Here I describe my experience using Microsoft’s new product called Sway, an alternative to PowerPoint.

Microsoft recently launched Sway as a new tool for presentations. This is a free, cloud based product which I got a chance to use for a project kickoff session. We’re building a kiosk and the user interface and experience is a key part of the product. After tinkering with Sway, I thought it would impress my audience with a visually rich, kiosk-like experience. The ‘Sway Way‘ would create a nice theme for kicking off the project.

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Prior to the kickoff session, I conducted a walk thru of the presentation on Sway.com with a couple of folks. Presentations for these types of ceremonies predominantly use PowerPoint, so I would characterize their first impression as being a little skeptical and perhaps reluctant to proceed with Sway as the format. Despite using high-resolution images, there was some challenges with the quality of some images. However, there were not enough instances to dissuade the approach. And after completing the kickoff session, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the presentation and my ‘theme.’

Communicating With Your Audience

They say some people understand with words, some with pictures and some others are kinesthetic (touch). I am a visual person! If you were to explain something to me without using a picture or diagram, I may struggle to understand it. But draw me a picture or show me a diagram and I am likely to stop you in mid-stroke because I get it immediately. I also feel more comfortable explaining things to people when I have a pen or marker in hand.

The best type of communication blends it all: add a picture to your text and give them a hands-on experience, and you will guarantee a higher percentage of your audience will understand you and will trigger an emotional connection. You want folks leaving your project kickoff with a renewed sense of purpose and an attachment to your project.

You can test yourself by the number of conversations, emails or phone calls that happen within a day or two following your kickoff session. It’s not necessarily your presentation that they are talking about, but the project itself and what they have to do to make the project successful. They start sending you a list of things that they have to do or offer up ways that they can help.

Kickoff Presentation – Best Practices

With a PowerPoint presentation, often times people overload each slide with tons of information that doesn’t need to be there. A slide with 2-3 bullet points and an image is all you really need. You should be able to talk thru (or diagram/draw) the missing parts. If you’re presenting financials, you should be presenting analysis – the most impactful pieces.

For instance, “Assets grew 100% over the past six months” is a bullet point versus a table showing a breakdown on every asset month over month with a percentage on each. Then you simply talk about the salient details. If you’re showing more than 10 slides in a PowerPoint presentation for a project kickoff session, you are probably doing something wrong.

The Sway Way

Microsoft simplifies your presentations with Sway, which is very heavy on using visualizations to tell your story. Instead of slides, you create a story board. The story board can have a heading, image or text. Simple and easy to get started and to change things around while creating a presentation.

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A key difference in Sway is the lack of text modifications that you can make. For instance, you cannot select font size or color. Instead of making text Bold, it’s called ‘Emphasize.’ Instead of making text appear as italics, you indicate ‘Accent.’ You do have a few text font options, but these are also limited.

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Images are presented in a variety of simple ways on the story board: as a stack, grid, comparison, slideshow or “automatic.”

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A stack appears like a stack of pictures you might leave on the table or your desk. A comparison is a slider that shows what something looks like before vs. after. A slideshow and grid are fairly common and used in many presentations already. Automatic will just assemble all of your grouped text & image boards and it automatically determines a clever way of displaying those when the presentation is played.

With the Sway Way, it’s easy to flip between the image options and then ‘Preview’ the change made on the story board in the preview screen. You can also move your content around very easily, although I found this to be a little bit cumbersome and buggy. Another annoyance is that if you added a picture to one image board by mistake, you can’t modify it unless it’s an image in a heading board. (Think of a board as a slide in your Powerpoint presentation.)

Sway presentations are hosted online and not downloadable or distributable like a PowerPoint file. You share a link to your Sway presentation, and don’t email a massive file, clogging email accounts or sucking up all your email data restrictions. Since your Sway presentation is hosted online, it seems easier to embed video’s, images or websites that are already online, such as from Youtube or Vimeo.

However, Microsoft prevents you from embedding from any online source. Only a couple dozen sources are supported by Microsoft. For instance, I wanted to embed a real-time data visualization example from Tableau.com, which is stored in a public cloud library. But this is not one of their supported websites.

Conclusion

Sway makes it very simple to set up a presentation and share it with users. With very little effort, you can make a very slick presentation. It takes some time to figure out how the tool works and getting familiar with the features. But since there are fewer features, it’s very easy to pick it up and start using it. If you’re stuck or want some ideas, Sway has several mockup presentations which you can copy to your own account and then customize them. Microsoft has also prepared several short YouTube tutorial videos to help clarify things a little bit.

Let me know if you would like to view my presentation!

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