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An Interview with Ellen Finkelstein

Ellen Finkelstein Ellen Finkelstein is the author of How To Do Everything with Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003 (and 2002) and a regular contributor to Presentations magazine, where she writes for the Creative Techniques column.

Her company, Ellen Finkelstein, Inc. helps clients create presentations that communicate clearly and achieve their goals. She maintains a Web site at that offers PowerPoint tips and a selection of free backgrounds.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself and how you got started with using Microsoft PowerPoint.

Ellen: I started using PowerPoint because I was an Employee Benefits Manager and consultant and needed to create presentations to explain complex medical and pension plans to employees.

Geetesh: Tell us more about your book authoring experiences.

Ellen: My first books were on AutoCAD, a computer drafting program. My current AutoCAD book is in its 5th edition. Later, because I knew PowerPoint, I was given the opportunity to write a book on PowerPoint. That book is in its third edition, How To Do Everything with Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003. I've also written books on several other computer programs, such as Macromedia Flash and In addition, I write articles on these subjects and have taught MBA courses on creating Web sites. I'm quite involved in Web writing and publishing.

Geetesh: What do you like most about Microsoft PowerPoint?

Ellen: Being a writer, I'm interested in communication and I like its ability to add visual context to verbal presentation. I also think its lots of fun to use.

Geetesh: About creativity blocks - what are your solutions to overcoming them?

Ellen: I'm not sure what my experience would be if I were writing novels! But when I write my computer books, the publisher imposes strict deadlines, so there's no time for any blocks in creativity. Also, in advance, I have to create a detailed table of contents, so I follow that, plus the program itself provides the source of the content.

Geetesh: How important is it for a PowerPoint presentation creator to be aware of design, color and symmetry?

Ellen: The design and layout aspects of a presentation are very important. I think that they should be subservient to the content and its organization, but they can add to or distract from the points you are making. As a result, a presentation creator needs to consider design very seriously.

If you are not artistic, use a template or background created by someone who is. We offer both free and custom-made backgrounds and templates on our site at

Geetesh: How important is outlining? Also, what do you think about the use of Microsoft Word or any other application as an outlining tool for PowerPoint?

Ellen: Because the content of the presentation is so crucial, outlining is the best way to start a presentation. When you have an outline, at a glance you can make sure that you have included all your points. You can also quickly see an overview of the entire presentation and move items around, if necessary.

Many people like to create their outline in Word, because they're familiar with it - although you need to follow special rules for the use of styles if you want to pour the outline successfully into PowerPoint. Word's outline view is easier to work with, but many people are not familiar with it.

I like to outline right in PowerPoint's outline pane. You can see how your points will break up into individual slides and it's easy to move text around or change the level of its importance. Whichever method you use, I recommend creating the outline first and adding graphics and animation afterwards.

Geetesh: Any trivia, tips or favorite technique that you would like to share?

Ellen: I'm trying to spread the word about the advantage of creating hierarchical, Web-style presentations. Many presentations are informally delivered to a small group, with audience participation being an important part of the process. An example is a sales presentation to one or two potential customers. People are used to getting information from Web sites, which are hierarchical in structure. Through the use of a hyperlinked menu, you can create a presentation that is like a Web site, where the first slide is the home page, or home slide. You can then navigate via the hyperlinks, while giving the audience members the freedom to provide input about where they want to go, based on their needs and interests. The result is a more customized presentation. It's a little more work to create, but audiences love the ability to direct the delivery process.

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since November 02, 2000