Category Archives: Ugly PowerPoint


Articulate Storyline Presentation for Ugly PowerPoint

At long last, after much tweaking and editing, I’ve managed to finish my Articulate Storyline presentation for my Ugly PowerPoint on Reclosers. This is where it all comes together. So, instead of discussing every step of the process, I’d like to focus on some of the things I learned. And, that’s what I find the most exciting about instructional design… I’m ALWAYS learning something new! Of course, in order to do that, I had to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I pushed myself to learn how to create vector art in Photoshop, use a new authoring tool, and work with sound files. I hit a few roadblocks along the way, but I figured out enough to make the presentation professional and effective.

Getting to Know Storyline

I’ve had a lot of experience with Articulate Presenter. Your authoring is done in PowerPoint and then it’s published in Flash format to use on the web. It’s an old, comfortable friend and I’ve figured out a lot of its quirks and ticks. I’ve also used Adobe Captivate and found it pretty overwhelming and amazing. Authoring always took a little longer in Captivate because there’s so much more to control. So, when I made the decision to go with Articulate Storyline, the “new kid on the block”, I was hoping I’d get the best of both worlds. There’s a lot that Storyline can do that Presenter just can’t. And, it’s just about as configurable as Captivate. I found that the timeline authoring in Storyline is very similar to Captivate. And, the slide authoring is very similar to PowerPoint, as you would see in Presenter.

Cue points were something new to me. In Presenter, when you needed an animation to happen at a particular point during your narration, you would watch and listen to your slide and click to cue your animation points. In Storyline, you add cue points to your sound track and line up each element to these points on your timeline. It’s a very different approach, but I really like it. You can record your narration in Storyline or you can use a different program to record and then import your sound files. Either way works great and either way you get your sound files into the program, you can still use the sound editing tool to make quick edits on the fly.

RCA 40A Ribbon Microphone John Schneider via Compfight

One thing I did encounter was an issue with using the wrong bitrate when I recorded my voice over. I like to record my sound files using WavePad, an inexpensive but very flexible sound editing program. My past experience with Presenter taught me that recording in the program itself produced lower quality audio and did not give me access to each sound file. Uncompressed wav files are larger, but much better quality and I have a lot of flexibility with each file. My problem was that I recorded using the wrong bitrate settings and the files would not import properly. So, I consulted the E-Learning Heroes website and posted my problem on their forum. I had answered pretty quickly! Articulate staff and veteran users post tutorials, program issues, questions, and comments pretty regularly. Once I got the answer to the bitrate question in the forum, I was able to convert my sound files pretty easily using a batch process in WavePad and get going with my work.

Fun with Triggers

So, triggers are something new to me in Storyline. It’s not a feature in Presenter and it really opens a whole new world up. Triggers are actions you can create to make any element do an action. They are essentially little bits of code and most of them are created behind the scenes and you don’t need to know much about them for most actions. For example, you can insert a button into Storyline and the triggers are preset to go to the next slide when the user clicks on it. But, if you want to make it do something different, like show a different layer or make a certain action happen when the user clicks it, you can edit the trigger pretty easily. No coding required!

Haciendo arco Eduardo Amorim via Compfight

I got a little more personal with triggers when I wanted to do something that wasn’t already a preset action in my quizzes. In Presenter, there was always a counter in the upper left that let the user know which question they were on and how many they still had to do in this format: Question # of #. It kept a running count of the user’s activity. So, I consulted the E-Learning Heroes site to see if any other users had an answer for this dilemma. Sure enough, they did! I had to create a couple of new variables and then add a text box with the call to the variables. At first, I broke out into a sweat… coding is just not my thing. But, I have taken enough classes to at least get the basic concepts. So, once I stepped through their suggestions, I was able to find a way to do it that worked for my testing set up. Not painful at all!

Time for Feedback

At this point in the project, I would need some final feedback from my team of subject matter experts. If I had a public folder, I’d publish a web version of my Storyline project to that server and send a link out to my team with instructions to take a look at it and send feedback my way by a certain date. They would be instructed to find any production errors, make sure the quiz questions were correct, and do their worst to try and “break” the course. By that, I mean they should try and do things that the course did not intend, like jump from place to place, click the wrong things at the wrong time and that sort of thing. My hopes would be that the feedback would be minimal because we had already done a lot to build the course in the early stages. They would be looking for structural problems and hopefully not find any content issues. The good news is that if anything did come up, it’s a pretty painless process to fix it and republish.

So, when all of the feedback is addressed, it’s time to publish for the LMS and add it to the system. I have found that before that process begins, it’s a good idea to know what’s involved in that whole process.You may need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you need to submit the presentation to an LMS governance board for approval? Do you need to go through an official submittal process? Is there a file naming scheme that you need to be aware of?
  • Do you have an official description written? Is it part of another series of courses?
  • Will you need to create separate attachments in the LMS for a roster and handouts?
  • Do you need to publish a CD ROM version for facilitators to use in the classroom for learners who don’t have access to computers?
  • Do you need to create a printable quiz and answer sheet for classroom learners?

I have found that using my Project Checklist is very useful at this stage of the project. I have a Word version of the Project Checklist available for download that anyone can use and modify as needed. Every company is going to have a different process at this stage of the game, so it’s a document that I modify pretty regularly. But, it keeps me on track and from forgetting something important.

 Final Thoughts

So, I’m pretty much finished with this presentation and I’m ready to move on to the next challenge. For the purposes of my portfolio, I’m ready to take on subject matter different from the electric utility business. And, I’m eager to continue to challenge myself by expanding my Instructional Designer Toolbox. My thinking is that prospective clients will want to see a variety of formats and my handling of different subject matter. Clients tend to need not only one kind of learning format, but many. They need to make the most of the content that they have to deliver. Some clients need to have a means to train in the classroom as well as online. They might also need a way for learners to access information after they have completed training. And, they might need a way to follow up on that training to track whether those learner have retained what they have been taught. Of course, the “bottom line” is very important and knowing how to evaluate ROI is essential. So, I’m going to be exploring these thoughts as I move on to my next project.


Illustrations for Ugly PowerPoint

My original PowerPoint on Reclosers contains some fairly useful graphics, but the quality is pretty poor. So, I have a couple of options. I could re-shoot the graphics if I had access to the equipment, had the proper photography equipment to properly take the photos, and had a subject matter expert to help me out. Sometimes, that’s the best choice when you really can’t use stock photos and need something very specific. You’ll have to consider the lighting, plan your shots carefully, and do a bit of scheduling.

My constraint for this project is that I don’t have access to the equipment directly. So, I considered creating Photoshop graphics from the existing photos. If you’re handy with a tablet pen, it’s pretty easy to use the paintbrush and trace over a photo on different layers and recolor it any way you want. The end product can be quite pleasing with a “cartoon” feel to it. For example, I have a great shot of a recloser, but the background is really busy and the quality of the photo is very poor. It’s been copied and pasted and stretched beyond the point of being usable for me. But, it contains the basic elements of what I need. If I could just trace over the parts that I need, I’d have something I could really use. The problem is that the quality still may be lacking. The problem? It’s still a raster graphic.

Raster Vs. Vector: Huh?

Now I have a choice to make: raster or vector? Most photos are in raster format, a compressed file made up of thousands of pixels in various colors that look like a professional photograph when you look at it on a screen. Their file formats are probably familiar to you: jpg, jpeg, gif, png, tif, tiff, bmp. When you look up close on a raster image, you can really see its pixels. A lower quality raster photo has fewer pixels that make up the image, which is the case with my existing photos. If I re-size them in my authoring program, they have a jagged appearance and my audience may focus on its poor quality rather than the training content. I have the same problem if I create a raster graphic from scratch: it does not re-size well.

Vectors are different when you re-size them. They remain smooth and clear, no matter what size they are. They are made up of points that use mathematical calculations to form geometric shapes. Yea, it sounds VERY geeky and a little scary! It’s pretty easy to understand a pixel. It’s another thing to wrap your mind around a vector shape. Instead of getting into the technical details, just think about them as different tools you use for different jobs. If the graphic needs to be photo realistic, you’ll need to use a raster graphic. If the graphic needs to be scalable and realism is not an issue, use a vector.

Let’s say you’ve been asked to design a logo for a company. Logos need to be reproduced in a variety of formats and sizes. Creating the original logo as a vector makes the most sense and your print shop will thank you for it. They can scale it up or down without losing quality and color is not an issue. The company can easily convert it to a raster image if they need to use it on a website.

The tricky part is learning how to draw a vector graphic in Photoshop or Illustrator. It’s very different than just picking up a pen and drawing. And I’ll be honest; I’m not the best at it. The Pen Tool in Photoshop is a very neglected part of my toolbox. But, I decided to take the opportunity to dive in and get better at this. It’s a necessary skill and I think it will benefit me a lot in the future.

Back to School!

So, how do I learn it? I found a VERY useful tutorial for beginners, “Making Selections with the Pen Tool in Photoshop”. It’s not version-specific, and it took a while to step through this one. But, it got me comfortable with the basics. Then I went through “Creating a Vector Image in Photoshop”, another pretty lengthy tutorial, but very worthwhile. After I “marinated” in these tutorials, I felt a whole lot more confident about creating the graphics using this technique for my Reclosers presentation.

I started out with a photo of a recloser:


Then I created some paths in Photoshop and filled them in with color:


And then I added some effects and details:


Voila! I was learning along the way, so it’s certainly not perfect. But, if I want to change the colors a bit or I want to take something out, it’s very easy to go back into my Photoshop file and adjust it.

Next post, I’ll talk about diving into Storyline and adding my content into it. Pretty soon, it’s going to start to look like a real course.

Additional Reading (go ahead and geek out)


Happy Birthday Ola!

Graphic Design for Ugly PowerPoint

At this point in my Ugly PowerPoint project, I want to create a good visual “look” for the course. I have found it’s pretty handy to think about this at a pretty early stage in the project. First, I take a look at the existing photos supplied in the PowerPoint and think about whether or not I want to use them. Sometimes, there’s no choice in the matter; you must use the supplied graphics. Sometimes, they need to be re-photographed. And, sometimes it’s a good idea to just re-create the graphics in Photoshop. Looking at the existing photos, I can start to think about color.

Adobe Kuler is a great place to start if you have photos already. It’s a free online service and you can set up an Adobe User ID pretty easily if you don’t already have one. Once you log in, you can upload a photo from your project and select colors for your palette. Using this photo, I’ve set up a palette that seems like a good place to start. Once you have that set up, Kuler gives you the hex values for each color that you can use in a graphic editing program.

Another cool tool is Pixie. It’s a great freeware program that you can download and run from your computer whenever you need it (no installation required). It turns your mouse into a color picker and it will tell you the hex, RGB, HTML, CMYK and HSV values of wherever you are pointing.

Other online cool color tools I’ve used are COLOURlovers and Color Scheme Designer. COLOURlovers is very plugged into the designer community via Twitter and offers a lot of tools and ideas. It’s a great place to get inspiration. Color Scheme Designer is more of a web designer geek tool, although it’s quite sophisticated. Once you pick a theme and type of scheme you want, you can export it into a few different formats, such as HTML/CSS, XML, Text, ACO for Photoshop, or GPL for Gimp (an open-source Photoshop alternative). Just plug in a color value and start poking around, I dare you!

For my purposes, I’m pretty satisfied with the Kuler Theme I created, so I’ve made a note of those values. Now I can go into Storyline and plug those values into my project.


In Storyline, I can customize a theme based on my color palette. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with this one yet, but it’s a good start. Once I start adding content to my Storyline project, I will have a better sense if it’s working or not.


Next post, I’m going to talk about re-creating some of the graphics in Photoshop. In the past, I’ve been very apprehensive about using the dreaded Pen Tool and I think it’s time to dive in and see if I can master this highly powerful yet scary tool.


Adobe Kuler:
Color Scheme Designer:
Fire Eagle continues apace...

Storyboard for Ugly PowerPoint

If you have never put together a storyboard, think of it like a comic book, but without all the cool art. It gets your story idea into a format that you can send to other people for review without spending a ton of time on production. This comes in handy when you’ve been given some content by a subject matter expert (or SME) and you start to conceptualize how your presentation is going to be structured. Before you commit too much time to the end result, you want to make sure everyone agrees with how you’ve structured it and what you plan to do with the graphics. Your storyboard becomes your blueprint for the finished project.

Following my Project Milestones, I have met with my SME’s and stakeholders and have created a draft storyboard with a script based on the PowerPoint presentation and some ideas about the graphics. I now give my SME’s a chance to make any changes to it and to respond to some of my notes. At this point, I’ve learned quite a bit from my SME’s about how reclosers work, but I don’t want my phrasing to sound awkward. I have urged my SME’s to specifically look for these types of errors because I’m pretty sure that if something doesn’t sound right to the learners, the presentation won’t have as much credibility with them. This training is designed for experienced line mechanics from the field and I can almost see the eye rolling if they hear terminology that doesn’t sound authentic.

To create my storyboard, I copied the notes directly into a Word document and then re-arranged each part into a section that made sense to me. For example, I came up with sections like, How Reclosers Work, What Types of Reclosers You’ll Find, and How Reclosers Work. I filled in each section with notes that covered each of those topics. I copied thumbnails of the original PowerPoint into the graphics column and added notes about animations or interactions that would help illustrate a particular topic.

As I send a link to my reviewers, I think it’s pretty important to give them a realistic deadline for them to get back with me with their feedback. In the past, I have always appreciated it when a project manager follows up with an email after our meeting. I could turn that email into a To-Do or a calendar entry, depending what kind of system I was using. A follow up reminder email can be helpful as we get closer to the deadline. I need to be careful not to sound too “naggy” but I know that some folks do appreciate a reminder.

Right now, I’m just using a standard Word document to create my storyboard. It’s just a table divided up into three columns and I can paste in a thumbnail graphic or just make some notes about what I want it to look like. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done plus it’s easy to distribute to teams. I noticed a cool tool you can use online for storyboarding called Storyboard That. You can put together comic book style storyboards and share them online. Your free account gives you the chance to create three per week. Plus, you can email a PowerPoint of your storyboard to yourself. Pretty cool! It may not be suitable for this project, but you never know when something from your “bag of tricks” will come in handy. This one’s definitely going into my bookmarks.

So, the next step is to dive in and begin developing my graphics for this course while I’m waiting for the feedback. It’s going to be a challenge working with photos that have been stretched out of proportion or copied from unknown sources. Nothing is set in stone at this point, but I’m pretty confident that I have the basics down and can start visualizing what this will look like.

Additional Reading

2 Mile post along the Mt.Washington Auto Road

Project Milestones for Ugly PowerPoint

I’m going to outline the project milestones that I’d have if I were the instructional designer for the “Make the Ugly PowerPoint into a Beautiful Articulate” project (as I’m calling it now).

  1. Meet with the Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) and stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of the course. Also, find out when they’d like to see this in production, or how much time they would expect this project to take.
  2. Using the information from the meeting, create a storyboard that includes a draft version of  the script along with some ideas about the graphics. Distribute this to the SME’s for script approval. I like to include a hard deadline for their feedback to keep the project on track.
  3. Develop the graphics, gather or take photos, and get copies of other media like videos or supporting documentation.
  4. Create the assessments making sure they align closely with the objectives we’ve determined from the first meeting. Also, if evaluation data is needed, it’s a good idea to put together a pre and post test at this point. These tests could be made up of questions from each assessment in the course. If it’s a shorter course, just a final test may be all that’s needed.
  5. Create interactions, animations, and triggers that will be featured in the course. Also insert other media like video or websites.
  6. Upon final approval of the script from the SME’s, record the voice over (if necessary).
  7. If a voice-over is required, edit the audio and insert it into the presentation. Paste the script into the notes section and synch the audio to the animations.
  8. Publish a draft of the presentation and send to the SME’s for feedback. Again, I like to give them a deadline to keep the project on track.
  9. Make any changes based on the SME feedback.
  10. Create a PDF version of the presentation that includes the notes. Also add any additional resources like weblinks and other documents for further study on the subject.
  11. Re-publish the final presentation and set up online. If needed, create the appropriate content ID’s for the LMS and attach the content.
  12. Send the links to the stakeholders for promotion of the course to the appropriate audience.

I like to use a “checklist” for my projects so I don’t miss any steps along the way. It’s modeled after the ADDIE model. I may stray away from this model at times, but I feel it’s a good starting point. If I’m working with printed material, I can print this checklist out and attach any relevant materials. I have found it to be very useful when I’m working on several projects at one time and need to jump from one project to another and keep track of them without missing a beat.

Next post, I’ll dive into the actual project.

Project 1: Ugly PowerPoint


The Reclosers presentation is a great example of an ugly PowerPoint given to me to make into an online presentation.

There are multiple audiences for this presentation. First, it is for electrical utility line mechanic apprentices who need an introduction to reclosers before they perform hands-on training in class. Trainers can use it in class, accessing it from the company’s intranet and playing from their laptops using a projector, pausing the Articulate player when they would like to expand on a point made as they go along. Second, it is for experienced utility line mechanics in the field who can access it from the LMS using a laptop computer in their trucks to brush up on their skills. In fact, any employee accessing the LMS would be able to get information about reclosers from this presentation. But as it has been made obvious by the recent reviews on,  it’s assumed that the audience has some knowledge about utility distribution equipment. Third, it is for line mechanic supervisors who would like to use it for their safety meetings, like the trainers would use in the classroom. They could access it from the company’s intranet using their laptop and a projector for a small group of their employees. It is fairly common to be asked to provide a product with multiple uses in order to maximize the benefits for the widest audience possible. A great choice of projectors is available at

I would be teamed up with a subject matter expert, most likely one of the trainers who had originally developed the PowerPoint. Draft versions of the Articulate presentation would need to be approved by a larger team of trainers, and when final approval is achieved, would be made available on the trainer’s website and the LMS. I would work with Corporate Communications to advertise the product’s availability via email and the company’s intranet site. In the weeks after the release, evaluation data would be gathered from the LMS and the trainer’s website (Sharepoint) to see how often the presentation was being used, any feedback given, and if it was reaching the intended audience.

Next post, I’m going to talk about the milestones of the project and the most popular audio visual rentals.