A better PowerPoint?
October 17, 2006 4:56 PM   Subscribe

What is the best presentation software out there? I use PowerPoint on a weekly basis right now and I would like to "up" my game with better video and sound clips. Can anyone recommend an alternative.
posted by jestonb to Technology (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by jab at 4:58 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I dunno about video and sound, but if you have a Mac Keynote is hands-down the best software intended for presentations. Steve Jobs uses it for his keynotes, and Al Gore used it for his film. I like it mainly because the templates don't suck like they do in PowerPoint and it does not suggest a structure the exact opposite of what you should use, as in PowerPoint.

One way to get a better-designed and much more customizable presentation is to make the presentation in InDesign or Quark, then make it into a PDF and just page through it in Acrobat. Doesn't solve your audio/video problem, though.

A third way would be to use something like Flash or Director to make the presentation. I used to have designer friends who would do this, but obviously it presents a step learning curve.

One other thing: I've found this blog to be useful in getting presentation tips.
posted by lackutrol at 5:04 PM on October 17, 2006

On not-preview I see jab has beaten me to the punch, so to speak.
posted by lackutrol at 5:05 PM on October 17, 2006

I impressed a few people the other day with Slideshare (though they are currently in private beta). There's also Soundslides and teamslide.
posted by JPowers at 5:12 PM on October 17, 2006

Better video and sound clips? Are you looking for some sort of library of stock video/audio clips? This really doesn't seem to be a function of the presentation software itself. You might take a look at Getty Images for your stock video needs.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:15 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: I'm trying integrate some sounds and short video clips into the presentation.
posted by jestonb at 5:30 PM on October 17, 2006

Keynote is pretty slick, as has already been mentioned. Al Gore used Keynote to do his Global Warming presentations.
posted by chunking express at 5:33 PM on October 17, 2006

This doesn't directly answer your question, but one of the things I teach is business presentation, and I am compelled to mention that your presentation is not the thing on the screen, it is you and what you say and how you say it. Audio and video distract from that, and should, in my opinion, be avoided unless totally necessary.

Powerpoint handles audio and video quite well, if that's really what you want, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:34 PM on October 17, 2006

Concentrate more on the content than on the presentation. In many respects, Powerpoint has lowered the quality of presentations over the old overhead with a magic marker. Rehearse the talk, get the words perfect, leave the presentation for back-up and emphasis. Think Steve Jobs. (sorry for the derail)
posted by caddis at 5:41 PM on October 17, 2006

umm, what stavros said.
posted by caddis at 5:41 PM on October 17, 2006

I mostly agree with the wonderchicken, with the caveat that I think that video can be an absolute dynamite addition to your presentation if it directly addresses the core of your message. I do a lot of scientific talks, and the parts of my presentations that get the most attention are always the parts that incorporate videos of my science stuff. But those videos are absolutely central to my talk, and I'm talking to the audience as they play. I can't imaging showing video with sound; it would be like an invitation for the audience to stop paying attention to me.

But yeah... Are you having trouble getting video working in Powerpoint? It should be pretty straightforward, though I've has some problems with quicktime codecs on windows machines. Good instructions here.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:51 PM on October 17, 2006

If you prepare a pdf document and present it in Acrobat Reader, you can go full-screen, easily include audio and video files that you can trigger or not during your presentation, in a variety of ways. You can create page-transition effects if you want them, have roll-over graphics for before/after and other 2- or 3-state illustrations, active links to other file types, pdfs, or URLs, and even bring in 3D objects that you can rotate with your mouse, if you buy the latest 3D version of Acrobat...which is around $1000, I think. All the other features are easy to create in the standard version.
posted by dpcoffin at 5:59 PM on October 17, 2006

Here's a pretty good list of presentation apps; dunno how old it is.

makes some interesting multimedia products...but I go for the InDesign/pdf idea personally.
posted by dpcoffin at 6:10 PM on October 17, 2006

I can't believe I'm about to do this, but here's my secret to PowerPoint success. Every time I present a deck using this software, I blow everyone out of their seats.

I know, this sounds like a shill response, but I won't make a buck from telling you: Go check out Ovation.

Hot damn, it sets PowerPoint on fire.
posted by Merdryn at 8:29 PM on October 17, 2006

Echoing Stavros here. 90% of the presentations I have seen are bad because the speaker doesn't understand how to do a presentation. Things like turning away from the audience to face the screen (when the exact same information is right in front of him/her on the freaking laptop!). Annoying as hell, distracting, and talk about building a wall between oneself and the audience!

Other issues - insane amounts of text, incredible overuse of text animation effects, awful choices for color schemes. PowerPoint templates for some reason like to fill half the available screen space with background images and color gradients. I use a plain black-and-white format (white text on black background, mostly) with a single sans-serif font and no unnecessary images (info only, no decorative ones). If it looks boring, that's fine - you are the center of attention, the slides are just there to help people follow the main points.

Some of the best presentations I've seen used full-screen pictures with no text whatsoever. You do need to be a dynamic speaker to pull it off, though.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:56 PM on October 17, 2006

I do presentations as a major part of my job, and while I agree with stavros' points, PowerPoint 2007 marks a *huge* step forward, putting it ahead of Keynote as the best presentation program available. It's much easier (well, it's *possible*) to make an attractive presentation, and much less likely you'll make common mistakes like riddling your audience with bullets.

The new version isn't officially released yet, but there is a beta version available for a few dollars today. I highly recommend it.
posted by anildash at 11:34 PM on October 17, 2006

PowerPoint doesn't have to look like PowerPoint. Find a designer who'll help you pick the right fonts & colours, strip out clutter, improve consistency, etc. Read sites like Presentation Zen.

Yes, alternatives like Keynote are wonderfully slick, but it's all about good design, good content and good presenting skills rather than ready-made gimmicks.
posted by malevolent at 11:52 PM on October 17, 2006

I am surprised to hear Anil Dash advocate for PowerPoint. I also don't know anything at all about the version he's suggesting, so I am prepared to be convinced. Does it address Tufte's complaints? Does it refrain from suggesting many levels of bullet points, a bunch of clip art, and transition animations? If so, where do I sign up?

Anil, you know that those of us who care about design gave up on PowerPoint a long time ago, so tell us more about what this version offers, please.
posted by lackutrol at 12:00 AM on October 18, 2006

On re-read, what I wrote sounds harsh. I just mean that most of us have not tried this new PowerPoint and may be skeptical of its prowess, considering how it has usually sucked. I'd love to see a great new piece of presentation software, from Redmond or anywhere else.
posted by lackutrol at 12:09 AM on October 18, 2006

Does it address Tufte's complaints? Does it refrain from suggesting many levels of bullet points, a bunch of clip art, and transition animations? If so, where do I sign up?

Just because it suggests it, it doesn't mean you have to go with it. I heartily second malevolent's suggestion about reading Presentation Zen and other presentation-based sites. You can build stunningly effective presentations in PowerPoint just by really concentrating on the message you're trying to give rather than bells and whistles.

But, other than that, get a Mac and use Keynote. It rocks.
posted by TheDonF at 4:15 AM on October 18, 2006

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