It's not uncommon to fear speaking in public. But with Microsoft readying a revamp of its ubiquitous PowerPoint, Apple leaping ahead with its user-friendly Keynote 2, and new gadgets and software making it easier to shine up your speeches, now's the perfect time to conquer stage fright with some cool new tools.
THE NEW POWERPOINT
For the first time since 2000, Microsoft plans to release in 2006 an overhauled version of the PowerPoint software that, according to the company, is used for an estimated 30 million presentations around the globe every day. The most obvious change is a brand-new interface, with a "ribbon" of common commands replacing the current, confusing menu. The best new feature is a tool that converts information from any slide into a graphic that you can refine with an easy-to-use menu of ready-made options. And the software simplifies some menu choices only experts used to know about, including an improved "kiosk" that will run your presentation automatically.
POINT THE WAY
To avoid appearing stiff, don't just stand on the podium glued to your laptop. Use a digital remote with a built-in laser pointer instead so you can click through and highlight your slides as you wander the stage or out into the audience, Oprah-style. Kensington's wireless PocketPresenter ($50) is a slick option that fits in your palm and works with both Macs and PCs within a 50-ft. range.
Nothing sucks the life out of a meeting quite like a flat, boring presentation. To sharpen your show and keep yawning at bay, try Ovation ($100), a new software tool that takes your existing PowerPoint file and morphs it into a professional-looking talk. It even lets you create a scrolling teleprompter onscreen to help you deliver your message more effectively.
For quick and helpful pointers, check out Presentation S.O.S., by Mark Wiskup. Among the guide's surprising suggestions: don't start off with a joke (it will probably flop), and avoid famous quotes (original thoughts have more impact).
This $79 alternative to PowerPoint is, like most Apple software, elegantly designed and supersimple to use. Pick a template and drop in photos, music, videos or charts to spruce up the slides. Move stuff around easily. Bonus feature: set up an interactive, automatic slide show to wow your audience. Just remember to enjoy the applause afterward.
POWER USERS PowerPoint, which is stuffed with 1,100-plus features, has more than 400 million customers worldwide
HOW TO KEEP THEM AWAKE
Begin with a bang Dive in with a catchy opening. Don't start by explaining how you picked a topic, apologizing or thanking people. The first two minutes are crucial in grabbing listeners' attention.
Keep slides simple Limit each bullet point to six words, with no more than five bullets per slide. An entire talk should last less than 20 minutes for the most impact. If you have more info, offer a handout.
Maximize multimedia Insert video, pictures and music to liven up your talk. Use software like Ovation, Microsoft's Producer or Apple's iLife to polish the add-ins. Avoid clip art and posed photos.