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Beyond PowerPoint
While PowerPoint is the grand daddy, Apple's Keynote and eRain's Standout do more By Matthew David

It is hard to imagine going into a presentation and not seeing a PowerPoint slide show. The problem with PowerPoint is that it has not really evolved much in the last 20 years. In this article you will learn about new approaches you can use for presentations that will take you beyond PowerPoint.

Stuck in the PowerPoint rut
PowerPoint was released in 1987 as a Macintosh solution by a company called ForeThought (later purchased by Microsoft in 1988). The concept was simple: generate a digital slide show that eliminates the need for an overhead projector.

The solution took hold and a new action word was added to our business language "to do a PowerPoint."

The problem with PowerPoint is that many presentations look the same now as they did 20 years ago - the presentation is linear, moves from screen to screen, and has little engagement with the audience. Essentially we have become stuck in a PowerPoint rut.

Breaking free of the conventions of PowerPoint
You can break free of the typical conventions you see in many PowerPoint presentations. The first step to achieving this goal is upgrading to Microsoft's Office 2007. A goal established by Microsoft for Office 2007 is to make all functions easily available. This includes all of the cool features that have been hidden in PowerPoint over the last few releases. The new "Ribbon" interface across the top of PowerPoint is the tool Microsoft is using to expose all of the new and previously hard-to-find features. 

Tools, such as Themes, Animation and Effects, that have been available as part of PowerPoint for many releases, but hidden in the program, are now immediately accessible.

Microsoft did add some new features in the Office 2007 edition to further extend the functionality of PowerPoint. A new interesting solution is the capability to convert bullet point lists to art, a feature called SmartArt. For instance, instead of a having the following list:

  • Operating
  • Supporting
  • Optimizing
  • Changing

You can now convert this list into SmartArt to show the solution as a workflow.

A visual concept can be more immediately understood by your audience. SmartArt allows you to convert your lists into work flow, process flow, top-down and bottom-up among many other visualizations.

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to use some slides in a colleague's presentation? Microsoft allows you to share the content of your PowerPoint slides in a new service in Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (MOSS) called Slide Libraries. Essentially, a Slide Library is a location where you upload your PowerPoint and share the individual slides. Slides can be pulled from different PowerPoints to create a new, custom presentations. Slide Libraries are a great way for teams, especially road-warrior sales teams, to keep their message, brand and latest information consistent.

Thinking outside of the box - using Apple's KeyNote
There are few people that can give a presentation better than Apple's CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs' presentation style caters to a format called "Grand Stand Announcements." The concept is simple: get up and present your new product as if you are a rock star at Wembley Stadium. To achieve this task requires a presentation tool that puts a focus on "wow!" as the #1 success criteria. Apple's Keynote does this in spades.

When announcing Keynote 1.0 Steve Jobs told the audience that the software had been developed for one person: himself. True to his word, the presentation style in Keynote is impressive. Details are placed on features such as transitions from slide to slide, ease of placement for images on the screen and the ability to visualize data, such as charts, clearly.

Keynote is clearly a more powerful presentation tool than PowerPoint. Feature to feature there is almost no competition. There are, however,  two key downsides for Keynote. The first is that the solution only runs on a Mac. This means the 90%+ of customers running Windows software can not run Keynote. The second is that Keynote is still bound to the principle of presenting slides. The next solution, Electric Rain's StandOut, steps out of the boundaries placed on it for traditional presentations and delivers something altogether new.

Delivering a new type of presentation with eRain's StandOut
The trouble with presentations is that they simply do not compete with many rich media solutions on the Web. Solutions that can be delivered with products such as Adobe's Flash or Microsoft's SilveLight put PowerPoint to shame. Electric Rain ( saw the power of rich media solutions, mixed it with a dash of Windows Presentation Foundation from Microsoft, and is delivering a solution that brings the expressiveness of rich Internet media with the ease of use of PowerPoint. The result is a product called StandOut.

StandOut is built on Microsoft's .NET 3.0+ framework, specifically the new visual rendering engine called Windows Presentation Foundation, or WPF. WPF is the basis for all the visual aspects in Windows Vista. It is supports 3D, 2D, audio, video, font management and layout components. Behind all this is the power of C# and other .NET technologies. WPF is designed to allow your creativity to be fully realized onscreen. WPF, however, can be difficult to develop to. This gap is filled by StandOut.

Through StandOut's unique interface you can develop new, engaging ways to present your ideas. Presentations need not be restricted to linear presentation but can become interactive and entertaining. If PowerPoint has a future, you can argue that it is StandOut.

The bottom line for presentation
At the end of the day, you have to remember that the presentation is there to complement what you are speaking about. Not act as a distraction. With that said, animation, interaction and more can be leveraged to engage your audience, not distance them. PowerPoint needs to grow up and become part of the new age of business. It isn't 1987 anymore - you can put your over head projector away.

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Matthew has written four Flash books, contributed to a dozen Web books, and has published over 400 articles. He is passionate about exposing Internet's potential for all of us. Matthew works directly with many companies as a business strategist coaching IT architects and business leaders to work tightly with each other towards common goals.

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