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Death by PowerPoint may be common, meetings killed by office supplies, not so much

Death-by-PPt-final-artI now suspect that this story is actually apocryphal but the person who related it to me very early in my career swore he was there when it happened. Just remember, things were different back then.

Nobody gave much thought to the electrical outlet embedded in the stage floor near the lectern while the crew loaded in and set up. In fact, it went largely unnoticed until the afternoon the CEO was addressing a fairly large audience that included all of upper management and a number of his industry colleagues. High visibility. High pressure. Bad time for anything to go wrong.

He took a step back and started to come around to the front of the stage because he once heard that it’s considered good form to get out from behind the lectern. More direct, more personal. On that day it was a big mistake. There was loud snap and a fat blue spark just as all the lights went out. They were certain the CEO got a good couple of feet off the ground when he jumped. Not bad for a guy his age considering his apparently sedentary lifestyle.

Turns out a binder clip had been dropped at some point earlier in the day and it happened to end up right on top of that electrical outlet in the stage floor. The CEO stepped on the clip on his way to the front of the stage and pushed part of it down into the outlet, causing a short and seriously messing up the electrical system. He was fine, but it took a little more than resetting a circuit breaker to get things back to normal. The short also messed up the computer with the slides on it. The meeting was quickly moved from the auditorium to a much less comfortable, much more crowded conference room and the meeting continued without slides and without a sound system.

Needless to say, the presentation wasn’t nearly as good as it should have been and there were a lot of very unhappy people on the flight home that evening. Rumor had it that there was someone from building maintenance escorted to the parking lot the next morning who was even less pleased with the turn of events. If anyone took the time to notice that the cover for the outlet was missing, no one bothered to take the time to do anything about it.

I was meant to learn two things from that story. First, pay attention and try to be aware of things that aren’t the way they should be or that seem broken when setting up for a high-stakes presentation, especially when it involves the electrical system at a venue you aren’t very familiar with. Second, backups should really be a no brainer. I would be willing to bet that none of the people involved in that presentation ever temped fate again by going into a meeting with only one copy of the slide file on one computer. I don’t care how far up the food chain the presenter is, somebody has got to get a copy of the slides from them before the meeting starts.

But like I said, things were different back then. The only widely used portable data storage and transfer technology was 3.5″ floppies. Most networks were slow and none of them were wireless. Any mention of the cloud usually had more to do with trying to get in a quick round of golf after lunch. There are now many more ways to create, organize, share, and store slides and presentations than ever before. We’re convinced that the best of all of these options is and we invite you to sign up for a free, full-feature account and experience it for yourself. You’ll be shocked at how much more efficient, productive, and mishap proof your presentation workflow can be.

Quick tip: Making crooked lines straight

One of the more widely known PowerPoint tricks is to hold down the shift key while drawing a line make it perfectly vertical or horizontal. But what do you do if you are cleaning up the slides of someone who doesn’t know this trick or if a line gets nudged slightly during revisions. You can, of course, delete and redraw the line (or lines) but sometimes the following might be faster:

  1. Select the lines to be repaired.
  2. Right click on one of the lines.
  3. Select “Size and position…” from the context menu.
  4. Click the up arrow next to the Height input box (for horizontal lines) or next to the Width input box (for vertical lines), then click the down arrow so the value in the input box is 0 (note: if you are only changing one line, you can directly enter “0” into the input box, in other words, you don’t need to use the arrows).


The lines should now be perfectly horizontal or vertical.

Tweets of the Week – February 12, 2016

Ten Presentation-Related Websites You Should Be Visiting

billOkay, if you’re going to be online, at least spend your time on sites that that can offer more than Aunt Millie’s cat pictures or the latest Bill Lumbergh meme. Here are ten sites that we know will give you a good return on the time you spend browsing them:

This site, maintained by Microsoft PowerPoint MVP Geetesh Bajaj, is packed with great information, tutorials and news. Geetesh spends plenty of time looking at what’s coming next and lets his readers know what to expect. His interviews with industry leaders are especially useful.


Tips, tricks and podcasts from one of the most creatively engaged presentation design studios out there. Beautiful website.


Nuts & Bolts
Nuts & Bolts Speed Training focuses on making PowerPoint production faster and more productive. If you’re often under dire deadlines, you’ll find plenty of help here.


Six Minutes
Another site with enough material to get lost in for quite a while. This one is targeted more to public speaking and presenting rather than actually creating the slides.


The Presentation Company
Interesting blog by a company that trains presenters to be better visual storytellers. Gets into both the nitty-gritty details of using PowerPoint as well as larger, more strategic presenting issues.


Edward Tufte Forum
Edward Tufte is one of the first and most influential designers to point out the need for, and the importance of, data visualization that is elegant, effective and beautiful.  This is an old school, moderated discussion board. Tufte opens a topic for discussion and others can contribute their thoughts. If information design is your thing, you have to spend some time here.


PowerPoint Microsoft Community
Another message board, this one run by Microsoft specifically for PowerPoint.  This is primarily a technical support forum so the focus is on figuring out how to get PowerPoint to do what you need it to do and on fixing things that have gone wrong. It can be useful to drop in once in a while to browse the most recent topics because you can often discover a trick or a fix that you don’t even know you’re going to need yet. Microsoft support engineers and PowerPoint MVPs are often active in this forum.


Tony Ramos
Twitter account of graphic designer and presentation consultant Tony Ramos (AKA The Presentationist). Tony is really good at finding internet tidbits that are of interest to anyone involved in making presentations. More importantly, when he goes off topic, you’re usually glad he did.


PolicyViz and HelpMeViz
In addition to his day job, Government economist Jonathan Schwabish conducts workshops on data visualization and presentation techniques. He also offers these two terrific sites dedicated to helping everyone improve their data visualization skills. PolicyViz has lots of great content including articles, style guides and podcasts. HelpMeViz is, I think, unique in that it invites designers to submit their visualizations for comments, suggestions and revision by Schwabish and visitors to the site.