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An Interview with Kathy Jacobs

In this interview, Kathy talks about PowerPoint, support systems like MVPs and newsgroups and presentation skills.


Kathy Jacobs Kathy Jacobs is a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Right now, Kathy's professional time is spent writing, supporting her site, and answering PowerPoint and other questions.

The rest of the time goes into email, Girl Scouts, and outdoor cooking (especially using Dutch Ovens). She has a husband who is also a computer nerd and outdoor cook. They live in Phoenix AZ and love the weather.

Geetesh: Tell us more about your PowerPoint book - how did it evolve and what you believe is its strength?

Kathy: The book came to be thanks to piece of synergy related to becoming an MVP. Someone who knew of me, but didn't know me sent me a note to congratulate me on becoming an MVP. She connected me with her publisher, Bill Jelen.

The book's outline came from my desire to help the average PowerPoint user start from scratch and do things right when developing presentations. One of the unique strengths of PowerPoint is its versatility. Unfortunately, that is also one of the things that make it hardest for people to use it correctly.

The book offers a process for developing content with PowerPoint. The process starts before you even open the program and continues with the use of the program to deliver content to the audience. I wrote a book much like what I wish had been available when I started using PowerPoint in the early 1990's.

The book's greatest strength is the breadth of its information. Using examples adapted from different PowerPoint applications developed over the years, I share the best ways to share information with your intended audience.

Geetesh: You've been using and teaching PowerPoint, writing articles and books and helping end users. What motivates you?

Kathy: What motivates me? Chocolate, good food, great people...

Oh - you mean what motivates me to help end users? I want to share what I know. The more I share, the more I learn. Being innately curious, I want to know everything about everything. I like to be able to take a shot at whatever questions strike my fancy.

I have been a volunteer all my life, helping others communicate better is just a natural extension of that. It is summed up in my life's philosophy:

I believe life is meant to be lived. But, if we live without making a difference, it makes no difference that we lived.

Geetesh: You work with other Microsoft technologies like OneNote and the TabletPC. Tell us about how these technologies work together?

Kathy: OneNote is a great way to gather information and share it with others. I use it not just for note taking and list tracking but for design purposes as well. I have moved most of my article notes from Word to OneNote. OneNote allows you to put content wherever you want on the page. When designing content, this frees you from worrying about the look of the content and instead lets you concentrate on what you want to say.

The Tablet PC comes in handy when it is time to share that content with others. Being able to sit down with a potential client, brainstorm presentation flow and design, mark it up and change it, and document the timeline for completion results in a better idea of what the client wants.

I will also admit that both products are just plain fun. Being able to turn on my Tablet and just draw on a page frees my creative soul. I like the freedom it provides. In addition, living in Phoenix, there are days where I just don't want to sit at my desk and work. The Tablet lets me move around as I wish and still stay connected to my home network.

Geetesh: What do you think is the single largest problem that PowerPoint users face?

Kathy: There are two. First, PowerPoint's very ease of use makes it too easy to just throw content on a page and go with it. The average user doesn't stop to think about what they want to say and how to best say it.

This is a problem of education. Learning to think and organize the material before entering it into PowerPoint will help people avoid the appearance of content just thrown on a slide.

Second, people are using PowerPoint for things the original designers never dreamed of. Users want to be able to use PowerPoint to create multi-media presentations, but don't always know how to keep the presentations working on other machines. This problem is one where PowerPoint itself needs to catch up. Changes are being made (Package for CD in PowerPoint 2003 for example), but the changes have been slow in coming.

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

Kathy: Very important. Content is the most important thing in any communication. But if you aren't consistent in how you design your slides, your effects, your transitions, and the overall look and feel of your presentation, your communication will be severely limited. For example, making sure that you use consistent animation may seem like a small detail. But, most audience members will unconsciously see your transition as a trigger that new information is coming. If you change transitions from slide to slide, your audience won't know what to expect. At times that is good. But, in general, the more times you change how content is presented, the more your audience will end up watching for the changes. More time spent watching for effects and transitions means less time spent concentrating on content.

Color is also an important factor. Different colors have different meanings for different cultures. You need to be sure that the colors you are using don't have the opposite effect from what you meant. More than that, the colors you use will impact whether your audience can even see your content. If they can't see it, there is much less of a chance that they will understand it.

Geetesh: What has your experience been as part of the PowerPoint newsgroup?

Kathy: The PowerPoint newsgroup is a great place to learn, share, and grow.
I have become friends with posters on the newsgroup over the years without ever having met them. In fact, prior to last year's PowerPoint Live, I had never met most of the PowerPoint community in person. Having spent years on the newsgroup helped me feel comfortable meeting and working with the other presenters from the beginning.

We try to be a fun place where people can feel comfortable asking any and all questions. We all know the battles new users face. We try to remember that feeling of "Why won't it do XXX' when we answer questions. It is part of what makes the group a fun place to visit.

Geetesh: Tell us more about your role as a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional).

Kathy: My role? I am kind of the voice of the average user. I am the breadth person. When I was first rewarded, I was amazed. I didn't expect it. I now see it as an opportunity to help even more people learn better ways to use PowerPoint. If I have already made a mistake and can keep you from making the same mistake, I will do what I can to help.

My life has been changed by being an MVP. I feel more responsibility to do what needs to be done, but at the same time more freedom to help resolve the issues that so many PowerPoint users run into. Opportunities have fallen into my lap because of being an MVP. The best of those opportunities is the chance to get to know the other MVPs and feel a part of a larger organization of people who believe, as I do, that making a difference is what it is all about.

Pictures in Presentations

Is a picture is worth a thousand words? You probably have heard this adage so often that we decided not to repeat this phrase throughout this book! Now here’s some more info: the human brain uses a larger part of its area to store visual information rather than textual content. And that’s possibly because a picture describes so much more than text.

Go and get a copy of our Pictures in Presentations ebook.

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