Multimedia: How To Make Your Point

What you need to add WOW! to a presentation.
BY SUSAN COOMER GALBREATH AND JON A. BOOKER

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
  • IF YOU WANT TO PUT on a presentation that will engage your audience, turn to multimedia presentation tools. While many take time to become proficient in, they can deliver a message with lots of impact.
  • YOU ALSO CAN CREATE a run-time file that lets you show the presentation file on any computereven if its not loaded with that application software.
  • A GREAT PRESENTATION SHOWN with a poor projection system can be a disaster, so select a system with care. There are many different kinds of projectorsfrom old standby liquid crystal displays to the newest plasma display panels and digital light processing designs.
  • CARTOONS AND PHOTOS can add humor, color, emphasis and creativity to a presentation. Although many multimedia software products include some clip art images, many users add additional art as needed.
  • IF YOU CANT FIND the right clip art, you can create your own with a scanner, which can digitize any graphic: company logos, pictures of buildings and people. Inserting these and similar items can be as easy as inserting clip art.
  • REMOTE CONTROLS ARE USEFUL because the presenter can move about the room without being tethered to the computer keyboard or mouse. Remote controls available with advanced features can direct highlighting, spotlighting and zoom. Some presenters find a laser pointer also effective to draw attention to specific areas of a projected image.
SUSAN COOMER GALBREATH, CPA, PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting at Tennessee Technology University, Cookeville, Tennessee. Her e-mail address is SGalbreath@TnTech.edu .
JON A. BOOKER, CPA, CIA, PhD, is a professor of accounting at Tennessee University. His e-mail address is JonBooker@TnTech.edu .



You're faced with making an important presentation to a client, your boss or your board of directors. You could use an old-fashioned flip chart. Or, if youve got the time, you could even prepare photographic slides or acetate sheets and display them with an overhead projector in a dimly lit room. And, if youre very lucky, youll make it through the presentation with only a few yawns from your audience.

But if you want your audience to sit up and take notice (and even be able to watch your presentation in a normally lit room so they can take notes), think multimediain full color and high-fidelity sound.

Multimedia is not tomorrows technology; its here today. Its not that hard to become quite proficient in creating multimedia presentations that will help you deliver a persuasive message with maximum impact and minimum effort. And, the multimedia software products on the market today are very affordable.


The Software Side
There are many presentation software packages on the market. They fall into three categories:

Advanced. Products that are loaded with features and are a little difficult to learn. The two leading packages in this category are Astound and Director.

Standard. Packages that include all the basic features plus enhancements and are moderately easy to learn. The category includes Freelance Graphics, Harvard Graphics, PowerPoint and Presentations.

Basic. Software that contains just the bare-bones utilities for the one-time user and is easy to learn. One such product is ASAP Word Power.

Exhibit 1 identifies vendor information for these products, and exhibit 2 rates each multimedia software package.

Exhibit 1: Multimedia Product Vendors

Lets look at the products in detail:

Astound and Director have advanced features not found in the other products. While the packages are well designed, the sheer numbers and types of available features make them more difficult to master. Some of their features include powerful animation, video, audio and editing capabilities. Both packages allow users to convert presentations for the Internet. They also include extensive clip art and template libraries designed by graphics professionals. In addition, they have many slide-transition stylessuch as having images fade in and outwhich give a presentation real pizzazz.

You also can create a run-time file that lets you show the presentation file on any computereven if its not loaded with that application software. Both packages come with excellent tutorials. They operate on both IBM-compatible personal computers (PCs) and Macintosh and provide an easy conversion between the two. However, because presentations that include unusual fonts and imbedded objects such as spreadsheets may encounter some conversion difficulties, its wise to test a file on both computers to be sure no problems exist.

Director, the more sophisticated of the two, sells for about $850. Astound is priced at about $199.

Programs in the standard group (Freelance Graphics, Harvard Graphics, PowerPoint and Presentations) dont offer many advanced features, but they can create professional-looking presentations. Each has a variety of well-designed templates, presentation aids and clip art libraries. Their tutorials are helpful. The latest versions of these packages even offer limited animation, video, audio and Web-authoring capabilities. Importing Excel or Lotus spreadsheets is as easy as inserting clip art.

If you are a novice at multimedia software, youll have to devote some time to learning how to use italthough not as much time as with the advanced packages. The standard programs are adequate for most presentations. However, if you give presentations routinely, you may soon outgrow their limited features and turn to the more advanced programs.

These software packages also allow your finished presentations to be converted into run-time modules or to be used in connection with a custom viewer provided by the software company. If you want to provide handouts of parts of your presentation, all the products have well-designed print features.

All three major office suitesmade by Corel, Lotus and Microsoftinclude multimedia applications. Corel Office 7 has Presentations, Lotus SmartSuite 97 has Freelance Graphics and Microsoft Office 97 has PowerPoint. Although the presentation packages are available as stand-alones, it is generally more economical to buy the entire suite.

The cost for each stand-alone software package:

  • Freelance Graphics: $330. The entire Lotus SmartSuite, which includes Freelance Graphics, sells for $370.

  • Harvard Graphics: $290 (it is not included in any suites).

  • PowerPoint: $280 to $300; between $470 and $545 for the entire Microsoft Office 97.

  • Presentations: The product is not sold as a stand-alone. The full Corel WordPerfect Suite sells for $330.

If you need to use both an IBM-compatible PC and a Mac, consider PowerPoint; its especially good in either computer.

ASAP is the newest package in this group. Its outstanding feature is ease of use. Even without training, most users can create basic presentations in just a few minutes. However, there is a trade-off between ease of use and customization. For example, the type of template you select determines the transitions you must use on all slides. If the presentation is very long, the viewers will soon tire of the repetitive transitions. Also, setting the color combination is easy, but placing clip art where you want it is difficult. While importing electronic spreadsheets is easy, too, customizing the look can be frustrating.

However, if you are a novice and prepare presentations only occasionally, ASAP may meet your needs. It costs about $90.


The Hardware Side
Following are the hardware items you will need to stage effective presentations:

Computer. While these programs will run on a 486 computer, they generally demand more power and will operate more effectively on a Pentium with the following minimums: 133-megahertz processor with 16 to 32 megabytes (Mb) of random access memory (RAM) and an audio subsystem.

Projector. A great presentation shown with a poor projection system can be a disaster, so select a system with care. Exhibit 3, page 60, lists the things you should consider.

Until recently, liquid crystal display (LCD) panels were the most popular projection tool because they are lightweight, portable and reasonably priced ($2,000 to $5,000). However, LCD panels are dependent on the light and magnification from an overhead projector. As a result, the all-in-one LCD projectorwhich combines the panels and the projectorrecently has become more popular. Also, LCD projectors have become more portable and less costly ($6,500 to $9,500) than they were in the early 1990s.

An alternative projecting system is a cathode ray tube (CRT) projector that has three image projecting guns (red, green and blue) to display a full-color image on a screen. CRT projectors are not portable and range in price from $9,000 to $120,000. Another option is to use CRT monitors (generally with a diagonal screen size of 27 to 35 inches) that are priced between $2,000 and $11,000. For the extra investment, CRTs offer higher resolution and better image quality than even the best LCD projector.

One of the most recent developments in multimedia projection is the plasma display panel (PDP). The image quality of a PDP is better than a high-end CRT. Also, PDPs are lighter, so theyre easier to transport. However, their prices are quite high: While a CRT monitor starts at about $700, a 21-inch PDP (which offers the same viewing area as a 31-inch CRT) costs about $3,000.

Exhibit 2: Multimedia Software Packages
Multimedia Software Presentation Development Multimedia Capabilities Output Capabilities Ease of Use
Astound Excellent Excellent Excellent Difficult
Director Excellent Excellent Excellent Difficult
Freelance Excellent Good Excellent Fair
Harvard Graphics Excellent Good Good Fair
Persuasion Very Good Good Excellent Fair
PowerPoint Very Good Good Excellent Fair
Presentations Good Good Good Fair
ASAP Word Power Fair Fair Fair Excellent

Digital light processing (DLP) is another new technology that provides crisp, bright images in almost any environment. Their images are so bright there is little or no need to dim the light in the conference room. A low-end DLP system costs about $8,500, with high-end systems costing as much as $35,000. Prices may fall as the market for DLPs expands. This technology is certainly worth a look.

Another projection option is the use of a large-screen television, usually with a display of at least 35 inches diagonally. However, special equipment is needed to make a TV set accommodate a computer signal.

Clip art. Cartoons and photos can add humor, color, emphasis and creativity to a presentation. Although several multimedia software products include some clip art images, many users add additional art as needed. You can purchase a wide assortment of clip art for between $15 and $100. When purchasing it, consider the following:

Exhibit 3: Projection System Characteristics
Characteristic Description Importance
Resolution Sharpness of the projected image Resolution is measured in pixels. Generally, higher resolutions provide sharper images and cost more.
Weight Portability Generally, lighter weights are preferred for on-the-road presentations.
Backlit buttons Buttons with lighting source Backlit buttons are easier to find when the room is darkened for a presentation.
Number of colors Spectrum of colors able to display on the screen Most projection systems support between 1 million and 16.7 million colors. More colors are useful when showing video clips.
Response time Quickness of projector system to respond to commands Quicker response times become more important when presentations include video or animation.
Rear projection Ability to reverse the projected image Rear-projection capability allows projection from behind an opaque screen.
On-screen controls Menu options are projected on the screen On-screen controls are helpful in a dark room when adjustments are necessary.
Sound System Ability to provide sound Built-in speakers alleviate the need for external speakers for many presentations. However, many projection systems have outputs to accommodate external speakers, should they be necessary.
Multiple input sources Availability of more than one input source Multiple input sources allow users to freely switch between inputs such as VCRs and a computer during a presentation.
Lumens Amount of light output from the projector system More lumens allow projections in larger, light-filled rooms to be seen; less lumens work fine in smaller, darker rooms.
Bulbs Light source For many projectors, bulbs can be quite costly ($6-$500). Also, some projectors have space for a second bulb in case the bulb in use burns out during a presentation.

  • Is it compatible with your computer system?

  • Does it have online search features to allow retrieval of specific images?

  • Does it include online image browsers to allow previews before inserting an image into a presentation?

  • Is there a hard copy index to aid with clip art selection (especially if the clip art software does not have online search and image browser features)?

Scanners. If you cant find the right clip art you can create your own with a scanner, which can digitize any graphic: company logos, pictures of buildings and people. Inserting these and similar items can be as easy as inserting clip art.

The higher the scanner image resolution, the more expensive the scanner. When choosing a flatbed scanner, consider a 24-bit model. While most manufacturers offer a 30/36-bit color scanner for about $1,500 to $3,500, a lower resolution, full-color 24-bit scanner will meet the needs of most users and cost between $300 and $800. Most scanners include the software necessary to scan text and images. Several major manufacturers offer scanners that require a SCSI (small computer system interface) device driver and a card. Before purchasing such a scanner, make sure your PC has the right hardware to run a SCSI device.

If you dont want to invest in a scanner, a local printing and photo service business can scan a graphic for you and place the digitized file onto a disk.

Projection screens. There are two types of screen surfaces: white matte and beaded glass. A white matte screen produces less glare and therefore is easier on a viewers eyes while a beaded glass screen provides brighter projection. Screens on a tripod cost between $100 and $400. Fast-fold screens with rear-projection capabilities cost between $450 and $750, and ceiling-mounted screens cost between $130 and $800.

Remote controls and pointers. Remote controls are useful because the presenter can move about the room without being tethered to the computer keyboard or mouse. Remote controls available with advanced features can direct highlighting, spotlighting and zoom. Some presenters find the use of a laser pointer also effective to draw attention to specific areas of a projected image.

Sound system. A sound system is important if any portion of a presentation uses audio. This could include audio from a compact disc, video recorder or the computer. Exhibit 4, above, explains several characteristics to consider when designing a sound system. Before investing in an additional sound system, check to see if your projector has a built-in audio system. Many projectors include speakers that may be more than adequate for presentations in small meeting rooms.

Now that you have the facts about presentation tools, experiment with one of the less complex products and see how you can perk up an otherwise flat presentation. You may quickly graduate to a more sophisticated package. And once you get good at creating presentations, you may find yourself anxious to step forward and present your ideas in graphic form. That could do wonders for your career.

Exhibit 4: Sound System Characteristics
Characteristic Description Importance
Sound card Computer hardware that allows the use of sound Many computer systems include a sound card that offers no more than 4 watts of amplification per channel. If this is not enough, purchase an amplifier or speakers with built-in amplifiers.
Speakers Provide sound to audience Speakers with built-in amplifiers can plug directly into a computer with a sound card. Speakers are available that use the Dolby Surround Sound technology found in many theaters.
Amplifier Boosts the signal to the speaker For an office-size room, amplifiers offering 10 watts per channel should be sufficient. For a small conference room, 30 to 40 watts per channel may be needed. For a large auditorium, up to 100s of watts per channel may be necessary. Remember that the amplifiers must be compatible with the speakers.
Subwoofer Enhances low-frequency A subwoofer is a nice addition to a sound system when presentations audio include audio below 150 Hz.
Mixer Allows multiple audio inputs (CD, tape deck, VCR, etc.) Mixers provide an input channel and a volume control for each audio input.

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