Looking Beyond PowerPoint: Three Presentation Alternatives

BY Brendan Conley STAFF CONTRIBUTOR

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Microsoft’s PowerPoint is nearly synonymous with digital presentations. However, just because it is the industry leader does not mean that it is the only option, or the best one. Other brands of presentation software are winning users over, for two main reasons: because they are free, or because they offer better features.

The Free PowerPoint Clones:

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LibreOffice Impress & Kingsoft Presentation Free

Much of the success of PowerPoint is attributable to Microsoft’s strategy of establishing itself as the standard. Microsoft Word is the default word processing program, Excel is the standard spreadsheet tool, and PowerPoint also comes with the Microsoft Office suite, so that is as far as some users get in the decision-making process. LibreOffice, like OpenOffice before it, is a free, open source software suite that seeks to provide an alternative to Microsoft Office by mimicking everything about it and making it available for free.

Just as Microsoft Word users find LibreOffice Writer easy to use, any PowerPoint user will be able to smoothly dive into using Impress. Impress users can also open and modify PowerPoint slides and save slides in PowerPoint format in order to easily share them with PowerPoint users. However, just as with transitions between Word and Writer, the more complicated the formatting, the more likely minor glitches will occur when a slide is opened in a different program.

The main draw of Impress, like LibreOffice as a whole, is that it replicates the functionality of the Microsoft product in a program that is free to use and nonproprietary. However, Impress has a few capabilities that go beyond what PowerPoint offers, including its templates and design wizard.

Referring to its open source nature, LibreOffice says it is “free, as in freedom, now and forever.” It is also free of charge.

Also in the very-similar-to-PowerPoint-but-free category is Kingsoft Presentation Free, part of the Kingsoft Office suite, which has kept pace with Microsoft Office, becoming the standard in China and a worthy competitor elsewhere.

PowerPoint users will find Presentation easy to use. Two interfaces are available, one that closely mimics Microsoft’s current ribbon-style menu, and another that is closer to previous versions of PowerPoint. Either way, Presentation is easy to learn and visually attractive. The interface has one advantage over PowerPoint: the use of tabs, which makes switching between different open presentations much easier.

As its name makes clear, Kingsoft Presentation Free is available at no cost. Kingsoft Presentation Professional has additional features and is available for about $30.

Beyond the PowerPoint Model: Prezi

The options described above are adequate free PowerPoint clones, and they solve the problem of wanting to use a tool like PowerPoint but either hoping to avoid the cost or (in the case of Impress) not wishing to use proprietary software. But what if the goal instead is to avoid the deathly boring nature of many PowerPoint presentations?

It is worth noting that PowerPoint’s basic presentation model, the slideshow, is a format that was limited by then-available technology and that lent itself to some very boring presentations. Audiences’ dread of PowerPoint may stem from the collective memory of being trapped in a dark room, watching a seemingly endless series of friends’ vacation photos. Prezi defenestrates this model.

Prezi offers presenters a number of visually appealing, ready-made templates, each of which shows a “big picture” image of what will be presented, and then enables the presenter to zoom in on different elements in turn. The Mission to Mars template shows an astronaut’s path from Earth to Mars. Each stop along the way is a frame that the presenter can zoom in on, to display the usual information contained in a slide, such as a headline, text, images and videos. The presenter can zoom out to the big picture at any time, or move to the next frame. All of the movements are accomplished in
eye-pleasing animation.

Other templates include Headline, which presents the front page of a newspaper, allowing the presenter to zoom in on articles and photos, and From Roots to Results, which pictures a tree, with frames for input elements such as soil and water and others for results elements such as fruits and flowers. The various templates allow a presenter to tailor the visual aid to the content of the presentation. Some presentations are about a step-by-step process, while others concern input and output, or need a more open structure.

Prezi’s style and choice of formats is a major leap forward in visual aids. The “big picture” at the beginning allows audiences to connect with the presentation as a whole, creating an eagerness to get to Mars or see what fruit the tree will bear. The eye-pleasing graphics and animated zooming from slide to slide are a huge improvement on typical PowerPoint presentations, with their bland, corporate look and cheesy slide transitions.

Prezi is a cloud-based service, so one creates a presentation within a web browser. Prezi’s simple interface allows one to do a quick Google image search and then simply drag images into frames. Old PowerPoint slides can also be imported, making them zoomable in Prezi’s animation. A presentation can be downloaded as a zip file, so Internet access is not required when making
the presentation.

Prezi has a subscription-based pricing model. The basic service is free, and presentations under this license are shared with the public and include an unobtrusive Prezi logo. A payment of $59 per year allows private presentations and replacing Prezi’s logo with one’s own. A $159 annual payment adds the capability of editing presentations offline.[/s2If]

Brendan Conley

Brendan Conley is a staff contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and legal content developer for law firms throughout the United States.

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