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The specific presentation software is (relatively) unimportant

January 13, 2011

The debate often rages between presenters over what the best presentation software on the market really is. Is it PowerPoint? is it Keynote? Could it even be the vomit inducing prezi? (no). Each product has its own loyal fan base and each fanatical group will tell you their favourite product is of course the best.

The truth it that the quality of presentations has very little to do with any specific software, and everything to do with the presenter in question and their philosophy on visuals. So go ahead, give Keynote or Prezi to someone who makes awful PowerPoint presentations and see what happens. I assure you the result will be extremely similar. Also you could give PowerPoint to someone who makes great “award winning” keynotes and they will probably still make a great set of slides.

One of Prezi's "showcase" examples, they are really breaking the mould with this "not a slide", those bullets look familiar mind you...

The software chosen to beam your visuals onto a screen is so unimportant that I am convinced that a good presentation designer could make a decent slide deck in something as rudimentary as MS Paint (in fact in the near future I’ll try this out and show you the results!), or indeed by sketching on pieces of paper and scanning them onto their computers.

The tools in each respective programme might indeed make things slightly easier to do, or not, but at the end of the day correct usage of imagery & type, consistency of colours, tone, themes and display of data can be achieved with even the most basic of computer programs.

What people forget is that your audience don’t particularly care what software is beaming an image onto the screen in front of them. They aren’t looking at a “PowerPoint” or a “Prezi” they are looking at visuals on a screen, if they are effective and help them understand the topic better, they are good visuals. If the visuals place too much emphasis on the technological capabilities of the software – such as novelty slide transitions – rather than the core material, they are bad visuals.

It’s all about the user, and the design philosophy, not the software.

*Just in case you think I am saying that all softwares are as easy to use as eachother, I am not. I know that making a presentation in MS Paint vs. Keynote would take vastly different amounts of time. I am also not claiming that the visual nicities that come with various software are 100% irrelevant, I am just saying they are 100% over relied upon, and over rated.

** I also realise that some filetypes (ppt in particular) are easier to share in corporate land, for the purposes of this post I am just talking about effectiveness as visuals, not computer compatibility

*** Thanks for reading 🙂

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 12:31 pm

    You can probably hear me screaming ‘Amen’ even from here! It’s one of the reasons I decline to do “powerpoint training” (usually) – people who want training in the software often seem to arrive with the wrong mindset, thinking that by knowing which buttons to push, faster, they’ll make better presentations. No, they’ll make bad presentations, faster.

    That said, some software *is* better than others, because it’s more intuitive to use, allowing users to concentrate more on the content.

    S

  2. January 13, 2011 12:43 pm

    Yeh, I think its a matter of understanding the philosophy, and the “why”, and then implementing that with the technology.

    Thanks for the comment

  3. January 13, 2011 2:58 pm

    Right on about the fact, that your audience does not only not care, but even not get what software you use. Then again, if you do opt for visuals to be projected, why not get the most out of it. Here the authoring tools limit your creative potential in different ways. If you need animation – go Keynote. If you need advanced manipulation of shapes – go Powerpoint. If your visuals are meant to work in different distribution channels – well, from PDF to SVG to Flash you should choose whichever facilitates the transfer of information best in your given context.

  4. January 13, 2011 9:38 pm

    Hey Ed,
    You make a very good point.
    Message is the key element with the presentation. However having a right tool and using it in a right way makes the job easier.

    Best
    Rafal

  5. January 17, 2011 4:24 am

    Love the post, Ed! Garbage in is alway going to equal garbage out – regardless of which tool is processing the data in the middle.

    It’s funny you mentioned “indeed by sketching on pieces of paper and scanning them onto their computers.” I recently did exactly that for my employer recently and it went over very well. I’m no artist, but I think seeing hand-drawn visuals in an information security presentation really made people sit up and pay attention.

    Keep up the good posts. I always enjoy reading your blog.

    Dan

  6. Johannes Bögershausen permalink
    January 24, 2011 6:40 pm

    How many speakers are really capable of crafting decent non-linear presentation? And do they need to?

    Two question that PREZI fails to answer convincingly (at least to my liking)…

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