Alternatives to PowerPoint presentation

An example of a document in Google Docs

An example of a document in Google Docs – familiar interface, available from any device (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was shocked recently.  I went to a seminar by The Manchester University writer-in-residence, Chris Simms  “Writing with style”. In the beginning he said that he has never done a presentation using Powerpoint in his life.

Biologists and PowerPoint presentations (PPT) go together as biologists and white lab coats. In fact they teach you to make PPTs in the first year of high school now so when you think about describing your results, you immediately start to build a PPT. However, this means a  dependence on a particular proprietary software. So what are the alternatives to the Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote?

Free alternatives to PowerPoint

Open Office  allows to make presentations and pdfs,  LaTeX  – pdfs. In general, saving your presentations  in pdf format allows to prevent font conflicts with different versions of Windows.

Online alternatives

Google Docs –  free online office suite, which allows you to make and share different documents. However, unlike perfectly functional and convenient “Google-Word” or “Google-Excel”, I find “Google-PowerPoint” awkward.

Prezi  is a free online software that allows you to organise your presentations. Some people compare its organisation with poster, where you can see the whole picture at the same time and zoom into different parts. The site itself says that “a prezi” can be a visual metaphore for the process and/or structure of your idea.

Chris Simms’s prezi I’ve seen has certainly been interesting so if you want to do something eye-catching and original, you should try it.

Low-tech alternatives to PowerPoint 

Circular DNA molecule (left) can be twisted into more coils (right) to save space incide the cell – you will understand it better, when the same explained with a rope (Picture credit: Wikipedia)

While Prezi provides an alternative to sequential PowerPoint thinking, it is still a visual crutch. A number of  graduate schools and employers in the US and UK specify that no “visual aids” e.g. PPT can be used during the interview for postgraduate students or faculty positions applicants. This often means that  you have a whiteboard or  A4 paper and marker pen, so you should be ready to draw and explain as you go along.

During the meetings with the public  it  is better not to use PPT or impossible to use and objects such as petri dishes, microtitre plates etc are encouraged.  I certainly remember explanation of DNA supercoiling with help of a rope better than any PPT on the same topic.

All in all,  there is more to scientific communication than PowerPoint.  What are your alternatives to PowerPoint?

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