powerpoint

Using screencapture software to make next-level PowerPoint presentations

I normally record talks I give at conferences, using my phone in my jacket pocket. I have a strict 'no critiquing myself during the talk itself' rule, so the recording allows me to listen back afterwards and pick up on things that I'd want to do differently next time, or things that worked well etc.

In the past I've also put a video up on YouTube, using Camtasia to record me moving the slides along with the audio of my talk at the LIASA conference in Cape Town. I don't think this worked that well because there was simply too many long periods where nothing changed on the screen - in real life that was fine because the audience looks at the speaker, but in a video - a visual medium after all - it just feels a little inert and uninteresting.

So for a recent talk I decided to try and make a version of the slides that would work as a proper video. I spoke at the CILIP PPRG Conference in January (more on that in a previous post) about our UoYTips marketing campaign - York won a Bronze Marketing Award which I was picking up at the event. I delivered the slides and recorded the talk in the usual way, but then set about creating a new version of the slides that had much more going on visually. The actual slides are here, if you're interested, and here is how they evolved for the video I came up with:

Now I've done this, I'm wondering why I can't just do more visually exciting slides anyway? This doesn't have to be just for YouTube. I've always wanted to use video in presentations more, and it's surprisingly easy to do as it turns out.

The tools

To make the video above I used three bits of software. PowerPoint, obviously, for the slides. Audacity to edit and play the audio (this is free). And Screencastomatic for both the screen-capture videos within the slides, and the overall screen-capture of slides plus audio you can view above. Screencastomatic is a great tool, which I found much easier to use than Camtasia. It's quick and intuitive. It can be used for free, but in order to record videos of more than 15 minutes, and record PC audio, you need the pro subscription - this costs 12 quid year which is pretty great value, I reckon.

Here's what the Screencast-o-matic interface looks like:

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It's very easy to redraw the box around the exact part of the screen (or all the screen) that you want to record. You can pause and restart. You can also record PC audio as you go, or narrate into a mic. As you can see it gives you the option of recording from webcam at the same time if you wish, which happens in a smallish box at the top right of the screen.

It's really easy to use.

The techniques

In the video above there are a number of techniques (perhaps that's too grand a word!) employed to suit different types of information.

  • Actual video recorded on my phone. (This happens about 25 seconds in.) I recorded a video in the usual way, emailed it to myself, and went to Insert Video in PPT. You can make it full screen, or you can overlay the branding / visual identity from your PPT over the top. I think this is crucial to how easy this is to do - the video can effectively be the background of the slide, just like an image can. You then overlay it with text, shapes, images etc as normal.
  • Screencasting Google Earth. I really like this one, which happens here. How to have something dynamic on screen while I talk about the University of York? Type it into Google Earth then press record on the screencasting software, and return on Google Earth. It zooms all the way in and then, delightfully, spins round the building you've chosen for a bit. I'm going to use this in library induction sessions in the future, for sure.
  • Using gifs. There's a couple of examples of this, but here's the most interesting one. It starts off as a regular full-screen image, and then I used animation to first of all drop the text on top of the image at the appropriate time, and secondly to trigger the gif video beginning (having downloaded the gif from a gif site, and saved it as a video).
  • Regular PowerPoint animations and transitions. There's a few moments where things are added onto the screen one-by-one as I mention them, and there's this very long fade transition between two slides
  • Videos of websites instead of screengrabs of websites. There's an example here, and another example here. In the talk I just showed a screenshot of the thing I was talking about, but here it's a 15 second video of the site being used, which is much more interesting. I'm definitely going to reuse this technique.

The drawbacks

Really the only two drawbacks are that it takes time, and it takes space.

Of course, recording a clip on a website in use takes more time than just a screenshot, but it becomes surprisingly quick. Perhaps a minute to set-up, record and save / export 20 seconds' worth of screen-capture, so not too bad at all.

In terms of space - the videos are MP4 files and pleasingly small. Most brief captures were under 1 meg. The 22 second-long Google Earth zoom right at the start of the video was 12 meg. The overall final file - a 20 minute video capturing the whole thing, was 99MB. Video files are so huge, I think this is pretty reasonable.

So, I'd recommend giving this a try. And if you create a presentation with video and upload it anywhere (or you've already done this in the past) leave me a link in the comments...

A short post on preparing short presentations (for short time-slots)

This is a good question, something I've answered a lot in workshops but never blogged about. So here's what I think is really important about prepping short talks with PowerPoint presentations:

  1. Create the number of slides you think you need, then get rid of a couple! The time just rushes past in short presentations, so when it comes to your PPT (or whatever else you're using) you almost always need less than you think. Five slides for a 15 minute presentation may often be enough.
  2. Simplicity is never more important. Simple slides are better anwyay (image-rich, a little text as possible, no bullets) but are especially vital when you only have a very short window in which to convey your information. The messages need to stick, so make them easy to understand and support them with relevant images.
  3. Signpost to more detailed information. Have a blog-post already published which goes into more detail than your 15 minutes will allow, and use a customised bit.ly URL to share the post in an easy-to-remember link at the end of your talk.
  4. Structure is still important. Audiences find structured presentations easier to remember and understand, even for very short talks. So try to have a beginning, a middle, and an end clearly signalled (both in what you're saying and in your slides)
  5. Consider doing a 20:20. A 20:20 (also known as Pecha Kucha) technique involves having 20 slides, each of which automatically moves on after 20 seconds. These are acually really fun to do (the trick is to keep talking rather than stopping to wait for the slides to catch up) and force a real discipline in terms of the economy of your delivery. A 20:20 takes just under 7 minutes and it's amazing how much you can cover in that time if you practice. (I know point 5 directly contradicts point 1, but the approach is SO different with Pecha Kucha it's a whole different ball-game...) 

Using PowerPoint as a design tool

If you're a graphic designer you probably use a professional tool like Adobe InDesign or Photoshop to make leaflets, posters, infographics and other digital images. If, like me, you're not, and those tools are beyond both your budget and capacity to learn complicated programmes you're not going to use that often, you need an alternative.

I've written on here before about Canva, which is excellent for more than just presentations, and I like Phoster in the iOS app store for designing digital posters. But an under-rated tool for Design is PowerPoint. The main reasons are it's a lot more flexible than it's often given credit for, and it's incredibly easy to layer content (to put text over images, etc) - something which is maddeningly difficult to do in Word, for example.

So here are the key aspects to using PowerPoint for design.

1) You can make a slide ANY size, and save it as a JPG or PNG file

Go to Design, Slide Size then Custom Slide Size to get to this menu

Go to Design, Slide Size then Custom Slide Size to get to this menu

PowerPoint defaults to a 4:3 or 16:9 slide - but you can edit the slide to be any shape, size and proportions. Open a new presentation and go to Design then Slide Size and choose Custom Slide Size you can bring up this drop-down menu, or just put in the custom dimensions of your choice.

Everything becomes easier with design when your canvas is the perfect dimensions to start off with. Sizes like A3 and A4 are self-explanatory if you're designing flyers or posters, but also think about digital image sizes. For example:

  • A Twitter image (which is to say a perfectly sized image which doesn't require users to click to expand when viewing it's tweeted) is W: 116 mm x H 232mm
  • An Instagram image can be any square, but optimally is 134mm x 134mm
  • A Facebook image is 317mm x 317mm
  • A YouTube custom video thumbnail is H: 190mm x W: 338mm

(You can work out any pixels to mm dimensions using an online converter: I used this one for the above.)

Once you've created blank slides in a variety of useful sizes, save them to use as a template more quickly in the future.

2) You can install fantastic typography

As anyone who has attended my presentation skills training will attest, I'm always banging on about how Typography is a hugely underrated part of design. Fonts matter a lot, and can make the difference between something looking and the same thing looking really professional.

As always, I'd highly reccomend fontsquirrel as a souce of fantastic (and free to use) fonts - and see the previous post for more info on font-pairings.

Click to go to the font-pairing post

Click to go to the font-pairing post

3) It's easy to manipulate images in useful ways

You can find the ideal image from a CC0 site like Pexels, and make it easier to use - to layer text on top of, for example - using PPTs editing tools. They're nowhere near as sophisticated as those in Photoshop, but it's still really useful. Particularly darkening images using the Brightness slider so that white text clearly shows up on it, or blurring images. Both of these techniques are explained in more detail here.

You can also Crop images to specific shapes, circles for example, which can help with really striking design.

4) You can follow the basic principles of good design, and that's more important than the tool

I've found that I really like design without truly understanding it like a proper designer would, but certain rules apply across the board and help me with whatever I'm doing:

  1. Images AS the background most often works better than images against a background (unless you're using icons).
  2. Space is good. Leave space.
  3. No more than three fonts per design. And use fonts that help you communicate your message - or, to use a phrase I'm not altogether comfortable with for some reason, but it seems to apply here: use fonts intentionally.
  4. The most important thing about text is legibility. Make sure text is large, and the contrast is high between the text and the background.
  5. Left-align text unless there's a specific reason to Centre-align it (or very occasionally right-align or justify).
  6. Avoid orphan or widow words. Just stretch your text box a little more, or narrow it, so words aren't left on a line of their own. Canva's helpful design rules also have this to say on line length:

5) Save slides as images

You can save your PowerPoint as a PPTX to come back to the design later, but you can also save a slide as an image, or a whole bunch of slides as seperate images.

When you go to Save As, choose JPEG or PNG from the drop-down menu - it will then give you the choice of saving just the slide you're on at the moment as an image, or to create a folder into which it will save all the slides in the presentation as individual images.

Saving slides as JPEGs

Saving slides as JPEGs

And finally, while we're on the Save As function, here's a brief guide to which format to save regular presentations in depending on your situation...

The Snipping Tool is on your PC, waiting to make life a tiny bit better

If you already use the Snipping Tool, you know it's changed your life in a tiny way. You remember the days before you found it as extraordinarily wasteful. You shudder a little bit.

If you've NOT found the Snipping Tool before now: welcome. Everything up to now has been pre-Snipping Tool. You will remember this day.

The Snipping Tool allows you to draw a box around any section of your PC screen (or all of it) and then instantly saves whatever is in the box as an image. You can copy and paste that image into slides, posters, twitter, etc etc - or save it as JPG if you wish.

I know it doesn't sound like a big deal but trust me, when you prepare a lot of slides it saves AN AGE compared to taking the full print-screen then cropping. It's easier to set the margins just right than with cropping, too. So for screen-grabs in presentations, it makes things so much easier.

Here's a gif (I've never made a gif before) of the Snipping Tool doing its thing:

Look how quick it is to take the screengrab and then make it the background of the slide! Then just insert a text box, or an arrow, or a circle, and highlight the key things. Use it get images of logos, websites, databases, stills from youtube, stills from your own videos to act as thumbnails and to use in social media. It's useful in so many ways and the few seconds it saves you each time really do add up. Pin it to your taskbar forthwith.

The Snipping Tool is on all PCs already, you don't have to install it. Go to the Start Menu, type 'Snip' and there it is. It's been there all along!

How to use Instagram as an easy photo editor but NOT necessarily a social network!

 

As well as being a massively popular social network, Instagram is a brilliant photo editing tool - it's quick, intuitive and easy to transform images. But you can't save the photos to your phone unless you post them online, and sometimes you might want to edit a photo and not share it with the world on social media.

So how do you do this? The tl;dr version of this post:

How to use Instagram as a photo editor

This is great for family stuff (and professional stuff, more on which below). I've become a little obsessed with manipulating photos so that the most important part of the image is clearly highlighted in some way. For example this weekend I took a picture of my daughter and wanted to use the filters Instagram provides and also the tilt-shift function. I love tilt-shift - it makes part of your image slightly out of focus, drawing the eye to the in-focus part you define. But I didn't want to post a picture of my kids on Instagram because I use that purely for drumming related shenanigans - so I took the picture and went into Instagram, edited it, and posted in Airplane Mode so it didn't actually get as far as the internet, but DID save to my camera roll. I really like the way the bits in the picture frame are in focus, but the resit isn't.

The original picture

The original picture

The tilt-shifted, Instagram filtered one

The tilt-shifted, Instagram filtered one

5 steps to use Instagram professionally for photo editing

For professional projects this is potentially very useful, especially if you can't find a free stock image that suits your requirements. Let's say you're making a slide for a presentation and you need to talk about Google. You don't want to pay for a photo, and you can't find a suitable Google-related pic which has space to write on, without having to pay.

STEP 1: Use your phone to take a picture of the Google app icon on a tablet. (Keep in mind you don't have to take a photo - you could screengrab your phone or tablet if you want to get an image of an app or website. I've gone with a photo in this example to get the angle.)

STEP 1: Use your phone to take a picture of the Google app icon on a tablet

STEP 2: Apply a filter. (I ended up choosing X-PRO II)

STEP 3: Use the Radial Tilt-Shift to effectively blur everything except the Google icon

STEP 4: If you don't post it to Instagram it won't save to your Camara Roll. So go into Airplane Mode then post it - you'll see the 'Failed' message and you can press the X to dismiss it. Instagram will now forget all about the image and not attempt to repost it when you have connectivity - but you'll still have the edited pic saved to your phone.

STEP 4: If you don't post it to Instagram it won't save to your Camara Roll. So go into Airplane Mode then post it - you'll see the 'Failed' message and you can press the X to dismiss it. Instagram will now forget all about the image and not attempt to repost it when you have connectivity - but you'll still have the edited pic saved to your phone.

STEP 5: Your finished photo! The eye is drawn to the Google icon, and the photo is darkened and blurred so you can potentially add easily readable white text to your image as part of a slide. Email it to yourself and it's ready to use in your slide.

STEP 5: Your finished photo! The eye is drawn to the Google icon, and the photo is darkened and blurred so you can potentially add easily readable white text to your image as part of a slide.

Finally here are the two photos side by side so you can see the difference.

Original photo

Original photo

Edited version

Edited version

You can sign up to Instagram and never publically post a picture if you don't want to! If you make creative use of this technique let me know in a comment.