Focus An Excel Presentation With a Movable Electronic Mask


I frequently make presentations with Excel worksheets, and I find that when the screen is filled with loads of numbers my audience goes into what I call the unfocused or snooze mode. Is there some way to improve the focus of a presentation to get around that problem?

Probably the most effective way is to create your presentation as a PowerPoint slideshow. But that takes lots of extra work, and if there’s any danger of the data changing, you have to link the spreadsheet to the PowerPoint file. One of my colleagues, Jon Booker, a CPA and professor at Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, has a much easier, low-tech method. He creates a virtual mask that, in effect, does the job that a piece of paper did when you positioned it over the parts of a worksheet you wanted to hide when it was being displayed by one of those old overhead projectors.

You’re probably smiling to yourself as you recall how clumsy that process used to be when you used a sheet of paper—especially when you struggled to keep the paper centered over the document on the overhead projector or when someone opened a window and a breeze blew it away.

Let’s say this is the worksheet you want to present (see screenshot below). But you want the audience to focus only on the data for 10/1 and 10/4.

To do that, you can create a movable mask with your Drawing tool that blocks out all the data under 10/4 (see screenshot below). And when you move on to other data, you can slide the mask over different data using your mouse.

Activate Excel’s Drawing Toolbar by clicking on View and placing a check next to the Drawing option. That will position the Drawing Toolbar on the bottom of your screen (see screenshot below).

Now click on the rectangle icon and move the cursor to your spreadsheet and draw a rectangle over the area you wish to mask by clicking and dragging the cursor. If you followed our example and drew the rectangle starting at A6 and dragged it to L14, that entire area would be blocked out—with one exception: Your mask is just a plain white box, while ours contains gray shading, a little extra touch to add some pizzazz to our mask.

If you wish, you can even add color to the mask. To do that, return to the Drawing Toolbar and click on the down-pointing arrow to the right of the Paint Can icon to generate a Fill Color (yellow) label. Click on that to evoke this screen:

If all you want is color, select one from the available array. If, however, you want something a bit fancier, click on Fill Effects and such a screen will pop up (see screenshot below).

As you can see, the Fill Effects screen gives you a wide choice of effects—from gradients (similar to the effect we chose) to textures, patterns and even pictures of your choice.

Once the virtual paper has been created, it’s easy to slide it in any direction to cover any part of the worksheet you wish. To move it, click on the rectangle and that will bring up tiny grab handles. Grab any handle with your mouse and either drag it to a new location or use the arrow key to move it (see screenshot below).

You even can tilt the mask by grabbing the green handle on top and pushing it either left or right (see screenshot below).

You may not want to completely mask a section of the worksheet. It’s possible, using Fill Effects, to make the mask semitransparent so the data under the mask is barely visible but does not distract the audience (see screenshot below).


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