Presentations are one of the most powerful communication mediums because the spoken word allows us to make very deep and human connections with others. If you think about it, it’s hard to point to a movement that wasn’t significantly helped by the spoken word.

And while the best practices put forward by Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero still ring true, there have been significant changes in the realm of oration. New best-practices that have emerged to help us not only speak well, but visualize our information and communicate persuasively through story.

There’s such an appetite for presentation skills that publishers are pursuing authors who claim to know anything about presentations. Within organizations, small bands of revolutionaries are rising up and advocating for a new level of story and visual literacy among their peers. And these types of movements are bringing in results. Organizations that are committed to becoming a visual storytelling culture and that value design systemically are performing 228% better than those who don’t.

The technology behind giving a presentation has played a fundamental role in how we communicate, as well. There are more applications available for supporting presentations than ever before. One tool won’t fill every need, though. So, before you launch into your next presentation, decide which tool you should use to influence your audience. Below are guidelines for determining which tools and formats will best suit your needs.

Presentation Content Density

Presentations are one of the best vehicles you can use for spreading your ideas, but they aren’t the only vehicle. Many people make the mistake of creating really dense slides, then reading them to their audience. Often times, the thinking is, “All this information is really important, and people won’t read it if I give it to them in a document.”

It’s true that a lot of very valuable information gets trapped in really dense documents that nobody reads. This happens a lot in financial, scientific, and other highly technical material. Still, if you’re presenting in person, you need to create a tight, inspirational talk about your findings supported by cinematic slides. But that doesn’t mean get rid of your detailed information—or even take it out of PowerPoint.

Presentation software

Presentation software is also the layman’s tool for creating visual documents that people gobble up and pass on to others. The medium is called a slidedoc, and you can distribute them as a pre-read before your talk, reference material during your talk, or follow-up material afterward. Even TED subscribes to the idea of saving the details for people to read on their own. TED.com recently added a new feature where research and citations are connected with talks.

So, next time you have a lot of information you have to communicate, make sure you use the right tool for your information. Use presentations to give high level overviews of your topic and slidedocs to clearly communicate your details.

Container Metaphor

Prezi is a new-ish product that displays content on a mural surface and navigates through that content by focusing on one piece of the mural at a time. Born out of people’s frustration with PowerPoint, Prezi’s ability to pan, spin, and zoom created novelty in a space that hadn’t seen much innovation. The low price point has helped it get traction in education, but businesses have been slower to adopt it.

With Prezi, the “camera” moves from one bit of information to the next, whereas with traditional presentation software, the actors on the stage (animated objects) move, not the camera. All that twirling and flying through space can make the audience motion sick if you’re not careful. Visuals are less distracting if they are fed to an audience linearly so they know how to expect their information. So, you should move content into Prezi if your content is amplified by traversing through a spatial metaphor.

Distribution Methods

Getting your presentation into the hands of a lot of people or the right people can be life changing for you or your company. Getting a talk on TED.com would be the ideal distribution method but, hey, that’s a rarity. There are other ways to spread the word about your idea. SlideShare is like YouTube but for presentations. You can spread your presentation through SlideShare by sharing a link to it or embedding it into blogs and articles just as you would do with a video. It’s a great lead-generation tool that can track users who may want more information from you.

Most of the presentations on SlideShare are slidedocs, but the ones with high viewership tend to be more like children’s books with few words and big pictures where you rapidly click through concepts. The downsides are that the slides don’t animate and links between slides break once you load your presentation onto the platform.

Brainshark, on the other hand, offers a robust presentation app. Their tool, Slideshark, retains your cinematic animations, supports linking between slides, and jumps to URLs beautifully. They also have a detailed analytics system that can even tell you who watched your talk and how much of it they watched.

Then, there are disruptive upstarts like Flowboard. Flowboard’s expertise is in publishing and distributing interactive presentations that are made for iPads, but can be viewed on any device through their web player. It will be an interesting one to watch as PowerPoint wrestles its way into the cloud.

So, the presentation space is booming. New technologies and small agencies are springing up all over the world creating new jobs. Corporations are adding storytelling as a core-competency for their long-term success. And presentation software is becoming the de facto publishing tool for non-designers everywhere. With so many options out there, it’s a great time to share your ideas. Just make sure you’re using the right medium for your message.

The following chart gives a summary of some of the most popular tools and features in the industry. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and many new technologies are vying for a top spot, including OpenOffice, ClearSlide, HaikuDeck, reveal.js, and more. Let me know what trends and tools you’re seeing in the comments!

presentation software comparison grid

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