If you’re reading this post, then we’d like to congratulate you on a brave decision.
You are willing to consider abandoning PowerPoint for another presentation tool.
This is no small thing. Microsoft's flaghip tool still dominates the market, and organizations willing to rip and replace PowerPoint with another tool are few and far between. Even those who hate PowerPoint can’t seem to quit it.
That said, there has never been a better time to start looking for something new. Dozens of companies both large and small have entered this space in recent years to challenge the incumbent. Some have sought to beat PowerPoint at its own game—competing at a feature-by-feature level—while others have taken a fundamentally different approach to presentation design by leveraging new technologies like artificial intelligence. So choosing an alternative can be a bit overwhelming.
To help you sort through all of your options, we’ve put together the following guide. In doing so, we’ve selected the 10 most well-known tools and divided them into categories based on the type of user that we think would benefit most from them. In evaluating each tool, we asked ourselves the four questions that you might be asking yourself if you’re considering a shift:
- Speed - Will the tool help you make presentations faster than using PowerPoint?
- Aesthetics - Will you make more visually appealing presentations?
- Effectiveness - Will it help you communicate ideas more effectively?
- Learning Curve - Will it take a long time to learn how to use it?
One important note: We’ve chosen to focus here on the experience of building presentations rather than the impact of these tools on your workflow. There are some challenges associated with adopting a new tool in a world where PowerPoint is the default, but these only become problems if you feel passionately about adopting your new tool. So our goal is to introduce you to what’s available so that you can decide whether the experience is worth the effort.
So let’s get to it!
Group 1: “Blank Canvas” Tools
PowerPoint is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it provides you with a blank canvas and allows you to do just about anything you want on a slide—you can draw whatever you like, move items wherever you like, and organize information however you like. Of course, this also means that you are responsible for doing all of these things, even if you don’t want to.
In this sense, the first category of PowerPoint challengers is not all that different from the original. All three allow you to “author” your presentation as you see fit. That said, each option does at least one thing better than PowerPoint, and could offer a strong reason to switch.
1. Apple Keynote
Use This If: You are an Apple enthusiast or a professional designer
But Be Warned: It’s not all that different from PowerPoint
Apple loyalists and experienced designers often find that Keynote is slightly more intuitive to use, has a more well-designed set of defaults, and is a bit more flexible than PowerPoint. So if you fall into either of these categories, it might be worth considering. That said, our designers give PowerPoint a lot of credit for closing the gap between these two tools over their last few releases, so the amount of time it takes to learn a new tool like Keynote might outweigh the benefits of switching.
2. Google Slides
Use this If: You’re a Google Apps user and your team needs to collaborate
But Be Warned: It lacks some basic features you’d expect from a presentation tool
According to the 2017 “Presentation Quality Gap” survey, Google Slides is making serious inroads among the PowerPoint alternatives and is now the second most popular presentation tool (albeit a distant second). Google Slides strips away some of the flashier features of PowerPoint—animations are particularly tricky—but makes up for it with an unparalleled real-time collaboration experience. If your team is thinking of moving to Google Apps and wants to keep your presentations in the family, then Google Slides is a sometimes frustrating, but overall sufficient tool.
Use This If: You’re looking for whiz-bang animations between slides
But Be Warned: Building a great-looking presentation can be challenging
Prezi is best known for the seamless motion it applies as you transition between slides, as well as the ability to easily jump from one section of your “canvas” to another without having to move through your slides sequentially. But once you get past these flashier features of the tool, you quickly realize that the experience of designing slides is very similar to that of PowerPoint, if not more cumbersome. There are definitely some good use cases for Prezi—sales presentations and interactive kiosks come to mind—but you have to really love their animation style to use it with every one of your presentations, or risk submitting your audience to what one user calls "Prezi-induced nausea."
Use This If: You think that PowerPoint doesn’t offer enough flexibility
But Be Warned: It can be even more time-consuming than working with PowerPoint
Perhaps the least well-known product in the category, Slides is an interesting option for presentation junkies who feel limited by PowerPoint. As they say on their website, Slides is for “creatives” and “developers” who want more tools, more menus, more ways to present (via mobile), and more control over every pixel of your presentation. You can do beautiful work in Slides, but you’ll probably spend that much more time to get there. Slides is also the only presentation tool with a fully open source format, so if you know what this means and want to mess around with CSS, it might be worth checking out.
Group 2: “Template-Based” Tools
This next set of tools are designed for users who are looking for a shortcut to building great-looking presentations. In each case, they provide a library of templates that you can pull into your account and edit. Think of them as a collection of existing presentations available on-demand. If you’re looking for a “startup” presentation template design and value visual style over all else, this might be the way to go.
Unfortunately, as with many “shortcuts” through the woods, it’s easy to get lost along the way. Because these templates are created by professional designers, it can be quite difficult for a non-designer to edit or update the slides. (Adding a milestone to a timeline, for instance, can be a major pain.) This is compounded by the fact that each of these tools has its own user interface that you first have to learn, and then master.
Use This If: You’re looking for a great-looking presentation template
But Be Warned: Finding and customizing templates takes time, effort, and skill
Canva is best known as a simple design tool for creating digital graphics for blogs, social media, and email. For these use cases, it’s incredibly easy for non-designers to find a template that they like and make minor customizations to the design. Canva’s presentation tool works the same way—but, as you can imagine, designing a presentation is a lot more complicated than laying out a header image for your blog. There is a wide variety of styles to choose from for each slide of your presentation, but finding the right template for your content can be difficult. Similarly, editing or redesigning a slide once you’ve chosen it presents its own challenges—the functionality is limited so there’s a lot of manual work to be done. That said, if you find a template that perfectly matches the presentation you want to create, Canva can be a huge time-saver.
Use This If: You’re looking for unique “widgets” like custom maps or soundtracks
But Be Warned: It has a challenging user interface with a steep learning curve
Like Canva, Visme also offers both a “blank canvas” option and a library of presentation templates to choose from (although many of them are behind a “premium” paywall). Once you choose a template, you’re unfortunately limited to only the slide designs in that template (as far as we can tell). Visme does offer a number of ways to customize slides—with everything from animated text to custom maps to background music—but these features can feel a bit superfluous. Also, the user interface is not very intuitive and takes a while to learn. That said, one great feature of Visme is that it allows you to set “brand guidelines” and create your own templates so that all of your team’s presentations at least start with a visually consistent look and feel.
Group 3: “Automated Design” Tools
The last category of presentation tools is by far the biggest departure from the PowerPoint paradigm. Whereas the other tools preserve the “blank canvas” concept, these tools offer a fundamentally different—and, hopefully, simpler—way to build presentations. And each of them does so by automating at least some of the design work that the other tools require you to do.
That said, how each tool achieves this—and the flexibility that each one offers—varies significantly between tools, and choosing between them will depend on how you prefer to work. But there is no question that these tools are unique and, we believe, the future of presentations.
Disclaimer: Yes, one of these products is ours. But we’ll do our best to be objective.
Use This If: You want to leverage AI to create professional-looking slides quickly But Be Warned: You won’t have the flexibility (or responsibility) of the “blank canvas”
Built on the Design AI platform, Beautiful.AI is the only presentation tool that understands the “rules” of good design and applies them automatically, in real-time, while you work. Unlike the other tools in this category, Beautiful.AI helps users translate their ideas into slides by choosing from more than 50 free “smart” templates that can be customized in minutes. The tool then automatically updates the design of each slide as the user adds or edits content, and sets a few “constraints” to ensure that each slide looks professionally designed. As a result of its unique approach, Beautiful.AI does not offer the same flexibility as the other tools—you can’t move text boxes wherever you like, draw custom shapes, or change the size of the headline or body font. That said, if these are the decisions you’d rather a professional to make for you, then Beautiful.AI might be the ideal tool for you.
8. Haiku Deck
Use This If: You want every slide to be an image with a text overlay
But Be Warned: Every slide will be an image with a text overlay
One of the first entrants into this space, Haiku Deck is designed for a very specific type of presentation and offers a limited set of features. The tool allows you to build two kinds of slides—either text with an image in the background or simple charts. Selecting images from their library is really easy, and experimenting with different text styles and placements is as simple as clicking a button. That said, you quickly run up against the limitations of this product when you want to build a slide with any degree of complexity. Haiku Deck’s latest foray into automated design is a feature called Zuru, which allows you to create an outline and have a presentation built for you automatically. Again, all of your slides will be images with text overlayed, but Zuru will do the work for you of selecting a relevant image and summarizing your text (or at least trying to).
Use This If: You want to focus on your content, not how it looks
But Be Warned: You’ll still have to do a fair amount of your own design work
Slidebean goes all-in on content-first creation. Users start by adding “content blocks” such as a “quote,” “number,” or “icon” to their slide—which are populated using a survey-like form—and then Slidebean automatically designs the block and places it on the slide. And if you don’t like the chosen layout, you can switch from “Outline” to “Design” mode and move the items around yourself. Unfortunately, things begin to come off the rails a bit if you want to add multiple content blocks to your slide. Slidebean will automatically look for an empty space to place your new element, but there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for where items go, and moving them around can be quite cumbersome. That said, the tool has an impressive collection of templates—including the pitch decks of legendary companies like Airbnb and YouTube—if you’re looking for a head start.
Use This If: You want to stay in the Microsoft family
But Be Warned: The creation experience is a bit confusing and not intuitive
Sway is Microsoft’s own take on automated design. The user experience is similar to Slidebean in that it requires you to develop your presentation in “outline” form before you can see the designed version. However, the interface takes a lot of getting used to and can be very difficult to manage once you’ve added a lot of content. Like Slidebean, you can also switch to a “Design” mode, but your options for editing the slides in this mode are very limited. That said, if you can fight through these challenges, the good news is that you’ll end up with a slick looking final product complete with built-in animations. They’re also clearly experimenting with more design automation: you can search for plug-and-play videos or graphics based and instantly import them into your presentation, and there’s a “Remix” button that… well, we’re not quite sure what it does.
We hope that this overview is helpful as you think through your options, but there’s no better way to evaluate new tools than to test drive them for yourself. Almost all of these options have free or low-commitment trials, so we’d encourage you to give them all a shot—with a real presentation—to see which is the best fit for your workstyle.