The “Last” PowerPoint Live

More than any other year, the PowerPoint Live User Conference was all about looking ahead, including the news that the conference made about itself.

In a year in which travel budgets have been decimated and training conferences were canceled at an alarming rate, the 2009 conference was attended by 180, just 10% down from its average across the previous six years. Of that number, over 60% of them were first-time attendees, although many came from companies that had sent other people in previous years.

For my opening remarks, I poked a bit of fun at the growing phenomenon springing up around Twitter—in particular, an audience’s ability to provide commentary about a presenter in real time and even be able to comment directly to the presenter. When my mother texted me about checking the zipper on my fly, it got a good laugh (especially because my mother was in the room—she has been our registration manager since 1989).

Moments later, however, Cliff Atkinson’s keynote address would punctuate the message that Twitter is to be taken seriously by the presentation community. His subsequent session entitled Back Channel (coinciding with a similarly-titled book due out by him soon) provided a compelling argument for monitoring Twitter activity during a conference and even during a particular presentation.

This was an entirely new concept for those in attendance, most of whom had never tweeted at all. During the three days together, quite a few new Twitter accounts were opened, mobile phones configured, and the #PPTLive backchannel quite active.

Another forward-thinking concept that was highlighted at the conference is the notion of the “cloud” and its implication for content creators. With so many online sites available for sharing, storage, and collaboration (living in the ether, the cloud, if you will), boundaries are being redefined for how and with whom PowerPoint users can work. Dave Paradi, Richard Harrington, and Geetesh Bajaj all spoke with authority on this topic.

Many in attendance were familiar with the cloud; few, however, had considered the notion of presenting naked. Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Carmen Taran, advocated that very position. Innuendo aside, she spoke eloquently about the imperative for being genuine and real in front of your audience—naked before the crowd.

Then there were the tried-and-true sessions that have been long-time favorites over the years: Glen Millar’s impressive animation techniques, Julie Terberg’s makeovers, Rikk Flohr’s digital photography field trip, and the guru session, hosted by Microsoft’s Ric Bretschneider. For many, this late-night session (running from 9p until midnight) was a first opportunity to learn about and see Version 2010 of PowerPoint, due out the first half of next year. Patrons were bowled over by what they saw:

  • More image-editing options
  • New rich slide transitions
  • Evolution of the Format Painter tool to be able to apply existing animations to other elements
  • Native support for video, offering much better control over playback
  • And my favorite, full export of your slides to one of several digital video formats. Hallelujah!

The conference had its share of levity as well, with the annual trivia contest showcasing a hilarious version of PowerPoint Karaoke and the Tuesday evening concert and garden party culminating in a fully-clothed dip in the pool for about a dozen party-goers, including the host.

For many, the biggest news was about the conference itself. I ended hours and hours of speculation (I get asked more about “next year” than anything else at the conference) when I greeted everyone Tuesday morning:

“Welcome to Day Two of the seventh and final season of PowerPoint Live.”

There were a few gasps, some pregnant pauses, a few hoots of derision, and several “yeah right” comments. The sarcasm was well-placed, as I went on to reminisce about the conference’s seven years and our gradual evolution from staid PowerPoint instruction to a broad-based support network for the presentation community, covering all aspects of presentation design, creation, and delivery.

In 2010, we reintroduce ourselves as The Presentation Summit (Oct 17-20), reflecting this metamorphosis. We elaborate on our transition at, and if for no other reason, watch the two-minute slide show just to see our breathtaking oceanside setting for next year at our west-coast home of San Diego CA.

I never tire of marveling over how well our patrons blend and mix over the four days they have together. As mentioned, we were almost 65% first-timers this year, and yet by the second day, it was as if they had known each other for a decade and were attending a school reunion. We don’t exactly know how to explain this phenomenon and would rather not try. It’s better if it just continues to happen magically. And we’re grateful for the magic—it’s what makes our conference different than just about any other business event.

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