPoint and Freelance incorporate networking capabilities into their software pacakges. Harvard Graphics does not offer this feature.

PowerPoint makes your linked files and fonts available if you give a slide show on a computer other than your own. You can also e-mail a presentation or route it among several network users.

Freelance offers even more powerful group computing features. You can electronically distribute drafts of your presentation; when the file comes back, all users' comments are consolidated into a single file and you choose whether to incorporate, modify or delete these edits.

No matter which of these packages you choose, creating a presentation just got a whole lot easier.

Progress Report

4 floppies: excellent

3 floppies: good

2 floppies: fair

1 floppy: poor

FREELANCE GRAPHICS (4 floppies)

Lotus Development Corp.

55 Cambridge Pkwy.

Cambridge, MA 02142

(800) 343-5414

List Price: $355

Pluses: Easy to use; offers extensive multimedia capabilities and has the most sophisticated group computing features of the three packages

Minuses: Not as easy as Power-Point to view summary of special effects in slide show view

POWERPOINT (3 floppies)

Microsoft Corp.

1 Microsoft Wy.

Redmond, WA 98052

(800) 426-9400

List Price: $339

Pluses: Easy to use; full array of multimedia capabilities; some group computing available

Minuses: Group computing capabilities not as sophisticated as Freelance's

HARVARD GRAPHICS (2 floppies)

Software Publishing Corp.

3165 Kifer Rd.

P.O. Box 54983

Santa Clara, CA 95056

(800) 336-8360

List Price: $395

Pluses: Easy to use

Minuses: Offers fewer sophisticated features than the other packages reviewed here