What Are Master Slides and Why Are They Beautiful

While I do not think a PowerPoint presentation is a substitute for learning to speak well, I do think that if you have that presentation down pat, visual aids can help.

For me, Master Slide are like formatting a Word document in Styles. It streamlines the creation process, helps with consistent formatting, and allows the designer to apply universal changes to large presentations both quickly and globally.

What is a Master Slide?

A Master Slide is a series of slides and sub-slides that control the layout and appearance of a PowerPoint presentation. From here you can control themes, colors, fonts, and individual slide layouts.

Master Slides Save Time

Have you ever created a presentation and had a colleague or supervisor praise it to the skies…

… except they didn’t like the font, and thought the color scheme was juuust the wrong shade of fuchsia?

If you have not formatted your presentation using the Master Slide options, but instead have formatted slide by slide, that 80 slide presentation is going to take forever to update!

If you have formatted using Master Slides, you’ll make the corrections on one Master Slide, then have those corrections populate throughout your presentation.

How Do I Use a Master Slide?

Here’s a little secret. All presentations have Master Slides. It’s just that so many of us don’t use them.

To access the slide master:

  1. Activate the View tab.
  2. Click Slide Master.

From here, you will access a Master Slide and various layouts available in your presentation. If you can do it to a slide, you can do it to a Master Slide, so this is where you can get creative. You can apply headers and footers to the slide globally, add a background image to all slides, control the font, color and layout of each slide.

The Right Tool for the Right Job


Excel is a powerful program, no doubt.  When you need hard-core data analysis it’s a great tool.  Sadly, this is not how I often see Excel used in my professional life.

I see Excel used as a table creation tool for printed schedules — no calculations being performed at all.  I see Excel being used as a database.   This is forgiveable.  If you know what you’re doing, you can make a decent flat database with Excel. 

But that is exactly the problem.  A well-designed database is one that can be used by someone who does not necessarily know what they’re doing, but can enter data and pull reports easily.  This is where Excel falls down badly.  Hand this tool to someone who does not know what they’re doing, and you’d better be locking down a lot of functions on the user end, or you’re going to wind up with destroyed data.

I encourage people who use Excel for data tracking to look carefully at their data before making a decision about what application to use when doing it.  The two biggest criteria I see are record count and report complexity.

If your data is going to be involving millions of records, you want a database.  Excel will choke.  If you want complex data reporting across several data tables and records, you want a database, not Excel.

If you’re dealing with a few thousand records and need to display that data graphically to explain in a presentation, yeah, Excel is your tool and it works great.

The Top Three Reasons to Use Styles When Formatting a Document

Do you use styles in formatting your MS Word doc?

Do you even know what styles are?

At its simplest, a style is a collection of formatting – font face, font size, font color. And when you hear that, you think, “So what? Why should I go to the trouble of using those presets to format my document when I can think of something so much cooler?”

Styles Help You Write

I’m going to go back about thirty years when I was first learning to write. My fifth-grade teacher, like many in the US, taught us something called a Five-Paragraph Essay. This project takes the student through the writing process by teaching them to create an outline, coming up with supporting points for their topic, and then using that to start writing the actual essay.

When you use styles, you can integrate the outline and the writing process easily. Come up with the main points you want to cover in your document format them as headers, and then, voila! You have a ready-made outline in your navigation pane.

But let’s say that you’re writing something that has some sub-points to make:

Outlining helps to organize thoughts

When you outline, you’re organizing your piece into units of thought that go together logically. Maybe you’re writing an instruction manual, and you want to divide by topic or sub-topic. Maybe you’re writing a speech, and you need to make sure that your points go together into a coherent group. Formatting your points into headings and subheadings means that you can do this on the fly as you’re in the brainstorming stage of your piece.

Outlining makes text flow easier

But using headings and subheadings to outline your document isn’t just for the writer. A document that uses them makes it easier for the reader to follow. If you’ve ever tried to read a wall o’ text explaining something, you’ll agree that formatting documents in headings and subheadings mean that you can digest the material more quickly.

Styles Make Document Structure Automatic

Once you have the outline for your document using styles, the structure of the outline can drive the structure of the document.

Have you ever collaborated on a piece with someone, only to find that your perfectly-paginated and laid out document is now completely messed up because one of your co-authors has added a few paragraphs of material somewhere?

It can be frustrating until you realize you can edit a style that makes this sort of thing unnecessary.

Let’s say that you’re formatting a document so that anything that is a Heading 1 in your work would be analogous to a new chapter in a book. Therefore, it always needs to start on a new page. Sure, sure, you could add a page break before the Heading 1 manually. But why bother when Word can do that for you?

  1. Right-click on the style you wish to change (in this example, Heading 1)
  2. Click on the Format button in the lower-right corner.
  3. Then click on Paragraph.
  4. Click on the Page and Line Breaks tab.
  5. Check Page Break Before.
  6. Click OK on each dialog box until you get to your document again.

Now the wordiest of co-authors can’t mess up pagination!

There are many more features that can be style-driven if you want them to, and I encourage you to explore Using Styles in Word from Microsoft. Styles can control tables of contents, headers and footers and other types of formatting that make the document easily-readable.

Styles are Easy to Change

The biggest reason to use styles, in my opinion, is that they are easy to change. If you’ve ever been in a meeting and had someone hung up on the color or size of text in a document, you’ll understand why styles make this easy.

Debbie and Bill might be at each other’s throats in the design meeting going back and forth on whether or not to use the purple (because it’s a strong color) or the green (because it implies calm and good resource stewardship). And there you are chewing your nails because you know that this 800-page document has fifty headings and subheadings. They could come to an agreement only to have Corey over in Marketing put the kibosh on their choice for an aqua when you’re three-quarters through implementing the green on each heading one by one.

If you’d used styles, all you have to do is edit the styles themselves and the change is global.

I hope you’ll consider using styles for your next MS Word document to see how much easier the writing and formatting goes.

The Value of Failure

Part of the way I make my living is by teaching computer applications. Typically, it’s MS Office, but I’ve taught others. My classes are popular and I can pretty much guarantee if I teach one seminar, 90% of my students will come back for more – either to learn something new or to take more advanced lessons in the same application. It sounds like bragging, but it’s the simple truth. My classes are entertaining and informative.

On one teaching job, however, I crashed and burned. I was teaching a computer application I know very well, indeed. Because I knew it so well, I figured that a cursory review of the lesson plan and manual would be plenty.

It wasn’t, as any experienced teacher would tell you. God, that class was a fiasco.

Many years later, I got an opportunity to teach other class. It was in another application I know well and use daily. Oh my word was I scared! I knew why I’d crashed and burned the first time, so resolved to correct the problem. Were over-preparing possible, I over-prepared. I was terrified to get up in front of all these guys because I was terrified that I’d blow it and embarrass not only the person who recommended me, but the company who contracted me to teach.

I did okay. Brilliant? No, not that time. Though I did have several students come to more classes that I’ve taught. So, clearly it was at least a class where I was competent.

So often we fear failure when failure can be a great friend. I don’t think I would be the teacher I am today were it not for that colossal and embarrassing failure. I learned so much from it. I learned the importance of preparation. I learned not to be cocky about my own knowledge. I learned that knowing something doesn’t necessarily mean I’m ideally placed to teach it. It taught me that teaching is actually a skill one can learn!

NIFTY TIP Adding or Subtracting Amounts from Different Ranges

Problem: You need to add or subtract amounts from different ranges according to a specific criteria (SUMIF function).

Solution: Insert two SUMIF formulas and combine them into a single formula:

  1. Insert the SUMIF formula to total the amounts based on the criterion 701 into cell E2.
  2. Insert the SUMIF formula to total the amounts based on the criterion 300 into cell E3.
  3. Select cell E2 and copy the formula from the Formula Bar, select the formula and press <ctrl>+C and click the Enter or Cancel symbol in the Formula Bar to exit Edit mode.
  4. Select cell E5 and press <ctrl>+V.
  5. Select cell E3 and copy the formula from the Formula Bar without the equals (=) sign by selecting the formula and pressing <ctrl>+C.
  6. Select cell E5 and enter a minus(-) sign after the formula in the cell, and then press <ctrl>+V.

The combined formula is now:


Five Signs Your SME is the Wrong Teacher

Congratulations!  You’ve installed a new system or an upgrade that will make work easier for your office, automate some routine tasks and bring your organization up to date.   It’s fun and exciting to–

What?  Your end users are complaining?  Your staff hates the system?  Your IT person has rolled her eyes at the users so often that her pupils have fused to the back of her skull?

What happened?

Upgrading often has some resistance, yes.  The reality is that people often don’t like change.  The longer a person has used a system or, the more expert the user is in other areas, the more reluctant the user will be to embrace the new system.  A fact of life.  Even in the face of this, you might want to make sure that you didn’t fall down on the training end.

It is not uncommon to shoehorn teaching duties into your IT staff.  They know the material, right?  So they can teach it, no problem!


Teaching –especially teaching a technologically resistant learner, is an often frustrating job requiring a specialized skill set.  Your IT guy may be brilliant at what she does otherwise, but might be exactly the wrong teacher.

Five signs your subject matter expert might be the wrong teacher

1. The SME is contemptuous of the end user.

Yes, everyone in the tech field has spelled “end user” “l-user” at one time or another.  We’re human.  We get frustrated.  I’m just saying that if your IT person has a shrine to the BoFH or has a mug that says RTFM1, this person might lack the necessary empathy in this particular area to be a good trainer.

2. The SME has a lack of verbal facility.

If you can’t translate “geek” to “normal”, you’re not in a position to train the end user on the new system or software.  Can that IT person you’re thinking of yanking away from his computer do that?  Talk to him.  If he uses expressions like “dumb down”, let him get on with what he knows and can do well.  Find someone else to teach.

3. The SME equates technological expertise with intelligence.

This is an incredibly common sin among the IT crowd.  While in theory, it needs to stop, in practice, you get someone like this as a teacher, and you’ve set yourself up for a real mess.  There are several professions notorious not only for intelligence but for resistance to change in computer systems and applications.  Don’t believe me?  Go to your nearest hospital and take someone from the IT department out for a drink.  Ask them who they hate to teach the worst.  You’ll get an hour on why they hate training senior physicians.

I think we’re agreed that to get an MD, one must be of at least slightly above-average intelligence, yes?

The problem is a bit of a lack of empathy on both parts.  Doctor Labrat really is used to being an expert.  She’s not used to the pain of being incompetent at anything.  Chances are good it’s been a long time since she’s perceived herself as having the time to study anything outside of his field.  IT is Ms. Sysadmin’s field.  Part of her job is learning new applications and systems.  This is routine for her, and it’s in her field.  Ms. Sysadmin, unless she’s a teacher as well, won’t know how to guide an intelligent, accomplished person through the pain of being incompetent and will likely chalk it up to mental laziness on Dr. Labrat’s part2.

4. The SME hates public speaking.

Teachers are public speakers.  We’re good at it; we know how to engage an audience.  We know how to be clear, and we know how to inspire.  If that’s not happening, it might be because your teaching candidate doesn’t like talking in front of people.  There’s no shame in this.  Let her get on with what she’s good at and why you value her work in the first place.  Don’t shoehorn her into something she doesn’t know or do well.  Training your employees is too crucial a job to give to someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

5. The SME doesn’t have the time!

Teaching a good one-hour class takes about three hours of preparation for new material.  If the system is less than three months old, or the teacher has not taught a live class on this very subject more than once, it’s new material!  While it might look like a good teacher just gets up in front of a class and spontaneously spouts that entertaining and informative lecture, it doesn’t work that way.  Spontaneity is often a matter of careful preparation.  Don’t mistake the casual competence for a lack of prep time!  If your employee doesn’t have three times the prep time that he has for face time in front of the class, your employee doesn’t have time to teach!  Get a contractor, hire someone, spread the duties around.  Do what it takes to get your employees trained properly.

The subject matter expert can be the right teacher.  Just keep in mind that teaching is a skill set all its own.  Study your people carefully and see if they have the skillset for training.  If not? Well, there are lots of trainers out there ready to help you on a contract basis.  Check around and good luck!


1Please read the manual, sir.

2Not that mental laziness doesn’t happen at that level. It can be anywhere.  But unless you’ve got a real teacher, it might be hard to spot.”

Gorilla Client

When you’re a freelancer and get a really big client, probably the first thing you do is cheer. Money! Lots of work! You can slack off marketing for a while, wheeee!!!!!

If that client is now providing more than about 40% of your business, stop cheering right now and start panicking. No, seriously.

There’s an expression for this sort of client – the Gorilla Client. Sure, that big client seems great, and yes, big projects with lots of work/pay really are. However, like having a big, powerful gorilla in your office, it can be a problem that becomes bigger and stronger than you are. Any problem with that client is now a potential threat to your entire business. You’ll find yourself structuring your business around the needs of that single client. You’ll find yourself tempted to leave off working for other clients and concentrate on that one
[1]. Sure, you want to provide good service. Good service should be at the heart of your business. It is simply that you do not want to rise and fall at the whim of a single client.

So, why do we accept Gorilla Clients? It’s mostly laziness and greed, from what I can see. If you don’t love marketing (and it’s strange how many freelancers don’t), any excuse to be able to work and not market sounds like a lot of fun. If you’re getting plenty of work, it’s hard to be motivated to do something you don’t like.

A good way to avoid this is to budget your time carefully. Since you’re in charge of your work day, make sure you dedicate a certain percentage of that day to marketing no matter how busy you get. Yeah, I know. If work from one client swamps you, it’s hard to make yourself go looking for more work. Suck it up and do it.

Remember that as a freelancer, you can choose how much work you’re willing to accept as well. How many hours a month are you willing to work? I go monthly rather than weekly because there will be plenty of weeks that you’ll be hammer and tongs at a deadline for one particular client. That’s okay as long as you’ve got more work on deck, and are keeping up on your marketing. What you don’t want to do is let any one client suck up your professional time over a significant period.

I consider myself a client for purposes of time management. As a writer, there’s a certain amount of non-commercial “sharpening the saw” that’s necessary to stay fit, stay alert and stay skilled in my profession. I don’t dedicate anywhere a full client’s allotment of hours a month on it, but I do make sure that I leave time to write, to work on projects with no direct result and to make sure that I’m exploring avenues that might be useful in the long run.

This article is meant for the one-man shop. If you’re finding that you need at least 40 hours a week specifically to spend on billable client hours, chances are good that what you need is at least a part-time admin assistant or salesperson. If you’re in love with being a one-man shop, raise your rates. That’ll take care of the problem well enough, and you’ll bring your time management back into balance.

[1] The Pareto Principle might be okay for really large firms, but isn’t an ideal strategy when you’re a small business servicing small businesses.