Following up on a post from last month that featured my favorite features, tips, and shortcuts for the oft-used Word program, I wanted to do the same with another tool in the Office Suite: PowerPoint. If you're not already familiar with it, PowerPoint is a presentation program which I use pretty regularly when helping with our webinar program and when giving presentations at conferences, staff meetings, and trainings.

It's a program that many rely upon, but are sometimes hesitant to use because they only know the basics. Well, with the launch of Office 2010 earlier this year, the "basics" just got better and easier. So, I'll cover some new features that can only be found in the latest version ' particularly focusing on those features I think would be most useful to nonprofit and library users ' and then get on to some features and shortcuts found more generally that will help you save time and create better presentations while using this handy tool.

Before getting started with ANY presentation, I'd recommend taking a look at these oldies-but-goodies on what not to do from our Learning Center:

Now, on to my favorite features and tips. Please feel free to share your tips, shortcuts, and favorite features in PowerPoint in this discussion in our forums.

1. Broadcast Slideshows

Probably one of the coolest new features, and most convenient if you have staff that work from home, an executive director or board that's on the road a lot or located elsewhere, or supporters across the country, is the new Broadcast feature available in the 2010 version. Broadcast your slideshow directly from PowerPoint to people in other locations, whether or not they have PowerPoint installed. No need to upload it to a third-party site or email it back and forth. Create a video of your presentation ' including your transitions, animations, narration, and timings ' to share with virtually anyone, any time after your live broadcast. This makes it easy to show your presentation to anyone, even if aren't in the same place when you need to do it.

So nonprofits and libraries, involve your chapter members, library branches, volunteers, board members in your presentations and meetings without needing to pay for each of them to have a specially installed application or paying for a subscription webinar-hosting service. We demo'd this with Microsoft during a live webinar we presented with them over the summer. You can find the recording for it and additional resources (including the PowerPoint slides from it) here and a clip of how it can be used below.

2. Photo and Video Editing (Plus Export)

PowerPoint 2010 adds an editor for making changes to videos embedded in PowerPoint presentations. For example, if you insert a long video interview into a PowerPoint file but only want to include a short portion of it in your presentation, you can make the appropriate cuts from within the PowerPoint interface rather than switching to a video-editing application. The new version also boasts an "Export to Video" function, letting you turn your PowerPoint presentations into videos that you can burn to a DVD or share on video sites like YouTube.

In addition to the video editing features, they've added overall control and editing for photos and images too, which doesn't have truly professional-grade functions like what you may find in Adobe's Photoshop, but is more than suitable for many basic functions like cropping, resizing, coloring, and more ' all directly within PowerPoint. As many nonprofits and libraries often don't have the funds to pay for pricier photo and video programs, it's a convenient option to allow image and video manipulation without needing a third-party tool.

 

SmartArt Graphics Example from Microsoft3. SmartArt Graphics Converter

If you've ever wished your dull looking presentation could get a splash of cool without having to spend hours creating custom graphics, designing layouts, and sourcing free (both in cost and copyright) images to use, SmartArt will be your new best friend. This feature is available in both Office 2007 and 2010 versions of PowerPoint and can be a boon when you just want to make that boring list of bullets look nicer. You still have access to a variety of ready-made templates and themes for the overall look of your presentation, and can still create your own, but the SmartArt graphics converter button gives you the added bonus of making individual slides look more inviting with one click. Easy peasy.

Considering how resource-strapped most nonprofits and libraries are (in terms of money, time, and staff!) this is a simple tool that can bring your presentations from boring to bling without any extra effort. The 2010 version of the tool has the added benefit of converting your photos into SmartArt graphics as well, so no need to fiddle with getting every shadow and 3-D box style the same on 20 images. It'll do it for you.

4. PowerPoint Web Apps and Accessibility

We've talked quite a bit about Office Web Apps that make many of your favorite Office Suite programs available over the Internet to view, save, share, and collaborate on. PowerPoint is no exception, so you can work with your presentation partner to co-author and edit your show together, without the back-and-forth of email.

Beyond that, I appreciate that Microsoft has made these types of files available to a wider audience over Web Apps ' improving accessibility to those with limited dexterity, vision, or other disabilities.

Here are some step-by-step instructions from Microsoft to help you make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to a variety of users over the Internet, using Web Apps.

To view presentations in a format that is accessible to screen readers, you must display the presentation in outline view. To do this, press the TAB key to reach the File tab on the ribbon, press ENTER, and then press the DOWN ARROW key to the Outline View command, and press ENTER to activate the command. The Web App version of PowerPoint lets users pick a theme, edit slide layouts, add or remove slides, edit text, add animations, and basic video and image editing.

Learn more about the enhanced web accessiblity features available in Web Apps.

5. Keyboard Shortcuts

As with any of the Office Suite products, often the things that speed up your regular processes and tasks most are basic keyboard shortcuts. If you are creating presentations regularly, you may be happy to know that many of the same shortcuts you love from Word and other Office apps will also work in PowerPoint. You can check out the full list of shortcuts available for use in designing your presentation (need to jump from text between fields on that table you've inserted?) to handy shortcuts to help you whip through presenting it (How can you make it skip through elements with a keystroke?) from this Microsoft site.

Additional Resources

No matter which version of PowerPoint you're using, if you're new to the tool, here are some step-by-step tutorials of how to get started in creating your presentations there, directly from Microsoft's training resources. Admittedly, I already know how to use it pretty well so may not be the best judge of just how basic they are, but I thought they were pretty interesting and even learned a few things for my own more advanced purposes.

Want to learn more about the Microsoft software donation program or other resources available to nonprofits? Check out their site for nonprofits to see all of their resources to help nonprofits use technology. There are also some great training and user readiness materials available from Microsoft at the following sites:

Enjoy! And let us know how you use PowerPoint by sharing your favorite tips, shortcuts, and features in our forum discussion.

Becky Wiegand is the Webinar Program Manager at TechSoup.org
@bajeckabean on Twitter