David Cowan is developer of the FlexiPrez add-in for PowerPoint. Although his educational background is in Civil Engineering, he has also worked in Project and Business Management roles including with the Salvation Army in Zambia and Bible College SA in Adelaide, Australia. It was while working in the education field that he developed an interest in making PowerPoint presentations more interactive, particularly for lecturers. This interest eventually led to the development of FlexiPrez.
In this conversation, David discusses FlexiPrez.
Geetesh: Tell us more about FlexiPrez, how this PowerPoint add-in evolved and how everyday users can benefit.
David: This add-in had its origins in 2003 when, while observing lecturers using PowerPoint, I noticed that class interaction could be stifled when a lecturer was reluctant to deviate from the predetermined order of slides. So commenced a personal interest project to see if there was a way to make PowerPoint presentations more interactive and flexible.
Slide hierarchies: The starting point was a consideration of the way slides are arranged in presentations. If text documents were more readable when grouped under headings and sub headings then could a similar arrangement be helpful for PowerPoint presentations?
Initially there was much experimentation to discover a simple means of rearranging slides. The breakthrough came with the arrival of PowerPoint 2007 when new features, together with the .NET Framework, made it possible to group slides under multi-level headings using a graphical user interface.
Slide navigation: It is one thing to group slides under multi-level headings, it is another to navigate them without becoming hopelessly lost!
What was needed was a non-linear method of slide navigation where presenters could still press an arrow key or click a mouse and have the slideshow intuitively advance to the correct slide. In particular, these features were required:
- Hyperlinks and other jumps needed to return automatically since jumps to slides would originate from more than one source.
- Presenters needed constant awareness, not only of where they were within the presentation but also of what was going to happen on the next mouse click or key press.
- A powerful search facility was needed to locate slides quickly.
With these features in mind, a Slideshow Control, providing presenters with the tools and feedback necessary for user-friendly non-linear navigation, was developed.
Hyperlinks: With the likelihood that presentations would be larger and contain many more hyperlinks, a more efficient approach to creating and maintaining hyperlinks was necessary. The solution was to give each slide a distinctive name and make the text of any hyperlink pointing to the slide match.
Once this was put in place, it was then possible to develop a special Hyperlink Tool that could quickly create hyperlinks and ensure links were not broken.
Originally commencing as a personal interest project, in recent years the software has been further developed and made ready for release to the public. It will be of interest to educators, executives, salespeople and the like.
Its main benefits can be summarized in this way:
- Communication and learning: Grouping material under multi-level headings significantly enhances communication and learning in PowerPoint presentations just as it does for text documents.
- Interaction: With the ability to access any slide or change direction at any time, presenters are better able to interact with audiences. They are not restricted to progressing linearly from one slide to the next.
- Quality: Because of the way slides are grouped, presenters can replace their smaller presentations with one large, high quality, reusable presentation. Continuous improvement over time is made easier because there are no duplicated slides.
Geetesh: What can an average PowerPoint user accomplish with FlexiPrez in the first 30 minutes of using?
David: For users looking to show non-linear presentations developed by others, 30 minutes is more than enough time to become familiar with the FlexiPrez slideshow control and experiment with showing a presentation. A user manual is available
For users looking to author their own presentations, the first 30 minutes could be used to have a quick look at the sample presentation, work through an introductory tutorial and create a simple non-linear presentation. The 12 minute Introducing FlexiPrez video series is also a useful learning tool. All of these learning aids are available from the Welcome Screen which appears when FlexiPrez is first enabled.
FlexiPrez is quite intuitive and forgiving. Users can try enabling FlexiPrez for one of their own presentations and experimenting. Comprehensive help screens are available.