ActivePrez: Review

Monday, October 31st, 2011 0 comments

activeprezActivePrez from GMARK is a simple and effective PowerPoint add-in that provides an in-slide navigation menu for quickly moving around your deck. The interface is elegant and highly customisable, allowing it to blend seamlessly with the slide template behind, whilst the tiered structure lets you drill down into sections of your presentation through the use of contextualised menu bars that change as the options in the menu above are selected. Together, the functionality and design of ActivePrez make for seamless integration with PowerPoint. This, combined with the additional features that the software offers, makes it very easy to see how ActivePrez could become an indispensible part of a presenter’s arsenal.

ActivePrez is designed to make navigating around PowerPoint presentations instinctive and easy. The software installs as a plug-in for PowerPoint, then integrates seamlessly with the programme, accessible from a custom ribbon (in PowerPoint 2007/10) or menu (PowerPoint 2003) within the PowerPoint window. Once opened, you are invited to ‘Create a Menu Bar’, and are taken through a simple step-by-step process to link your slides with headings as you wish them to appear.

The menu bars operate on a tiered structure, whereby the lower menus dynamically change depending on how selections above are made. Clicking ‘Corporate Overview’ on tier one for example, displays the sections under this header below, and so on. The menu bars can be up to three levels deep, which will allow for easy navigation of even the most complex of presentations. What is more, this complexity is neatly hidden as the menu is navigated – only showing those slides or subfolders pertinent to the current selection.

Clicking between slides is straightforward and works as you would expect. Functionality is limited to selection with a mouse (as opposed to a clicker), but this is what you would expect and in the vast majority of cases, will not hamper ActivePrez’s utility. Navigation bars appear either at the top or bottom of the slide on all the slides that are actively linked to. The menu does not appear on a slide if that slide has not been linked with one of the tabs. Although there is the ability to show/hide the menu with a button, it might have been nice for this to happen automatically, by hovering the cursor in the right area. (Ed – this would require macro-code, because there is no native support for mouse-overs in PowerPoint.) Nevertheless, the interface is clean, functional and – on the whole – unobtrusive.

The menu bars are completely customisable, both in terms of content and style. ActivePrez presents default options, which can be tweaked as much as necessary, offering options for shading, highlights, placement and others. One nice feature is that ActivePrez defaults to the colour palette from your PowerPoint template (if you are working from one), which ensures your navigation menu looks integral in your design from the outset. While the navigation menu designs follow a standard layout and form factor, there are enough variables to achieve a look consistent with your presentation’s style. In terms of execution, GMARK have gone for function above form, which is no terrible thing.

One potential shortcoming in the software relates to the extent you are able to link slides with the menu tabs. While the tiered structure is useful for organising your content, only the lowermost tabs (i.e. those that do not contain subfolders) can be linked with slides. This proves problematic if you use the higher menus as section headings and the lower menus as content. In this instance, you can only navigate to the content itself, but not to the start of each section.

In the diagram below, only the tabs illustrated as green boxes would link to slides. The section overviews for ‘Who We Are’ and ‘Financial Forecasts’ would not link to slides, but would open the menus below with their associated content:

activeprez1

As a workaround, it would be necessary to duplicate the blue tabs on the row below (as shown) so that when one was clicked, the section heading slide would be opened and not the first (content) slide in that section. This approach works perfectly well, but isn’t as streamlined as you might like:

activeprez2

This is the sort of problem that will be a big issue for some users, and will not affect others in the slightest. (Ed - apparently this will be addressed in a forthcoming release.)

Although navigation is the key element of ActivePrez, there are also a host of accompanying tools that offer enhanced functionality over the standard PowerPoint offerings, all tailored towards offering the presenter more control over how they present and distribute their material.

The Co-Brand wizard offers a fast and easy way to individually brand presentations for multiple organisations. The feature is relatively easy to use, and delivers excellent results, provided there is a level of consistency between the different logos you hope to use. To work best, logos should be of a similar size and proportion, and should have either a white or transparent background (but not a mix of both). Essentially the feature creates a copy of the presentation with the logo inserted wherever you choose. Although this is something that can be done manually, it is a useful time-saving extension.

Amongst the additional features that ActivePrez includes is a tool for creating customised slide sub-decks to distribute collections of only the slides you have presented on that day. There is a tool for including a clock while presenting – although not a countdown timer – and a useful direct print feature that allows you to print a slide without leaving it. Again, these tools do not allow you to do anything completely new, but help you to access features more quickly, circumventing some of PowerPoint’s more clunky steps.

From my initial experimenting with ActivePrez, I can see how it would be a useful addition to PowerPoint. Some of the features included which I have not touched upon – contextual menus and slide confidentiality – have the potential to broaden its appeal even further. ActivePresentation’s utility will ultimately depend on how you use PowerPoint, and the complexity of presentations you frequently create. The add-in does not expand PowerPoint’s out-of-the-box functionality per se, but certainly speeds up implementation and operation of some of the program’s more complex commands. It does so in a stylish, well-constructed and unobtrusive package. If you have been looking for a way to quickly navigate your presentations, and will not be limited by the shortcomings mentioned above, I would have no hesitations in recommending it.

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