To PowerPoint or Not? Designing Your Next Presentation

Love it or hate it, you’ve likely been on both ends of one on more than a few occasions. And if your business is communications, it’s all but assured that Microsoft PowerPoint presentations have been—and will continue to be— a part of doing business for the foreseeable future.

After Microsoft acquired it in 1987 and began bundling it as part of its Office suite in 1990, Robert Gaskins’ PowerPoint became the de facto standard for presentation software, today commanding a 95 percent market share.

So how have two of its newest competitors managed to build any clout against this Goliath?

In a word: mobility.

Prezi and SlideRocket are cloud-based presentation tools designed to take full advantage of centralized computing—every presentation you create and edit is stored on the vendors’ server and is accessible by Web browser or mobile application, given a broadband connection. Both platforms feature presentation sharing (Prezi adds real-time online collaboration), optional tools to build and store presentations offline and the ability to import PowerPoint slides.

But that’s about where the similarities end.

Prezi uses a virtual “whiteboard” interface to order and present information in 3D. As with a video camera, you can pan, zoom, tilt and rotate text, images, video and other media along this space to create dynamic, nonlinear presentations that can visually convey scale and depth among objects. 

Prezi Blog

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On the other hand, SlideRocket retains PowerPoint’s familiar slide presentation format but adds significantly more versatility with the ability to integrate Web content such as live Twitter feeds, Yahoo! Finance stock quotes, Flickr photos and YouTube videos via plugins. Additionally, SlideRocket includes an analytics tool to measure presentation effectiveness and viewer behavior.


 Slide Rocket Blog

Screen capture from

Does this render PowerPoint the minivan of presentation programs? Not necessarily.

Collaborative real-time presenting and editing are now possible with Microsoft PowerPoint2013, thanks to the full integration of SkyDrive and Lync, Microsoft’s cloud-based file hosting service and real-time communications tool. Like Prezi and SlideRocket, PowerPoint 2013 also offers smartphone and tablet functionality, unsurprisingly limited to Windows touchscreen devices.

Though PowerPoint loyalists may rejoice at the improved design and presenter tools, cleaner interface, and increased audio and video support, most will likely find this new version to be PowerPoint as it’s essentially always been—traditional and familiar though arguably passé and inevitable.

But safe may not be a bad thing. For all the convenience, Prezi and SlideRocket are not without drawbacks. Consider one potential cost of cloud-based mobility: Unless you pay for offline storage, you risk losing work and access to presentations with unreliable Internet connections, to say nothing of Prezi’s own tendency to crash when accessed on the Web during a live presentation. 

Other common complaints include Prezi’s steep learning curve and the tendency of its zooming interface to induce vertigo among audiences. Though familiar and less prone to crashes, SlideRocket demands higher system requirements to handle its feature-laden add-ons, not to mention frequent saving as a reported nuisance.

Whatever your choice of software, remember that no amount of cutting-edge visual cleverness will save a poorly executed presentation that fails to address basic principles of communication and audience psychology. Even if your slides pass muster, how compelling is your story—because that’s what it is: a story—if you were to tell it outside of a conference room?

As Jon Steel avows in “Perfect Pitch,” the most “focused, passionate, and inspiring presentation” he ever experienced in more than 20 years in the advertising business came from Steve Jobs—the man Forbes magazine called “The Ultimate Communicator”—who used nothing more than a dry-erase board and marker.

If you’d like to learn more about making a powerful presentation from Pierpont’s public speaking expert, Sally Ramsay, click here

What was the most persuasive presentation you’ve seen? What tools and techniques did you think were particularly effective about the presentation?