19 May 2014

PowerPoint vs. Keynote: A Useless War

There are two kinds of people in the world: PowerPoint users and Keynote users. Both would never compromise on the software they use to make a presentation and both share the same idea, that the presentation tool makes a difference. This article wants to answer a simple question: which of the two applications is better?

The answer is it doesn’t matter which presentation tool you use. What matters is the approach you follow. You can make great presentations both with PowerPoint and Keynote. Personally, I think Keynote is superior in that it is more elegant, simple and user-friendly. It offers you only what you need and forgets about the fluff. I’m particularly happy with the positioning lines—which help you automatically place objects in the correct position—as well as with the various options for creating shadows, which are particularly useful when you need to make text stand out clearly above another element, like an image. On the other hand, the business market is dominated by PowerPoint, so if you use Keynote you might have compatibility issues. 
Above all, what really matters is the story you communicate. If the story is working, the audience won’t even be aware of the tool you are using. But if the tool gets more attention than your message, there might be a problem with your message, or with the way it is communicated. Yes you need great visuals which support your point, but the story comes first. If the story is not working, no astonishing visuals will be able to make it work. As they say in Hollywood, “the Story is King”.
A thought on Prezi
If you ended up reading this article, you have probably heard about Prezi. Prezi is another presentation tool which was born to replace the ordinary slide based presentations. In addition to the typical features all slideware apps share, Prezi allows you to zoom in and out and pan around. When it was first released a few years ago people started sharing the good news as if it was a revolution in the industry. I admit I never fell in love with it because I don’t think it improves on clarity. It doesn’t bring the speaker closer to the audience, nor the audience closer to the speaker. It doesn’t help to communicate a story more effectively. 
Prezi lovers say the main drawback of traditional slide based presentations is that you can’t jump from slide one to three without showing slide two first. My answer is that if you prepare your presentation carefully, then the position of the slides is not random. Slide three comes after slide two because that is how your story goes and there is no need to skip anything. The only situation I can think of where Prezi can be useful is a lecture, especially long lectures. I understand a professor who needs to jump from one point to another, or to go back to a particular topic if a student asks a question. In these cases yes, Prezi could be useful. Even though, the old whiteboard would still be better.
The power of a story
In a 2007 Wall Street Journal interview, Steve Jobs talking about Pixar, movies and storytelling said: “No amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story”. I believe movies and presentations have a lot in common. Their success depends on one core element: storytelling. A movie (or a presentation) without a story is like the sky without stars. No presentation tool will turn a bad story into a good story.

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