If you are working on a PC, you are pretty much stuck with a few choices. PowerPoint is the best known of presentation apps on Windows, unfortunately it is also one of the worst to work with.
If you are using a Mac, you have more and better options. In terms of simplicity, intuitive experience, elegance and price, your best choice may be Keynote ($19.99), but it is not your only one. With both operating systems you can also use Web tools, by the way. These tools are not all on the same level of desktop apps, but some are doing a pretty decent job. Your mileage may vary. Here are a few tips to improve your results:
Considering The Purpose of Your Presentation
There are various types of presentations: those you hold in front of an audience, those that are sent to recipients and read in silence, those that are like movies, linear and self playing. And some use presentation apps to moderate workshops, or to deliver printed booklets.
The main problems people have with creating presentation documents result out of forgetting what the main purpose of their presentation is.
If it is held in front of an audience, forget long texts. Don’t create charts with tons of information on a single slide. In fact, forget the slide paradigm. You won’t need pagination. You won’t need text to read. You will need keywords and hooks for you to present. You will need images to capture and keep the attention of your audience. But most of it all, you need to prepare it well in your mind and use presenter notes thoughtfully.
Self Playing Presentations
If your audience is in front of a screen, projector image or TV and you cannot hold a live presentation, your document needs to be self explanatory. Again, forget about page numbers and slide paradigm. Think in chapters and scenes, like a movie. You are guiding your audience purely through story telling. The presentation needs to have a strong thread that works with dramatic highlights.
Of course it is possible (and sometimes your best option) to turn a live presentation into a self playing presentation, by letting it run through and doing a voice over. But in this case your narration needs a lot of work. Unlike with a live presentation, you cannot rely on your facial expression, hand movements pointing things out, and you should avoid anecdotes or distracting comments. Your presentation needs to work by itself, just like a film.
Audience Guided Presentations
If you create a file you are going to put online (like with Slideshare) or send to an audience by e-mail (please use links instead of sending large PowerPoint files), your presentation may become the trickiest to create. Because now you don’t have the advantage of a stage. Your presentation is most likely a PDF or Web page. Your options to add media elements, such as sound effects, animation and music, are limited (or non existent with regular PDFs).
Don’t Send It, Share It
Sending PowerPoint files by e-mail has become a phenomenon that bulks e-mail inboxes worldwide. It is the worst of all habits in daily business. Requesting a PowerPoint file often results in multiple iterations of the same file, spread throughout inboxes of various recipients. And each of these files is more than 5 to 15 MB – way too big to send by e-mail in the first place.
Another problem are layout and fonts. If you did not stick with the fonts Arial, Georgia or Times, chances are high that your audience will not get the same experience you created. Fonts are replaced, look ugly and destroy your layout.
Sending a PowerPoint file is really the worst thing you can do.
A lot of people use PowerPoint, mostly for one of five reasons:
- They think it’s a standard, which it is not
- They think everyone has it, which is not the case
- They think it works best, which it does not
- They think it’s the only option if you want to collaborate with people who use PCs or Macs, and of course that is not true
- It is the only option they are aware of
Luckily, we don’t have 1999 anymore. There are more and better options out there than PowerPoint. Especially when you want to create a document that you can share with people and collaborate with them.
Google Docs and Alternatives
One of your best choices are Google Docs Presentations. Google offers a relatively powerful presentation tool that is based on Web standards. The advantage is, Google Docs presentations work on every PC, Mac, Linux or Unix computer that can access the Web. The second advantage is, you collaborate with the people you invited in real time. So notes can be added and become instantly visible to all viewers. Changes of content through editors are no problem. Best of it all: there is no large file you have to send around. A simple link in an e-mail will always show the latest version of your presentation.
Google Docs is well established, mostly because of the widespread use of Gmail, which is considered the best Web mail solution out there. Especially regarding spam filtering, Gmail is unbeatable. It is such a strong feature, that many companies, even large networks, are switching their mail servers to Google.
There are a number of free alternatives available. Some of them have a limited set of features, depending on the pricing plan. But even with basic features, they help you get the job done. Here are some of these services:
Saving, Converting and Exporting
The greatest advantage of a file that is in the cloud is, it does not take up space on your local hard drive. It keeps the e-mail inboxes of your audience light and happy. It allows instant changes, visible to everyone involved. But that all does not mean you are stuck with a document in the cloud. You can export and save your document in various formats too.
Which is the best format if you actually have to send a file by e-mail, or upload it somewhere? For an answer, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is it a self playing presentation or a self guided presentation?
- Is it for collaboration or just consumption
If your presentation is just for reading on the screen, or printing, PDF is probably the best format. Although it is proprietary (An Adobe format, so it’s not a standard) it is lightweight, the format is widely spread. Because it uses PostScript, Adobe Acrobat provides best printing results, especially with your fonts of choice.
In all cases, don’t forget what your presentation is about: to convey a message, to tell a story and to convince an audience.
If you want to learn more about the topic, check out Presentation Zen, a blog dedicated to improve presentations.