Tool Roundup Part 1: Presentations

This is the first in a series of posts looking at a range of new and emerging web tools that can be used to enhance learning. I plan to break these into categories, and I am going to begin with something ubiquitous in education, training and business: presentation tools. (Hang on in there folks – these are pretty good.)

Before I start, I would like to point out that much needs to be done to rescue the reputation of one much maligned piece of presentation software: PowerPoint. Sadly, this stalwart of the boardroom and lecture theatre has been abused for decades by people producing thousands of those Death by PowerPoint presentations: 2375 slides, 25 bullet points per slide (font at size 10 to fit it all in), few or no images or, worse, migraine-inducing technicolor animations. This is a shame, as it isn’t the software that is at fault.  It’s the users who have little time, and no idea how to design engaging content. People use PowerPoint the same way they use their microwave: there are a hundred ways of cooking with it, but they only know how to use it to heat up beans.

One other thing: this is by no means an exhaustive list. I do not want to overload or bore you, so I am only looking at three tools that meet the following criteria:

  • They are new (or newish)
  • They are free (though sometimes only to a point, as they usually offer paid-for add ons or subscriptions at a cost)
  • They all have an interesting Unique Selling Point (USP)

There are dozens of similar tools out there and many of them have been around for a while. As I said, presenting them all would be an overwhelming task for me to check out and you to plough through, so enough digression and down to business. Here’s a look at the first tool:

Tool #1: emaze

Like many others before it, this web based tool allows users to edit and view presentations online and on any internet-enabled device, and saves presentations in the cloud. Its unique selling point is that users are able to use pre-rendered templates to produce 3 dimensional presentations that can include audio and video as well as the usual text and images. The templates are very well designed and their animated pathways are pre-installed, so none of that tricky plot-your-own-animation issue that can put beginners off similar products such as Prezi (or induce the motion sickness in the audience). In fact, emaze appears to be a lot easier to master than Prezi (which I always felt demanded a reasonably high level of technical ability to begin with). Set up a free account and users can also view and use presentations saved to the cloud by others. Here’s one I made using one of emaze’s templates in about 30 minutes:

Tool#2: StoryDesk

Okay. I’ll be honest here. StoryDesk (SD) has been designed as a sales presentation tool so educators and trainers may not be aware of its existence or feel inclined to use it. However, a bit of lateral thinking can do wonders. Bypass the business-speak bingo of the site’s introductory blurb and there’s a great tool here. BUT…there’s also a double edged sword regarding SD’s unique selling point: because of the interactive nature of completed presentations, these are shared synchronously over the audience’s tablets. So audience members can interact with the presentation, watch videos and access related documents, but they have to use a tablet to do this. And not everybody owns a tablet.  Oh – and it’s not just viewing that has to be done via tablet: authoring is done the same way, so if you don’t own a tablet you can’t use StoryDesk.

That paragraph has probably put you off using SD, which is ironic considering its focus. If you have a tablet, check out the presentation I made in about an hour using most of the slide templates provided. Also, notice the way presentations are non-linear. For anyone over 40, think ‘Crossroads’ or ‘Acorn Antiques’ closing credits…

Here’s what a finished presentation looks like:


Tool#3: PowToon

More web-based presentation creation and sharing and blurb that pulls no punches; PowToon wants to ‘address all the frustrations that people have with Power Point and Keynote and add animation and killer design.’

The great thing about this site is that users with no technical or design skills are able to create engaging, animated presentations that have a really professional ‘look and feel’. As the aforementioned blurb goes on to say, using PowToon can even ‘help effect the way people communicate in a profound way (because while) a picture speaks a thousand words, an animation conveys an idea.’ All very Utopian……but there are a few drawbacks.

Once published, presentations can be uploaded to YouTube and shared and embedded from there, they can’t be designed on a tablet as Flash player is a mandatory requirement. A free account only allows for presentations of up to 5 minutes in length, but an educator’s account at $1 a month allows for up to 15 (and gives the user a greater range of themes, background tracks and animations).

I’m going to use this to make quick animated demos rather than presentations per se. Here’s my first attempt:

Enough already! I hear you shout. And that’s fine by me. I have a glass of wine and series 4 of ‘The Thick of it’ to watch. Tune in next time for part 2: online resources what you can make…online.

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