Using PowerPoint Like a Flip Chart

I'm doing some final prep today for my sessions at Accessing Higher Ground. One of these sessions will be highly interactive,  and at one point I want to collect ideas from participants as to what they feel constitutes an effective information technology accessibility policy. As they come up with good ideas, I want to record those ideas right on my PowerPoint slide. In the olden days I would have done this using a flip chart. But my handwriting is not great, flip charts are hard to see from the back of the room, they waste paper, and I didn't request a flip chart for my session. If I use PowerPoint to serve the same function, that solves all these problems plus the ideas that were generated in the discussion are preserved in the PowerPoint file and folks will have access to them when I make that file available for download after the session. I've used this trick a few times now, and typically someone asks "How did you do that?" So, here's my answer…

How to Add Text to a PowerPoint Slide during the Slide Show

First, this requires Office 2010 for Windows. It may also be possible in Office 2007, but I haven't tried it. However, it is not possible in Office for Mac. In fact, you will have to show your slides using Office for Windows - the feature that makes this work is an ActiveX Control, which doesn't work on the Mac.  Sorry.

Step 1

In PowerPoint, be sure you have the Developer Tab installed and visible (it isn't visible by default). If you don't, see the handy Microsoft help docs on How to Show the Developer Tab on the Ribbon. Here's what the Developer Tab looks like in Office 2010:
Screen shot of the Developer Tab, which includes a variety of buttons grouped into four categories: Code, Add-Ins, Controls, and Modify

Step 2

With the Developer Tab selected, choose Text Box from the Controls group, and place the text box in the desired location on your slide and stretch it to the desired size.  Note that this is different than the Text Box that one might typically insert via the Insert Tab - that text box isn't interactive.

Step 3

Right click on the  new text box and select Properties. This opens a Properties window that has about 35 or so properties in it that you can define:
Screen shot of the text box Properties Dialog, showing 35 or so properties and their values
These are the properties you're most interested in:
  • AutoSize = false You need a large, empty canvas that doesn't expand and contract as you type
  • Enabled = True Without this, the text box isn't interactive
  • EnterKeyBehavior = True This allows you to press Enter to force a new line.
  • BackColor, BackStyle, BorderColor, BorderStyle, Font, ForeColor, etc. These are all visual properties so modify them as you see fit to meet your style needs
  • Locked = False If it's locked you can't write in it
  • MultiLine = True Set this in order to add multiple lines of content. If you exceed the height of the text box, you will automatically scroll down, although...
  • ScrollBars  = your choice. Vertical scrolling is automatic if MultiLine = true, but there aren't visible scroll bars by default. If fmScrollBarsNone is selected (in other words, None), you can still scroll using the arrow keys and page up/page down. But if you're a mouser and prefer a visible scrollbar you can choose fmScrollBarsHorizontal, fmScrollBarsVertical, or fmScrollBarsBoth (in other words, Horizontal, Vertical, or Both). For a flip chart application, your content is likely to require vertical scrolling, but horizontal scrolling is less likely unless you'll be writing long words or you're using a large font size. Also, if you have WordWrap set to true, long words will wrap mid-word so you will never need a horizontal scroll bar.
  • WordWrap = True This wraps long lines, and also wraps long words if they exceed the width of the text box.

Distributing the File

I tend to make my slides available online after a presentation (Help yourself - there are gobs of them on my UW staff page). Typically I provide the original PowerPoint file but I recognize that not everyone has Microsoft PowerPoint, so I also export to Adobe PDF. I export from PowerPoint in Windows because the Mac version doesn't create a tagged PDF, which is necessary for accessibility (also, don't forget to add alt text to images!) Unfortunately, the interactive text box you added isn't accessible to very many people. (It's a great control, but only under the right circumstances, like your live presentation). After your presentation, If someone opens the original PowerPoint file in PowerPoint for Mac, they can see the control but they can't interact with it; and if you entered text into the control they can't select it, nor can they scroll down to see hidden items.  The same is true if you export to PDF. Fortunately this isn't a huge problem. It just requires an extra step. After your session if you want to include the notes you took during the session, you just need to copy them from the text box and paste them onto one or more new slides as bullets. Then delete the interactive text box, save the final PowerPoint file, export to PDF, and distribute both files. Sometime next week I'll upload the slides from my session at Accessing Higher Ground so you can see a real life example.

Speaking Of Accessing Higher Ground

Accessing Higher Ground rocks! I attend a lot of conferences, and this is by far my favorite for getting down to business and exploring higher education accessible technology solutions with a community of like-minded people. Since the conference is next week, you're running out of time, but it's not too late! Drop what you're doing, register, and book your flight to Denver. There's no place quite like the Colorado Front Range in November. If you actually take this advice, I'm impressed with your spontaneity! Please look me up at the conference let me know. I'll be there all week. If traveling to Colorado isn't gonna work out for you this year, the conference also has an on-line option. The on-line package includes my session "Web Accessibility: 30 Tips in 60 Minutes" plus nearly a dozen others. Should be some great stuff.

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