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PPT Live - An Interview with Rick Altman

Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj

Date Created: August 4, 2003
Last Updated: March 4, 2009

Rick AltmanRick Altman is the spirit behind PPT Live, an event that's going to be held this year from October 12 to 15 at Tucson, Arizona. I had to interview him for Indezine - thank you, Rick!

The PPT Live site is at pptlive.com.

Geetesh: Rick, how did this PPT Live thing evolve?

Rick: I've been involved with PowerPoint for about seven years and have been hosting the CorelWORLD User Conference since 1989, back when I had a full head of hair. Steve Rindsberg (PowerPoint MVP and author of the PowerPoint FAQ site) has periodically noodged me about doing something for PowerPoint as we have done for Corel products. Last September, he isued his bi-annual noodge, and I just said, "Okay." "Okay?" he said back. "Okay, let's do it."

I posted one small item on Microsoft's PowerPoint newsgroup and got about 100 replies almost overnight. Great idea...sounds like a winner...sign me up...fabulous...It was clear that this is a robust community with very enthusiastic users — those are two key ingredients to a successful end-user conference.

It didn't take long to put together an entire team of exceptionally talented PowerPoint trainers and experts — again, a tribute to the strength of the user community — and build a full schedule of workshops and seminars.

Geetesh: Why do you think someone would want to attend this event?

Rick: Because you're going to be there, of course!

Geetesh: Besides that.

Rick: Well that's part of it, to be honest. Just about everyone on the PowerPoint Who's Who list is on our team. The learning opportunity is unprecedented, at just about every level you can list. Fundamental training...basic animation...advanced automation...design and aesthetics...multimedia...all of the bases will be covered with breadth and depth.

But even if that were not the case — even if we didn't have you, Steve, Echo (Swinford), Cliff Atkinson and several others, and several associations and dozens of sponsors — events like these are a form of magic. When you bring 300 people together who all share the same affinity for a software program, it creates a chemistry and an atmosphere that simply cannot be duplicated by any online mechanism. You have instant common ground to meet others, you're predisposed to make friends and approach people. You get to compare notes and swap stories with people of totally different backgrounds who nonetheless share a vital common interest.

Oh, and most patrons will be seeing PowerPoint 2003 for the first time.

Geetesh: Does a person attending this event need some specific skills?

Rick: Skills, no — objectives, yes. We will have three tracks of seminars and drop-in technical support, so we're going to be able to appeal to brand new users and total PowerPoint maniacs with equal ease. So there are no skill requisites at all, but we expect that most patrons will be earnest users. That despite their experience level, they use PowerPoint in a way that makes it important to their work, career, or life projects.

Geetesh: How far is Microsoft involved with PPT Live?

Rick: Simple question, complicated answer.

Geetesh: The best kind...

Rick: We have a strong and specific arrangement with Microsoft. We have a wonderful liaison in April Dalke and have piqued the interest of the product developers, the brass, and even Steve Ballmer himself. They will help us publicize the conference and send representatives to it so that patrons can speak directly with those responsible for the software.

But otherwise, we believe in separation of church and state, if you will. PowerPoint Live is an independent event that gets no financial assistane or sponsorship from Microsoft and whose presenters are all hired to tell what they know, with no sugar-coating added. This is direly important and we build and stake our reputation on that point: patrons who come to the conference must know that they are getting the straight scoop — honest advice and appraisals from independent experts who are NOT trying to sell you anything.

If you misquote me about everything else, if you tell everyone that I eat mice, I'll still be satisfied if people understand that this is not a dog-and-pony show. It is a learning event with the highest priority being on telling patrons everything about the software, the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly.

Geetesh: How have you chosen the facility . I heard a rumor...

Rick: That I chose it because of a tennis tournament?

Geetesh: That's the one.

Rick: Well, I do have very fond memories of Tucson because our tennis team won consecutive national championships there in 1996 and '97. So guilty as charged as far as that goes, but more to the point, Tucson is just a wonderful destination in the fall. In October, it's going to be 75 and sunny every day, it's easy to get there from just about anywhere, and it has fantastic food.

Most important, it's cheaper and bigger than a major urban hub like Chicago, Los Angeles, or Atlanta. We're in very large and spacious ballrooms with plenty of space for everything we want to do, and guest rooms are under $125/night. For a debut event, it's just a very friendly place to be, especially if you're looking at a foot of snow and single-digit temperatures where you live come this October.

Geetesh: Is anything planned beyond the schedule available on the pptlive.com site?

Rick: I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you.

Geetesh: Is there anything you can say and keep me alive at the same time?

Rick: I'll try. The question we get asked the most is whether this is a hands-on event, and it's important for us to point out that there is a significant hands-on component to the event, thanks to our Help Center. We'll chain to desks guys like you, Geetesh, and make them available from morning until night for any question, issue, or problem that anyone might have. With CorelWORLD, it has become by far the finest product support avenue that the software has ever known, and we expect similar acclaim for the Help Center at PowerPoint Live.

Geetesh: Do you foresee —

Rick: Wait, also — we haven't posted all of our social events yet. We'll be heading out onto the town every night. Can't forget that...

Geetesh: Duly noted! Do you foresee this as an annual event?

Rick: If PPTLive achieves even half of our goals, then yes, we will continue it as an annual event at least. We won't dismiss the possibility of creating regional events held more often. We'll bend like the wind--if there is interest, we'll be there.

Geetesh: Any single experience, trivia or thought you would like to share?

Rick: Well, it's opportune that you mention "trivia." Tuesday afternoon at the conference, we'll debut the PowerPoint Live Trivia Contest, in which we rip off Jeopardy and Family Feud, and with the help of a dozen PowerPoint users, we create comic relief for the entire patronage. It's an absolute scream and with a bit of beer and wine flowing, it will prove to be one of the highlights of the week.

Otherwise, I'd just like people to know that we intentionally keep the event small and homey. We don't allow the event to become a gigantic trade show and we run it with a lean infrastructure. In fact, we are literally a mom-and-pop operation: my mother has been our Registration Manager for over a decade now, and I have had sisters and a daughter work for us. Before too long, the entire staff begins to feel like family, and after a year or two, returning patrons are likely to think of themselves as part of the extended family, as well.

Geetesh: Not exactly COMDEX.

Rick: Exactly. This is an event for users, and we keep that as gospel across every element of our planning.

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