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How to Make a Better Presentation Without PowerPoint

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This post is part of a series called Presentation Fundamentals.
How to Add Videos to Your PowerPoint Presentations
The Keynote Advantage

Do you have to put together a presentation soon? It probably isn't your first. You know the drill: fire up PowerPoint, or Keynote, create some slides, try some new fonts, maybe play with a new template. And yet, you're still feeling unenthused. You want something new, something different.

Maybe you're putting together the monthly sales report, and you're presenting it to your bosses yet again. Or maybe you're pitching something to a brand new client and you're looking to make an impact. You know they've heard other proposals, and you want yours to stand out from the rest. Or maybe, you're struggling to figure out how to get a PowerPoint presentation to look nice in the first place.

We've already looked at the absolute basics of making a presentation, and seen how you can make a presentation in any app. But perhaps you want more. In that case, you need the "anti-PowerPoints": the newest apps with novel approaches to presentations. We'll look at a few different types of "anti-PowerPoint" presentation apps, why you might want to use each of them, and how you'd put them to work for you.

Let's dive in!

The Original Anti-PowerPoint: Prezi

When it comes to the "anti-PowerPoints," Prezi is king. Walking that fine line between being unique yet understandable, engaging and yet still comfortable, Prezi bills itself as a "nonlinear presentation tool"—an apt description for an app that flies in the face of traditional presentations' "stack of slides" metaphor. Instead of seeing each part of your presentation as individual slides, Prezi lets you lay out your entire presentation on one canvas, and then zoom in and out to see specific points or the bigger picture. You've likely already seen nonlinear presentations during TED talks, and perhaps in infographic-style videos that put info together for a big picture at the end. It can be an effective presentation style for conveying information that goes together—or just for spicing up a traditional presentation.

If you want to make nonlinear presentation, you'll find that Prezi is a great app for it. It's simple to use, with an interface that still keeps enough of the traditional slide layout to keep you comfortable while giving you the simple tools you need to format your text and more. As a web app, you can use Prezi from any computer, and collaborate with others on the same presentation. But then, that's not so much different from Google Presentations, Keynote for iCloud, and Microsoft's PowerPoint web app.

The main differentiator, of course, is its nonlinear presentation style. That's tough to really capture with mere words, so check out the short video below to see Prezi in action, and how its nonlinear format changes the way you think about presentations:


Isn't that cool?! Prezi really is a great solution when you feel like you've seen one-too-many PowerPoint presentations. The online tools are very intuitive and easy to use, you'll be creating Prezi's in no time. It's the perfect first app to try if you want something better for your next presentation than PowerPoint.

Prezi is free for public presentation—ones that are visible to anyone who browses through Prezi's catalogue of presentations—and starts at around $5/month for private presentations, or $13/month for its native apps so you can use Prezi offline.

Do-It-Yourself Animated Videos

This is an interesting segment of the "anti-PowerPoint" market: tools to help you make those popular stop-motion animation films or hand-drawn cartoons that are so popular for advertising new apps these days. As with any filming, hand-animated videos are difficult and time-consuming to make, and require a ton of expensive equipment. That's clearly more than you want for your next presentation. But with animation apps, you can get a similar effect far cheaper, and in far less time, making them perfect for something you'd otherwise have tried to describe with a PowerPoint slide deck. Plus, animated clips have the advantage of letting you step outside of the laws of physics and reality, helping you make an idea or concept more understandable than it otherwise would have been.

Now, if you're truly wanting a full-featured animated video, you'll never have a replacement for professional animators. Each of these apps, even though billed as "professional animated tools," are essentially simplified animation tools designed just for making a simple demonstration video. That's great if that's all you need, but don't dive in thinking you'll be able to make the next Paperman in 5 minutes.

If you're wanting to make a much better presentation than PowerPoint—or Prezi—could ever allow, though, these tools are perfect. They'll let you put together a hand-drawn animated video in minutes, ready to show off your ideas better than bullet points ever could. Here's the best apps for that:

GoAnimate

In the realm of online do-it-yourself animation tools, GoAnimate is at the top of its game. Its web app makes it easy to pull their wide array of animation styles and pre-made graphics together into an animated presentation. You can easily customize those graphics as well, so your finished product will look like your very own even if it's built from stock graphics.

Beyond just the animated graphics, GoAnimate supports audio, too. You can give your characters dialog, uploading your own voice recordings—or outsourcing to professional voice actors—and those characters will automatically get built-in lip sync animations. But more than just the spoken word, GoAnimate offers a library of both music and sound effects, helping your animation really come to life. Once things are finished, you have a wide array of one-click export options to various social networks. Or if you'd prefer, you can download an HD video file for use wherever you like.

The only downside to GoAnimate is their pricing model. They have a free trial so you can test it out a bit, but then will cost between $5-$79/month, depending on whether you're using it commercially and what quality of finished videos you'd like. Their pricing plans are rather confusing, with a number of caveats on the lower-priced plans, but the app is very polished. If you're wanting to quickly make animated videos, it's a great option—and you could always opt to just pay for one month if you only need to make one video.

All in all, GoAnimate's vast catalog of built-in customizable graphics, audio support with lip sync animations, and a decent range of account prices makes it a great option if you want to animated your next presentation.

VideoScribe

VideoScribe carved out a nifty little niche for itself by letting you create those fancy "whiteboard animations" that have become a huge hit across the Web. If you aren't sure what I'm talking about, have a look at this video, produced by VideoScribe. Cool, right?

I'm a big fan of this style of animation, but it can be a costly thing to produce custom. What VideoScribe lets you do is take a whole bunch of pre-drawn, pre-animated images, put them together in a way that best suits you and the message you want to convey, and then turns the whole thing into a slick little animation. Where GoAnimate lets you make a cartoon-style video, VideoScribe gives you similar stock graphics that will be drawn on-screen during your presentation with a real hand, to give the feel of someone sketchnoting your presentation.

It's surprisingly simple to put together a VideoScribe—much like you might expect, you'll mainly drag-and-drop pre-made graphics into the storyboard, and then let the app work its own magic—and you can have something presentable worked up in a matter of minutes. This sort of video will definitely make an impact if all your audience was expecting was a humdrum PowerPoint presentation.

You'll find the standard free trial in VideoScribe, along with paid accounts that work out to around $27/month (or can pay $665 to get unlimited access to VideoScribe for life). That's right in the middle of GoAnimate's pricing, with less confusing tiers, and you've still got the option to just pay one month if you only need it for one presentation.

HTML-based Presentations with Reveal.js

Then, with the apps we've looked at so far being web apps, it's only fitting to look at the latest "anti-PowerPoint": HTML-powered presentations. As you've perhaps seen from some Google IO conference presentations, there's plenty of web features today to turn basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript into a full presentation that's essentially just an animated website. You can create your presentations in your favorite code editor, save them online in revision control tools like Git, and present them in any browser. Anything you can add to a website, you can put into an HTML presentation.

That's very cool, but it'd also typically take far longer to make presentations with raw code than it'd ever take to make a PowerPoint. But thanks to Reveal.js and its web app counterpart, Slid.es, it's as easy to make an HTML presentation as it is to make a presentation in any of the other apps we've looked at.

Reveal.js is an open-source framework for turning an HTML document into a killer presentation. It's pretty impressive—just look at this introduction presentation to get a feel for what Reveal.js is capable of—especially considering it's all done with standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It offers modern transitions, some subtly non-linear presentation features, and even a PDF export option.

If you're capable of hand-writing your own HTML code, then take a look at the documentation for Reveal.js on Github. With the help of some JavaScript code and specific tag attributes on your HTML elements, Reveal.js turns a typical HTML document into a fancy presentation, for free.

But then, everyone doesn't want to hand-code an HTML page each time they make a presentation, so that's where Slid.es comes in. It's a hosted version of Reveal.js, combined with an elegant GUI, so you can use its power to make your own slideshows with the simple tools you'd expect from any other presentations app. There's even the extra features, such as web fonts and CSS customization, that you'd expect from a web-powered presentation. And, much like with Prezi, it's free to use for public presentations, and costs $6/month for a private account and more.

Both Reveal.js and Slid.es has to offer—the former's great if you're comfortable coding your own presentation, and the latter's a perfect option if you're looking for a new, simpler presentations app that won't require any coding.

Conclusion

There you have it. We've looked at three best types of "anti-PowerPoint" apps: nonlinear presentations, animated drawn presentations, and HTML presentations. If you're looking for a tool with a different perspective, then Prezi can help breathe some life into an otherwise tired presentation. Or maybe you want to really stand-out by putting together an animated short that helps explain your point for you. If so, GoAnimate and VideoScribe are just what the doctor ordered. And finally, if the flexibility of an HTML-based presentation has you intrigued, there's Reveal.js and its web-app counterpart, Slid.es, to explore.

The next time you have to put together a presentation, instead of just reaching for the safe choice of PowerPoint or Keynote, give one of these "anti-PowerPoint" tools a try. They're your best shot to help your presentation stand out and actually get people's attention.

Resources

Graphic Credit: Presentation icon designed by Alexander Bickov from the Noun Project. Projector icon designed by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project.

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