Remember when a "multimedia" show meant having three to 12 slide projectors, a cassette recorder, and maybe a 16mm film projector? If you got fancy, you might have fog, three side-by-side screens, and some dissolve units. Remember the sky-high production costs, wires everywhere, spare lamps, backup tapes, spilled slide trays, noisy fans, clickety-clack projectors, wobbly platforms, and melted slides? Those were the days.

Let's look at what has been happening in the past 20 years or so. The three side-by-side projection screens merged, becoming one wide screen. Slide production became an art form, and specialized creative services producers emerged. Sophisticated effects were added. Random-access slide projectors allowed several different presentation programs to be run on the same setup.

Slide Evolution Where did the slides come from? Early on, they were created by artists with sophisticated graphics computer programs. However, with the advent of the personal computer, presenters and their assistants and creative services departments created the slides using Harvard Graphics, the first popular slide creation tool. These slides were rather basic, with bullet points and maybe a simple graphic, but the simplicity enhanced their effectiveness. The computer files were transferred to an imaging camera; after photographic development, the slides were ready.

Then, with the advent of brighter and more affordable CRT projectors, slide shows were converted to video and laser discs for many reasons: ease of setup, reliability, the ability to mix still and moving images, and easy duplication and distribution. Still, the process required the expertise of producers, creative services, and post-production experts.

As quality, brightness, and resolution improved even further, the same CRT projectors were equipped to accept computer display images. And then came Microsoft's PowerPoint, the first popular computer application that could not only create slides, but also work as a presentation tool. Presenters no longer depended on the producer or the production house. They could create their presentation and make last-minute changes. Life was good!

Changes in the Wind Where is this path leading? Presentations moved from triple screens to a single screen; from creative services producers to do-it-yourself; from truckloads of equipment to carry-on. Pretty neat, yes? Well, several significant changes are in the wind.

First, as the resolution of laptop displays increases, the ability to put too much information on the screen also increases. Brighter projectors accommodate larger screens with more data. The limits to what people can absorb (which we used to rely on the creative services experts to consider) are being ignored. Second, DVDs, digital video, and HDTV are rapidly making headway in home markets and are slowly moving into the business markets. So the standard 3:4 aspect ratio display screen is "stretching" to 9:16. Do you see the trend?

Third, PowerPoint 98 has introduced the ability to ... guess what? Have multiple screens! Yes, folks, we're back where we started! Up to eight independent screen images can now be triggered by the click of a mouse. Of course, that also means more computers, projectors, screens, and cables, and less reliability, more complexity, and more opportunity for dabblers to overload the audience.

Consider the impact on meeting planners and facilities, budgets, room layouts, sight lines. Perhaps it's time to consider using a creative services producer once again. Maybe he'll show up wearing a Nehru jacket.