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Presentations can make or break your company. A good one can close the sale . . . a bad one can cannibalize it. A good one can lure investors . . . a bad one can turn them off. When you're a small company, having the tools to create the best possible presentation is essential.
One interesting thing about presentation software is how gracefully it's evolved. For example, as multimedia functionality (i.e., audio and video) became commonplace on most desktop computers, the features were quickly integrated into presentation programs--and what better place to harness your computer's multimedia components than when broadcasting your company's message? Even more compelling, however, is the proliferation of programs that enable users to post their presentations on the Web, giving them the ability to do a presentation anywhere, any time.
This month, we take a look at what the Macintosh platform has to offer in terms of presentation programs. Currently, the two big players are Microsoft's PowerPoint and Astound Inc.'s Astound 3.0.
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for nine years.
Presenting With Prowess
What better way to prove your company is on the leading edge than by showing it in your presentations? If you bustle into a room with overheads or slides in tow, your audience will recognize your technical ineptitude--a downfall whether your business involves tractor sales or software development.
There's nothing particularly unique about the way presentations are created on a computer; they're just easier to manage and maintain. The goal is still to make them as attractive, enjoyable and memorable as possible for your audience. A key element of the effectiveness of your presentation is the flexibility offered by computer-based presentations--you can easily jump around from one slide to another. Another great feature: You can time your presentation to fit your audience's timetable.
Presentation programs like PowerPoint and Astound make it easy to create high-caliber presentations without heavy investments of time and money. Both programs offer templates that save you from the task of determining what elements should be in your presentation and make slide creation a simple point-and-click endeavor. You can create slides on your computer to be shown in one-on-one meetings with the use of a laptop computer or projected onto a screen for larger audiences. In fact, if you prefer to project 35mm slides created with your presentation program using a standard slide projector, you can easily do so by outputting your presentation to standard slide format.
Point To Consider
Though the installation of the Microsoft PowerPoint program was a bit of a bear, its integration with Microsoft Office makes it a great choice for users of Microsoft Word and Excel; many of the commands and toolbars are shared. For example, users can drag text from Word or graphs from Excel into PowerPoint. PowerPoint users can also create special text effects, like curved or wrapped text, using Word Art.
If you're new to presentation programs, you'll appreciate PowerPoint's extensive help functions, including Cue Cards that offer step-by-step instructions for common scenarios and IntelliSense, a feature that senses what task you're attempting to perform. Advanced users will find it annoying, but beginners will likely welcome the help.
To make creating your presentation as easy as possible, PowerPoint includes the Pick a Look Wizard and the AutoContent Wizard. The former customizes the look of your presentation for you, while the latter helps organize your content.
If your company has a small sales force, you'll appreciate the PowerPoint Viewer. This feature lets you give a presentation on any Windows-based or Macintosh system without installing the actual PowerPoint program. Unlike installing multiple versions of the software, it's perfectly legal to install multiple versions of the Viewer.
Look for a more robust version of PowerPoint when Mac Office 98 is launched later this year. This version of Office will update the Macintosh version to be on par with the PC version.
Way To Show
Astound was much easier to install than PowerPoint. Once you open the program, it walks you through some simple steps for creating basic presentations. Unlike the version of PowerPoint we reviewed, Astound is fully Power Mac native (designed to run on a Power Mac) and, in fact, requires a Power Mac computer running Mac OS 7.1 or higher. Running PowerPoint does not require a Power Mac.
Astound sets itself apart from the competition with its multimedia functionality. This program makes it easy to add pictures, sounds, QuickTime movies, clip art and more. It also includes built-in animated slide and object transitions. The program comes complete with more than 1,800 pieces of clip media, including sound effects, backgrounds, digital video, animation and clip art. It also includes something called WYSIWYWeb (What You See Is What You Web) for easy posting of your presentation in HTML format.
Astound supports importing from PowerPoint as well as Adobe Persuasion, Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3 and more. This program is especially useful for sprucing up an existing presentation but may not be the best tool for creating presentations from scratch.
Astound also supports cross-platform playback so users can distribute a free viewer to Mac or PC users.
If you're looking for easy Internet integration--to post your presentation on your Web site, for example--Astound is currently the more able (the next version of PowerPoint will have extensive Internet capabilities). For more extensive integration, Windows users can call on a product like SPC's ActivePresenter to create and transmit live Internet presentations. This product works in conjunction with a standard telephone conference call, making it possible to save time and money in traveling. Visit http://www.spco.com for more information.
If you're still giving old-fashioned presentations, you're not doing your company justice. For less than the cost of a night on the town with prospective clients, you can be up and running with the latest presentation programs. If you're buying today, check out Astound, as it has been updated most recently. But if you're a Microsoft Office user who's willing to wait for Microsoft to release its next version of PowerPoint, it probably won't disappoint.
4: Excellent 3: Good 2: Fair 1: Poor
Astound 3.0: 3.5
List Price: $249.95 (upgrade: $99.95)
Pluses: Strong multimedia and Internet funtions
Minuses: Templates lack pizzazz
List Price: $339
Pluses: The integration with Microsoft Office
Minuses: Current version is stale
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