I first came across Microsoft PowerPoint in its 2.0 incarnation, the first Microsoft release since the product had been acquired . It was a Macintosh product, the Windows release wouldn't show up until version 3, and it actually ran off a single floppy disc. I was working as a technical writer for spreadsheet software on the Macintosh at the time. This was in the olden days, before applications had tons of hard disk space upon which to install megabytes of help files and tutorials. Software applications usually shipped with a manual or two. Real paper and binding stuff. Hard to imagine, I know.
As a writer looking at this new presentation product, I was more interested in the manual than the actual program, and I was most interested in seeing what Microsoft had done with it. It turned out they had done a very scary thing. The manual was thick, hardcover and full color. Hardcover and full color ! The thing was almost a coffee table book! My cadre of software documentation writers looked upon this development with fear and trepidation. You see, we all had trouble just justifying two color printing and spiral binding to our project managers. Microsoft products would surely start outselling us on the basis of their manuals alone! We were sure it spelled our doom.
As it turned out, the hardcover software documentation manual didn't continue as a trend for Microsoft any more than it inspired other software manufacturers to spend precious cost-of-goods money in this manner. And of course, a few years later software documentation was pretty much replaced by the aforementioned electronic help topics and tutorials. It was during that transition phase I joined that scary Microsoft organization. I became a Program Manager for PowerPoint, tasked with evolving the products design. To my surprise I found Microsoft to be populated with tremendously talented and caring individuals, constantly trying to do the right thing for their customers, only scary in their drive and resolve. And PowerPoint was a joy to work on. Great fun.
Jump forward about twelve years. I find myself having been associated with seven or so subsequent releases of the product, having designed and managed features I hope have made people's presentations better and easier to create. However, an unfortunate truism of almost any reasonably complex technical product is there will be difficult things that need additional explanation and support. This leads us to your author, to Kathy Jacobs.
Kathy is one of a heroic band of individuals known as the PowerPoint MVPs. MVP stands for Most Valuable Professional, a program Microsoft started to help directly support our users. To quote the official Microsoft definition, MVPs are individuals who are
Recognized: Microsoft MVPs are acknowledged by peers and also by Microsoft for their active participation in Microsoft technical communities around the globe.
Credible: Microsoft MVPs have demonstrated practical expertise providing the highest quality information and content.
Accessible: Microsoft MVPs are active technical community leaders sharing their experience with peers.
In short, Microsoft "anoints" individuals who aren't actually on the payroll with the title and responsibility of helping users of the product. These people create web sites and answer Internet newsgroup messages, write articles, and other activities all in the name of solving PowerPoint users problems and giving feedback to Microsoft. Think electronic Good Samaritan. Think digital docent.
I'm the guy on the PowerPoint team who meets regularly with the MVPs. We meet regularly on phone conferences and in the newsgroups to discuss the current state of PowerPoint usage; what's giving customers problems, where we could do a better job in the next release. The MVPs ask questions, I try to answer them or get back to them. I ask questions, they tell me what's going on in the real world. It's a great program.
It was about a year ago that Kathy Jacobs joined our little group . Right off the bat I knew Kathy was a force to be reckoned with. Kathy was not shy, not even at the start. She brought up lots of user 's questions and issues, fiercely, tenaciously, and loudly! And when my answer didn't go far enough, she dug in her heels and told me, then she'd ask the question again, and again, or she might finally admit this was something I would have to get back to her on. No, she doesn't make my life easier, she makes PowerPoint's customer's lives easier. We're lucky to have her.
So Kathy's written this book and I've read it. You are well advised to consider arming yourself with it before you approach your next presentation. She's got straight facts on how to work the product, and that's good. As a bonus she starts where the program really can't; getting your thinking straight about what you want to present. That step is tremendously important. You'd be surprised how often it just gets skipped in the creation of a presentation. (Then again, maybe you wouldn't.) And she's not just doing some weird calming Zen philosophy, not a scolding about thinking before talking, or even tricks about imagining your audience naked. She has real methods that will get you organized, ordered and eventually confident you know what you're going to talk about. After that, working with the actual program is just a matter of following her clear instructions.
You're lucky to have such a good and able guide. Listen to Kathy, she'll get you through it.
San Jose, CA
February 28, 2004
Richard Bretschneider is an eleven year Microsoft veteran, having joined the company in 1993 to work on Microsoft PowerPoint 4. He holds three PowerPoint related patents and is currently working on the next release of the product.