Punch Up Your Presentations

Zoning out, checking email, texting or even dozing off—everyone who has attended a presentation at day’s end has been guilty a time or two. But if you’re the presenter at the end of a long agenda, Internet resources make it simple to avoid committing what some call “death by PowerPoint.” The following six online tools will engage your audience even if your presentation occurs late on a Friday.


Innovative Presentation Alternatives

➨1. SlideRocket.

SlideRocket.com, a comprehensive online presentation tool, lets users download existing slides from PowerPoint or other presentation software and gives them access to unique templates for creating new presentations. The slickly designed templates allow presenters to easily insert features including Twitter feeds, live stock quotes, Google Docs spreadsheets, polls, audio, video, and visuals from Flickr’s Creative Commons pool and other sources. SlideRocket also gives users access to a coach who answers questions about the site by phone or email.

After users download or create presentations, they can invite others to view them and comment. Users can also collaborate on presentations and update them in real time. Once a presentation is complete, SlideRocket allows presenters to publish their slides through an email link or embedded code on a website or blog that automatically reflects presentation changes.

SlideRocket’s basic version is free; a monthly fee of $24 unlocks additional features, including the ability to download and present slides without an Internet connection and to access analytics revealing who viewed the presentation and how much time viewers spent on specific slides. Enterprise level ($360 per year per user, a minimum of 100 users) has more features, such as additional storage, larger meetings, advanced security controls and dedicated support.


➨2. Prezi.

Prezi.com provides a blank canvas to create presentations that look more like concept maps than traditional linear slideshows, so it encourages users to think beyond bullet points. Even those who choose one of the site’s five templates have nearly free rein to resize, group the related frames (which replace slides), and create a frame sequence that fluidly progresses between topics while allowing clear emphasis of priorities. Prezi’s nonlinear structure is ideal for presentations organized around a strong central image depicting, for instance, a reorganization plan or annual sales target.

Panning and zooming allow the presenter to emphasize and downplay ideas easily, detour to optional areas on the canvas (perhaps if questions zigzag among subjects), go back to a previous point or return to the presentation overview at any time. Although Prezi and PowerPoint have very different interfaces, one of the site’s newest features lets users “Prezify” their PowerPoint slides by downloading and redesigning an existing presentation.

People accustomed to traditional linear presentation design will need time to learn Prezi, but users say it’s worth the investment. “We became excited about the way it engaged the viewer,” said Maureen Carroll, Ph.D., a founder of Lime Design Associates. “At every single workshop where I have used it, someone has come up and asked, ‘What tool was that?’ ”

Prezi, which supports embedded video, audio and PDF files, makes it simple to share presentations via the web. Users can also invite collaborators to make changes to presentations in real time. “It’s almost like a huge graphic organizer,” said Carroll, who not only uses it for presentations but also to coordinate ideas during planning sessions at her Pleasanton, Calif.-based innovation consulting firm.

Prezi’s basic version is free, but plans starting at $59 a year provide additional storage and privacy, branding, and enhanced customer support. Frequent users can pay $159 a year for additional storage and offline access to view and show presentations.


Webinar Alternatives

➨3. BigMarker.com

BigMarker.com offers social, video conferencing and collaboration tools that let users meet via voice and webcam. Presenters can share documents, use an interactive whiteboard to make instant revisions, and share all or part of their computer screens with participants. Presenters and conference participants can speak, share webcams, and send public and private messages through a chat function. A conference moderator can also transfer the presenter role to another user at any time.

The site, which works through Adobe Flash Player, can host 50 or more participants for each conference and share as many as 10 webcams during meetings lasting up to four hours. It also allows more than one live microphone at a time, which eases idea exchanges for small groups. That said, users should run BigMarker.com’s connection speed test before an event, because slow upload or download speeds can cause choppy audio and video.

While BigMarker (which currently does not have its own presentation creator) can support PowerPoint downloads, site administrators recommend converting files to PDFs or Word documents, so it may not be the best choice for businesses with extensive PowerPoint libraries.

But with features including personalized technical support, free newsletters, calendars, file sharing and task-assignment functions, BigMarker seems well-suited for startups, small businesses, professional organizations and nonprofits that lack a big budget for internal communications. Its “community-based” structure makes it appealing for business-to-business service providers and fundraisers seeking individuals or businesses that share common goals. For example, BigMarker’s list of public-access groups, or “communities,” currently includes a SXSW Community for individuals, groups and companies interested in South by Southwest, the annual arts and technology conference held in Austin, Texas.

Most services are free for public-access groups. Private group administrators can pay $19.95 per month and receive additional features, including members-only conferencing and dues-collecting functions.


➨4. Zoho Show

Show.zoho.com, the recently upgraded free version of Zoho Show, allows users to download PowerPoint, OpenOffice and Google Docs presentations or create new slideshows. The site offers more than 40 presentation themes and will soon let users create their own themes. While there’s nothing fancy about this presentation builder, simple pull-down menus and the ability to drag and drop shapes, clip art and other objects make new slides easy to design. Zoho Show also lets presenters share slides in either read-only or read-write mode, or embed a presentation on a blog or website.

Zoho is most useful because of its other integrated applications, including Zoho Meeting and Zoho Chat, both offered in free versions. These tools let users show presentations remotely, chat and more, making Zoho a convenient alternative to other webinar options.

Zoho also features many other integrated online web applications (for instance, its project management tool, Zoho Projects, offers document sharing, time tracking and billing). Most of these products are available free for basic versions, with varied pricing plans for users who need more capabilities. For example, the basic Zoho Meeting app can’t handle a gathering that involves multiple hosts and participants; the free Zoho Projects can’t help with simultaneous projects.


Sharing and Feedback

➨5. SlideShare

SlideShare.net lets users upload and share PowerPoint, Keynote, OpenOffice, Google Docs, PDF and other files. It also enables them to download other users’ public presentations to borrow and remix ideas and content. While this share-and-share-alike approach isn’t for everyone, SlideShare users swear by the site’s power to generate business leads and fresh ideas for presentations new and old.

“You have the potential to attract viewers from all over the world who will be inspired by your content, motivated to take action, follow you on Twitter and become fans on Facebook,” said Yancey Unequivocally, whose company’s anti-smoking presentation, “Smoke—The Convenient Truth,” won SlideShare’s 2010 World’s Best Presentation contest and jump-started her Honolulu-based presentation design firm. “We could not have created Empowered Presentations without SlideShare.net.” SlideShare is her company’s top lead generator, Unequivocally says, because SlideShare makes it easy to publicize content via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Viewers can look at SlideShare presentations on users’ websites; users just embed SlideShare-provided code in blogs and elsewhere on their sites to enable viewing.

SlideShare provides access to Zipcast, a free meeting service with audio, video and chat functions that is an alternative to fee-based webinar services. Users also can sync MP3 audio files with their presentations so people who didn’t attend can view it later.

SlideShare’s free basic version allows the uploading and downloading of public presentations. Paid versions ($19 a month and up) enable features including private uploads and meetings, lead follow-up forms that pop up when someone views a presentation, and analytics such as daily view totals and a list of users who referred your presentation elsewhere.


➨6. TodaysMeet

TodaysMeet.com presenters can turn text message comments and tweeted critiques into instant improvements to presentations in progress. There are a number of ways to display a Twitter stream during a presentation. Presenters can even broadcast key points through add-ins available for both PowerPoint and Keynote that automatically send a tweet with each new slide. But TodaysMeet and similar tools offer a backchannel option for times when a presenter doesn’t want to make the discussion public, when a full Twitter feed might be overwhelming or when an audience of Twitter neophytes wouldn’t know a hashtag from a hole in the wall.

TodaysMeet’s site lets the presenter collect feedback on the fly by simply naming a virtual meeting room, choosing how long to keep it open and clicking “Create a Room.” Audience members can join the room, enter their names and share thoughts about presentations 140 characters at a time.


If you’ve got presentations that have passed their expiration date or you need to create one from scratch, these six tools can help you produce engaging visuals that leave your audience in awe and your PowerPoint-only competition in the dust.


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