The Power of the PowerPoint Simulator!

A trainer having trouble with an App in front of an audience

Sometimes software doesn’t work as planned in a training session.

It can be a bit embarrassing and can give a bad impression of the thing you’re training, (even if it’s just something as simple as a poor internet connection).

Most important of all, it’s a massive distraction for the group and can even call a complete halt to your training!

This is why I often make software simulators in PowerPoint.

What do I mean by a “Simulator”?

At the most basic level it is a PowerPoint slide show with carefully layered screen shots. I take the screenshots of every step in the process and then as it is played back by the Trainer it looks like I’m actually using the software!

Why do I do this? 

I’ve discovered the following can happen:

  • The software you’re training on isn’t quite finished, (it’s a project after all and the developers haven’t yet added everything to the production version)
  • Someone else has been into the application and changed your example so it doesn’t work the same as it did before!
  • You did a session in the morning and haven’t had time to reset the application for the afternoon session.
  • You suddenly find you haven’t got internet connectivity or the application’s server is down.

So what are the advantages of a Simulator?

  • It’s predictable. You can always train something the same way.
  • Even though you only need to press Enter to advance each slide, you can give the impression you are using the actual software by using your mouse to click on a button or click on a menu!
  • The software you’re walking people through always works so they don’t get distracted and the software looks good.
  • You don’t need connectivity to run it (just PowerPoint and a big monitor/projector).
  • You don’t have to enter data into dialog boxes. This can be a really tedious thing to have to watch in a walk through (not to mention type in).
  • You don’t need to reset anything for the next session.
  • You can change an odd screenshot here and there so it is easy to edit.
  • Your example will always run (for a process that has an end point, you don’t have to keep creating new examples).
  • When you’re showing a screen with data on it, the data can be faked using Photoshop (you don’t have to “sanitise” the data painstakingly).
  • You can add extra things for emphasis, like animation and flashing red box highlighters.
  • Runs well on a webinar – it’s a PowerPoint full screen so there’s no problem seeing it!

How do you create a PowerPoint Simulator?

It’s quite easy, and you don’t need to add captions or anything that explains the screens since you are guiding the delegates through it.

  1. Just capture each step (carefully ensuring each one is the same size) and place each screenshot into a separate slide.
  2. Repeat this process and play it back as a slide show to see that each time you press Enter, a new step takes place.
  3. Add any appropriate animations (i.e. “wipe right” for data entered, “wipe down” for drop down menus or “zoom” for file management dialogs)

Some things to remember when you create a Simulator…

Always make sure you save each screen shot to a folder devoted to that simulator…

At some point, you are going to need to maintain this Simulator. The app will change and the screenshots may need doing again or more likely, in the short term you’ll need to tweak a screen that you got wrong (or add a step you missed out). If you’ve saved each step (give them names and sequence numbers that follow on), you’ll be able to locate the step you need o adjust later on.

You need to capture each step of your process at exactly the same screen size…

If you are using a wide screen monitor or projector, make sure you capture each screen shot to fit the ratio of that device. If you’re using a 16:9 laptop screen, make sure you are using a 16:9 monitor or projector so your full screen captures play back full screen. Don’t forget you are trying to give the illusion that you are using the actual application.

Make sure any overlapping screenshots are lined up exactly over the top of each other…

The most important thing is to ensure that the transition between each screen is seamless – just like the application itself. So if your screenshots are not full screen ensure you capture them all the same size and you align them carefully in PowerPoint.

Use the correct animation styles in PowerPoint…

Most of the time, you’ll use “Appear” if any screenshots are animated over each other on a single slide. If you are showing a step that involves a drop-down menu though, you’ll probably want to animate that slide using “wipe down” to give the illusion of a menu dropping down.

Simulators can be quite big files…

You’re capturing screenshots at maximum screen size and resolution (and there may be quite a few steps) so the file size of your PP file could quite large! 20MB+ is quite common, so be aware of this if you are e-mailing these simulators to anyone.

Use Photoshop to add more realistic data…

Sometimes you can’t follow a certain example through, (maybe because the production version doesn’t fully work yet). So you can employ Photoshop to fake data into dialog boxes or onto screens where that text will be in the final version.

For mobile apps, put your screenshots inside a realistic phone bezel…

Get an image of a relevant mobile phone and cut out the screen to act as surround for your screenshots of the app you are walking people through.


If you need to talk to me about creating PowerPoint Simulators for your organisation then you can contact me here.