Product Review: Getting Smart with Graphics

Adding pizzazz to text-heavy slides.

By Dave Zielinski

How often have you been in the middle of creating a Microsoft Word document or PowerPoint slide show when the idea of introducing a diagram, flowchart or bar graph seemed like the perfect way to add some visual appeal to your presentation? Chances are the urge was quelled, however, by the knowledge that those applications aren’t always illustration-friendly, and that most of us are far from professionals when it comes to designing graphics. 

That’s where SmartDraw comes in. San Diego-based released its 2009.5 upgrade last year and has now added its 2010 version. This intuitive software makes it easy to create professional-looking organizational charts, timelines, technical diagrams, bar graphs, flowcharts, calendars and additional graphics within PowerPoint and other Microsoft programs. For speakers wanting to enliven their presentations quickly, SmartDraw provides a shortcut by using templates – more than 40 of the most-used charts and diagrams – and stock art for generating graphics. Rather than starting with a blank screen, you can use the simple commands within SmartDraw templates to add pertinent graphics information and watch the software do the rest. No need to do any drawing yourself. The software also allows you to begin designing projects as a visual outline, or mind map, to help with the planning process. Automated design helps navigate any speed bumps.

The 2009.5 and 2010 versions offer improved integration with PowerPoint, smarter flowcharts and mind maps, sticky notes and some improved graphics with new special effects. They also feature more professionally crafted gradients, styles and themes. You can view your entire presentation in storyboard mode, which means you can see the whole thing at one time before exporting it into PowerPoint. If need be, you can also retrieve an outline of your presentation storyboard and save it as a text file.

SmartDraw also offers editions tailored to specific industries. There’s the SmartDraw Legal edition, for example, designed to help attorneys, investigators and legal professionals create graphics for courtroom exhibits, crime scenes or accident reconstruction diagrams. SmartDraw Healthcare aids doctors, nurses or other healthcare professionals in creating patient handouts, presentations, staff education materials and more.

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Perspector 4.2
While using PowerPoint slides laden with bullet points is an unparalleled way to communicate a lot of data in a short time, the danger is putting your audience’s minds on auto pilot as they watch an endless sequence of similarly designed visuals. Perspector 4.2 software offers a way to mix it up and add some visual pizzazz to text-heavy presentations. Speakers can, for example, use the software to transform a classic list of bullet points into an animated display, or add 3D effects to the slides.

Perspector doesn’t require use of third-party software to incorporate graphics or animation in PowerPoint, and you can choose from an impressive array of library artwork.

The software allows you to build 3D images from various shapes and then add special effects such as lighting, picture wrapping and transparency. You can personalize any of the 3D art objects or business images in Perspector’s vast library by adding your own text. In Perspector’s Professional edition, you can add your own images to the library, making it easier to re-use them in future presentations, as well as create 3D charts from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Many users appreciate the fact that there’s no need to load external software to create 3D images and that they can edit images right inside PowerPoint. Editing a 3D image in Perspector is as simple as dragging a shape to move it, or dragging a handle to resize or rotate a shape. Editing bulleted lists inside graphics also is user-friendly, as is distributing a range of colors over multiple 3D shapes.

Some find Perspector also has valuable training features. Claudyne Wilder, head of Wilder Presentations, likes a function in the software that allows her to project two PowerPoint slides in one. In helping clients redesign slides for improved impact, for example, Wilder can project before-and-after design shots on the same slide, allowing for easier comparison.

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 Dave Zielinskiis a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.