Professional Creativity: Part Two

Professional Creativity: Part Two

In the autumn 2019 issue of MEN, Eric Thorn updated us with some of his informative and constructive tips for using projection software. In response, some readers posed queries or simply wanted further information on specific items. So, we asked Eric to continue this theme here. Those who missed his previous feature will find it online at

Once again, Eric stresses that the information imparted in these columns is based on his own personal experience utilising the software versions that he is familiar with. Different editions of the same software and differing operating systems may give other results, so it is essential to always try things out privately on your own system prior to letting them loose on your unsuspecting audience!

It is apparent that my column in the previous edition of our well-loved journal, Maintenance and Equipment News for Churches and Schools, was published at just the right time for some of our readers.

Judging by the various comments received the use of multimedia projection as used in schools and, indeed, probably every genre of academic learning facility, is rapidly coming into its own not only in churches and other places of worship, but also in just about any business or civic establishment that welcomes visitors.

It is apparent to me that the high definition digital revolution has probably conquered academia and is well on the way to total domination of the so-called business and civic buildings. In recent weeks I have visited commercial companies and offices only to be welcomed by a virtual reality receptionist and/or high definition television style monitors listing what floors of the building host selected departments.

Likewise, tourist attractions such as museums and historical buildings increasingly boast the installation of this contemporary technology. Having to construct and produce individual signage describing artefacts each time something changes or updates come to light is a task quickly being consigned to history itself. Specific monitor screens may be updated quickly and easily from the comfort of a dedicated computer located in the venue office.

Digital technology really comes alive at purpose built industrial training centres and dedicated training rooms used by practically all commercial companies and voluntary charities. High definition screens are increasingly replacing video projectors and are very convenient for incorporating Internet sourced resources. Such places are particularly good for bringing a whole throng of employees or volunteers together for essential learning where breakout rooms for group discussion are called for. Small groups and individuals rarely now, if ever, meet for joint training thanks to the growing benefit of on-line training courses.

So, the impression created is that it is only a matter of time before the digital revolution succeeds in conquering the worshipping fraternity as well! With a host of professional church liturgy software programs to choose from, to make the task of projecting a typical order of worship service easy, there is something for all, irrespective of faith, church or denomination. Not only for regular devotional gatherings, but also for weddings, funerals, and whatever else individual venues may be used for.

Not so long ago, my wife and I attended an excellent evening of music performed by a Salvation Army band. Instead of printed programmes, the different items were announced on high definition screens strategically installed around the auditorium. Most professional and enjoyable, even if my wife wondered if I was more impressed with the screen production than the band!

Despite the availability of specialist church software from a raft of publishers, the most popular projection program worldwide is reputed to be PowerPoint® from Microsoft®. Most, if not all, church service software programs are capable of including PowerPoint documents, enabling the advantageous combined use of both.

And the bottom line is that I have been asked various questions about creating professional looking slides in PowerPoint. Remarks such as, “I saw XYZ in PowerPoint, how is that done?” or, “I do XYZ but it takes hours to prepare, is there a quick fix?” are quite common. I do not profess to know all of the answers, so whatever I suggest you should try out first to see if it works for you.

Smart Art

From the feedback that I have received, it would seem that a common complaint from audience members is that of PowerPoint slides that comprise of what I describe as sardined sentences. Apart from the fact that congregations fail in the challenge of reading the words, and no, they do not need to patronise SpecSavers, lots of small text ought to be divided up between a sheaf of slides.

My preferred solution is to use short phrases and format them with Smart Art. This came to the fore about two months’ ago when I was giving a PowerPoint presentation. Over the ensuing refreshment break, a lady from the audience approached me and said something along the lines of how much time I must have on my hands to produce slides such as she had just been watching.

Mrs Pugh explained that, as a church secretary, she is frequently called upon to present various reports which she illustrates with PowerPoint. To get some kind of attractive structure in her slides, she spends many hours at the mercy of her family! Once she had confided to me further details, I suggested she should experiment with Smart Art. Very useful for people like me who actually wonder where the time goes!

So, I have produced a simple test slide purely to show how it is done. Practice makes perfect, and anyone trying this method, once they have perfected it, can go on to experiment to produce truly professional, eye-catching slides in time, hopefully, for their deadline.

Here it is:

Open a new PowerPoint document, or an existing one that you wish to edit. If choosing the latter option, save the existing one as a copy so that you can refer back to the original if anything goes wrong.

For the purpose of demonstration, I have named my new PowerPoint presentation simply Test Slide. I keyed in the phrase Welcome to Anytown Community Church. To quickly make a graphical change to that phrase, I went to the Drawing Tools ribbon and, under Format, clicked to open the Smart Art drop down window. I simply clicked on one of the designs at random as this is only an example but, for preparing a genuine presentation there are plenty of designs to choose from in the Smart Art library.

Example Powerpoint Screens

A dartboard style graphic was what my mouse selected, and you will see from the illustration that this presented the opportunity to format my original phrase in a different way, using the familiar right button context menu.

It should be noted that the screen shots illustrated here come from the older version of PowerPoint that happens to be on my computer. These instructions do vary in different editions of Microsoft PowerPoint so if you cannot locate relevant tabs please click Function key F1 for help with your version.

Powerpoint 365 Screengrab

Office 365 screen

In Office 365 PowerPoint, for example, to locate Smart Art you need to be in the Home ribbon. Go the Paragraph format section and on the right hand side there is a column of three icons. The bottom item is the Smart Art icon, so click on this to open the Smart Art facility.

Photographs and other pictures are frequently used in PowerPoint presentations. Used solo, in a group, and/or mixed with text, the Smart Art facility can be well utilised. For my example here, I have randomly selected three illustrations from my files, thus:

Example Powerpoint Screens

It is possible to similarly format all pictures on one slide by clicking on one, then clicking Ctrl+A. Then, on the Picture Tools format tab choose and click on a suitable design. In this instance, I chose an oval shape but, again, the library choice is well appointed.

I then decided to delete one of the pictures as it appeared to be irrelevant for the theme. Highlighting just one of the remaining illustrations at a time, I selected different Smart Art formats and altered the shape and sizing. For the latter, select one picture at a time, place the mouse cursor on a convenient handle and hold the left mouse button down whilst manoeuvring size and place.

Example Powerpoint Screens

Smart Art includes various design tools in addition to the formatting advantages described above. Returning to my original title slide, I highlighted the entire phrase, but this time I clicked on the Smart Art Design tab. As with the Smart Art Graphics tab, there is a complete library of options. I clicked to incorporate a step down with arrows design, and in my screen shot illustration I have retained the default. Sometimes, I will use a design like this but change colours and possibly also change my typeface: the one used here is Arial.

Please note that when choosing a Smart Art Design such as the ones illustrated here, it is possible to use each step as a text box. In the next screenshot here, I clicked on the top text box and then by holding down the Shift key whilst pressing the Tab key, the highlight passes to the next box, and so on all the way down. However, I did not waste time trying to change the colour of each box separately: I clicked on the Change Colours tab and then selected a colour pattern from the many choices offered.

Keyboard shortcuts

When preparing a new (or editing an existing) PowerPoint presentation, an easy way to call up a new slide is to place the cursor where a fresh slide is required and use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+M. It is vitally important to remember this shortcut uses the letter M because most of us are familiar with using the character N, which serves to open a new document.

To duplicate a slide, place the cursor over it and key in Ctrl+D. Similarly, to duplicate a picture, place the cursor over it and use the same short cut Ctrl+D.

Conversely, to delete a slide or illustration, place the cursor over the object and use Ctrl+X.

Something that seems to crop up from time to time is to do with typeface formatting. Friends representing different organisations often seem to have a similar query. The conversation generally follows a trend of somebody spending rather an inordinate length of time preparing a presentation containing a lot of words only to discover that they had inadvertently got the Caps Lock key switched on.

Example Powerpoint ScreenThe remedy is easy-peasy! Start by highlighting whatever text appears incorrectly. Go to the Home tab: in the font section there is an icon comprising an upper case and a lower case letter A, complete with a down arrow on the right hand side of the icon. Click the arrow to release a menu of the five case options available. Click on the appropriate choice and, hey presto: the selected text is updated.

Even easier, however, is to highlight the incorrectly formatted text and then hold down the Shift key whilst pressing the function key F3. This changes the text formatting, but as there is no menu to choose from, it operates by changing the text formatting each time Shift+F3 is keyed in. However, in this instance only the three most popular case styles are available, namely sentence case plus upper and lower case. But this choice is suitable for most requirements.

And finally

And finally, it is important to aim for a reasonable balance between the number of illustrations and words on any slide. If necessary, break your copy up into two or more slides in order to encourage your audience to perceive and remember your message.


A big Thank you to MiMi Thorn for permission to use her Lahu Village artwork in some of the illustrations.

Eric A. Thorn