Which presentation software should you be using?

When it comes to building a successful business, one of the foundational sales tools that nearly every company needs is presentation materials. Whether they’re being used to showcase a portfolio or to secure a vital investment round, your presentation is the core tool you (and your sales team) will use most often to introduce your company to a potential client or investor, and an important extension of your brand. Now, think back on some of the presentations you’ve seen in the past. How many of them impressed you? How many of them made your eyes bleed? And how did those experiences alter your perception of the company that was giving the presentation?

Making the right choices in your brand presentation is the first step to successful value storytelling, and the first choice you have to make is which software you’ll use for your deck. There are currently three platforms vying for top spot in the presentation software marketplace right now: Microsoft’s PowerPoint, Apple’s Keynote, and Prezi, the newest of the three in the presentation game. Although they’ve each got their own unique merits, every business has different needs, and perhaps the software you’ve been using isn’t the right fit for your organization. Let’s dive right in to the pros and cons of each solution, and hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll either feel really excellent about your current deck platform, or at least be armed with the knowledge of how to refresh your materials to best support your business.

PowerPoint:

Ah, good old PowerPoint. It’s like the pleated khaki pants of the presentation software world. Anyone can wear them and look halfway decent, but it can be really hard to look sexy in them. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had to use PowerPoint sometime in your career. Microsoft’s answer to presentations have been around since the early 90s, and while its platform agnosticism, ease of use, and bundling with the omnipresent Office suite have made it the most popular platform for like, ever, it’s facing some pretty stiff competition these days.

Pros:

Everyone uses PowerPoint

Well, nearly everybody. Anyone who is running a Windows machine probably uses Microsoft Office, and so do 77% of Mac users. With a .ppt, you’re pretty much guaranteed your presentations will work exactly the way you’d like, whichever computer you may be on.

It’s fairly easy to learn

PowerPoint is an extremely powerful piece of software, which can be manipulated to serve the needs of advanced users, but most advanced users will agree that the Microsoft team have designed the application primarily to suit the beginner’s needs. For the average user’s needs, the  learning curve is quick, and even a greenhorn can yield a high volume of basic material in virtually no time.

Cons:

Designs can get boring

PowerPoint comes with a variety of pre-loaded templates to help users create clean, designed presentations. However, the fact that virtually everyone uses PowerPoint, coupled with the fact that Microsoft hasn’t been very quick to release updated template selections over the years, means everyone else is using those same templates too. YAWN. Also, they aren’t very exciting templates to begin with. To solve for this, you can get into designing your own custom templates and themes, but it’ll take more of your time and resources.

“PowerPoint Hell”: Diaries to the Devil

Wikipedia defines “PowerPoint Hell” as long, tedious PowerPoint presentations that bore the audience. With the majority of PowerPoint users coming from a non-design background, and with the templates designed the way they are, it’s incredibly easy for someone to fill a slide with long paragraphs of text that ironically tell zero story. Text-heavy slides not only cause audiences to glaze over, they also tempt presenters to read from the slide instead of present. Double fail. Bonus fail points if the slide is not only all text, but all text in Comic Sans.

Expensive

PowerPoint is currently $109.99 by itself. Now, I wouldn’t say that’s inherently too much to invest in a presentation software, considering the utility of the product, but it is pricier than the other options we’re reviewing. Multiply that price tag by how many copies of PowerPoint you need for your team, and you could be looking into a very expensive investment.

Keynote:

In short, Keynote is Apple’s answer to PowerPoint. Keeping with our pants analogy, it would be a pair of dark wash, fitted designer jeans. Universally flattering, slightly elitist, and versatile enough to be dressed up or down depending on your mood. If you’ve watched a video of a Steve Jobs presentation within the last ten years, you’ve seen Keynote at work. Keynote was first sold publicly in 2003, which makes it younger than Microsoft’s PowerPoint, but that doesn’t make it any less useful.

Pros:

It’s naturally prettier

The templates and themes that Apple Keynote offers are incrementally more beautiful than PowerPoint. Throwing in the fact that a comparatively smaller number of presentations were built on Keynote, your Keynote may standout in a roomful of PowerPoints, even if you use one of the standard templates.

It’s cheaper

Much cheaper. If your Mac was purchased on or after October 1, 2013 Keynote is completely free. If you don’t qualify for a free copy, it’s only $20, which is almost six times cheaper than Microsoft’s alternative.

It’s mobile-friendly

Keynote also offers a version of the software for use across Apple’s mobile platforms like the iPad, which means you can edit and present on the fly.

It’s flexible

Keynote supports full images, vector graphics, movie files and audio files without forcing them through a compression action within the software. This means that whatever assets you drop into the Keynote will retain their full quality, which is essential to designers working with EPS files, for example. Video files are automatically embedded, and travel with the deck when you email it without any additional effort required by the user. After years of struggling to help salespeople learn how to keep the video asset links from “breaking” when sending PowerPoints, Keynote’s ability to hold on to everything you drop into it is life altering in the best possible way.

Cons:

Mac Only

Unlike PowerPoint, which can be used on both Justin Longs and John Hodgmans, Keynote is only available to Macs. If you’re on a PC, Keynote is immediately out of the running, at least for now. Major bummer.

Compatibility

When you build a presentation on Keynote, there are options to convert your file into something that can work with PowerPoint. You can also open a native PowerPoint file in Keynote. However, you can’t open a Keynote in PowerPoint (hmmm, maybe this is actually another “con” for PowerPoint). However, even though Keynote will do its best to translate your work to and from its rival software, it usually won’t come out perfectly on the other end. Certain animations won’t work, certain themes won’t come into play – it’s better than nothing, but frustrating nonetheless.

Viewability

It can be a headache to bring a Keynote to a conference or sales pitch when the entire world is using PowerPoint. Unless you’re able to run the presentation on your own machine, all bets are off. Funny things can happen with the projector setup between Macs and PCs too, so if you do choose to ride valiantly into the Keynote sunset at a conference, be prepared to become best buds with the AV guy. You could export your presentation as a PDF, but you’ll be stuck with a mostly static presentation without animations or transitions. It almost defeats the purpose of using Keynote all together.

Prezi:

Prezi is the newest of the three presentation applications we’ll discuss here, and it’s markedly different than the other two both in format and capabilities. Rounding off our wardrobe of deck software, it’s a pair of sleek track pants made of flexible high tech material and can be zipped apart on a whim to be worn as shorts or pants. Prezi has gained quite a loyal and dedicated following since its launch in 2009, especially among college students and adventurous startups.

Pros:

Format and Slide transitions

The experience of building, presenting, and viewing a Prezi is completely different from interacting with Apple and Microsoft’s products. Prezi breaks the linear format that forces the other two programs into a sequential slide organization, and instead introduces top-down view of your entire presentation. Every piece of content in Prezi lives within a single “universe” rather than as individual slides. Although users can dictate a recommended sequence of content, at any moment during a presentation, you can pull back out to the universal view and seamlessly transition to a different piece of content without breaking the flow of the experience. This is most useful for moments when a presenter needs to adjust the sequence of the story during a presentation, such as when an audience member asks a question that can be answered with a simple leap to another slide, or if a presenter wants to edit down and skip over certain sections of a deck without having to create multiple versions of the master deck. In addition to the in-presentation flexibility, the transition between content within Prezi is rich, allowing for pans, zooms, and layered 3D dive effects.

Cloud Service + Desktop Version

Prezi is cloud-based, so everything you create is stored on Prezi’s server. This means you can access and edit your presentations whenever you have access to the Internet, from any computer. For a small fee, Prezi also offers a desktop editor, which allows users to store and edit files when offline as well. As a designer, one of the major perks of Prezi files living in the cloud is that it eliminates problems such as missing linked files, plus it makes version control super simple – if you’re editing a deck in the cloud that a large sales force relies on, the latest version will always be the only one they see, whenever they log in.

Platform-agnostic

Prezi works across both Mac and PC platforms.

Templates

Prezi offers a variety of free templates to help users take advantage of its capabilities, and make your slides stand out against the competition. The templates offer a clean, airy Web 2.0 feel, but can also be customized to support any aesthetic.

It’s basically free

o   Prezi offers a basic service at no charge, which is enough to serve the bulk of an average user’s presentation needs. They also offer a slew of other features that can be unlocked with a monthly fee. If you’re looking to cut costs, or simply want to experiment with Prezi as an alternative to your existing materials, it’s hard to argue with a price tag of $0.

o   While Apple and Microsoft offer some cloud-based services for their respective suites, they’re less intuitive and trickier to navigate. 

Cons:

Needs an internet connection

On Prezi’s free service, you can only edit and present your presentations on their website, which means you’ll need access to the Internet. If you’re supporting multiple users who may not have internet access when presenting, you’ll have to pay the upgrade fee for each person who requires offline access.

Uses a lot of computer memory

Because the animations and transitions on Prezi are heavier than those of Keynote and PowerPoint, you may run into frame rate issues when you’re presenting your work. Every now and then, I’ll notice a lag and frame rate stuttering, which can be distracting to your viewers.

It’s a new-school solution in an old-school world

o   Prezi is the newest application, which makes it fresh and exciting, but it also needs more time to develop and stick in the marketplace. If you have the type of clients who always want a “leave behind” printout or a digital file of the deck, you may run into frustrations with Prezi, especially if the client wants to repurpose material from your Prezi into their PowerPoint.

The winner? Well, that depends. From a creative standpoint, I’m most excited by Prezi because of its technical flexibility and richness of experience, but I actively use all three platforms (some more begrudgingly than others). When choosing a core presentation platform, there are many pieces to consider: your most common use case, your hardware, the resources you can afford to build and maintain materials, client needs, and importance of design flexibility vs. ease of use/familiarity. Ultimately, keep in mind the story you wish to tell, and choose the software that best supports that experience. It’s always going to be your content that matters the most, but making sure it’s well dressed is difference between making a presentation and making an impact.

 

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