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PowerPoint is easier than ever with Microsoft’s new A.I. tools

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Microsoft is leaning in on the power of artificial intelligence to help Office 365 subscribers create beautiful PowerPoint slides. By dragging and dropping in your favorite images and the relevant text to a slide, PowerPoint Designer leverages A.I. to automatically suggest compelling themes, layouts, and designs for you to use. In addition, A.I. can be called upon to help presenters make big numbers in a slide more relatable, and artificial intelligence can also help coach you in becoming a better speaker. These new A.I. tools follow the recent addition of A.I.-based closed-captioning feature for PowerPoint.

“We noticed that people were spending too much time building presentations, too much time on slides, and they weren’t having the impact that they wanted,” Shawn Villaron, PowerPoint Partner Group Program Manager at Microsoft, said in a video briefing. “So we started with a hypothesis that we could actually do better — we could use artificial intelligence to find ways to make it easier for people to make highly impactful, highly effective presentations.”

Building smarter slides

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Microsoft studied how people used PowerPoint, and the company discovered that most users start building a slide with a photo. By simply adding a feature to the slide, PowerPoint Designer will analyze the photo and “suggest seven or eight ways that the slide could be built,” Villaron said.

After the text and visuals are added to a blank slide, PowerPoint Design will display a “Design Ideas” panel on the right-hand side, showing the possible visual layouts. Designer also can create a photo mosaic with multiple photos on the same slide, suggest effective text layout, or even build a timeline if it detects a sequence of events on the slide.

“Over time, we add new capabilities around looking for iconography and adding iconography to your slide to increase the effectiveness increase the impact fullness of your slides,” Villaron added.

Not only does PowerPoint Designer help you create a visually compelling way to tell your story, but Microsoft claims that it could save most users at least 30 seconds per slide and as much as five minutes. Additionally, with the powerful A.I.-based slide suggestions, Microsoft stated that it has reached a major milestone with PowerPoint Designer with users having saved and kept more than 1 billion slides suggested by the A.I.-based tool.

For organizations using PowerPoint, Designer even works with branded templates, allowing users to create slides that adhere to visual identity guidelines.

Make numbers great again

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In addition to being able to build visually pleasing slide layouts, Designer even understands context, which can help you tell your story in a more meaningful way. While it’s important, for example, to tell your audience that sea turtles have to travel 1,500 miles just to lay their eggs, such a large number can be lost without context. Fortunately, PowerPoint’s A.I. tool can help add some meaning to that many miles. Within the same “Design Ideas” pane, PowerPoint Designer can also add that this distance is “about half the width of the United States.

“Through the addition of perspective, Designer can help make these numerical slides more digestible and help presenters to more effectively convey their information,” Derek Johnson, a PowerPoint manager, said in a demo, noting that the relatable references help make the information easier to understand and increases retention. “You’ll see this kind of perspective show up on all sorts of measures ranging from weights to distances to financial figures, and more coming soon.”

A.I. will propose context for a variety of number types, including currency, measurements, and more. The feature will be able to adapt based on the measurement used and location. “So I was showing an example with miles, but if I was doing that somewhere else in the world outside of the United States, I would be getting more relevant suggestions to my locale,” Johnson added.

The A.I.-based PowerPoint Designer tool will be available for Office for the web and Office 365. Microsoft noted perpetual licenses of Office won’t get the A.I. tool.

Intelligent coaching

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In addition to using artificial intelligence to build powerful slides to tell more impactful stories, PowerPoint is also using machine learning to give you coaching to deliver a more effective presentation. The Presenter Coach in PowerPoint not only analyzes your speed — how fast you’re talking — but it can be used to give you feedback.

“Based on academic research and field studies, we’ve integrated presentation best practices into Presenter Coach to help people give more effective presentations,” Johnson said.

For example, if you’re just reading the words on your slide verbatim, Presenter Coach will pop up and tell you to pay attention to originality. If you stutter and start using filler words — it will tell you to cut those words out.

The tool also recognizes context as well. If you say that “you’re the best man for the job,” Presenter Coach will appear and let you know that the phrasing may be culturally insensitive. At the end of the presentation, you’ll get a more detailed coaching report, which proposes detailed suggestions, like “best man for the job” could instead be phrased  as “best person for the job.”

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“So now when I’m finished with my presentation, I’ll exit out and coach will pop up and give me this detailed report that also includes pacing information to let me know how fast or slow I was talking during the presentation,” Johnson said. “This report gives me a recap of the tips that I received during the session and lets me know where to focus.”

At launch, Presenter Coach will be available on PowerPoint for the web later this year, but it will eventually head to desktop and mobile clients for Office 365 subscribers. Microsoft said that you need an internet connection to use the feature.

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Chuong Nguyen
Silicon Valley-based technology reporter and Giants baseball fan who splits his time between Northern California and Southern…
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