I have yet to try out any real alternatives, but I think PowerPoint is an excellent piece of software. It does what I tell it, how I tell it, and it never takes me very long to learn something new.
In the last couple of months I’ve been working to seed the same basic message about the developer community internally to different audiences. It started as a 15 slide hour long tour for management with up to 20 appendix/best practice slides. Material repurposed; I held a brownbag targeted at individuals made up mainly of the best practice slides. I’ve presented the 3-5 slide version to various division GMs and VPs and even presented a one slide version of my message to Jim Allchin.
The best part about all this message refactoring, expansion, and miniaturization is that you really gain a deeper understanding of subject material. That… and PowerPoint. Through it all, I think I’m almost ready to fashion a version for my toughest audience… you guys.
I’ve heard all the rhetoric about how to craft and present slides. The pendulum swings to the left in college where I was taught that having anymore than 5-7 bullets on a slide was certain death due to the human limit of capacity for grocking simultaneous information. In the same class I learned that if ir can’t fit legibly onto one line in the 5 bullet list that your idea hasn’t been massaged enough to be on a slide… best to leave the details for talking points. This style leads the pendulum swinging back to the right suggesting “Power corrupts, but PowerPoint Corrupts absolutely”.
But how evil can it be when the lead singer of the Talking Heads uses it as an artistic medium? “Software constraints are only confining if you use them for what they're intended to be used for… PowerPoint may not be of any use for you in a presentation, but it may liberate you in another way, an artistic way. Who knows."… says a guy who sings about Rock Lobsters Psycho Killers. (Update: My mind, in search of the best comedic value, let me believe that the Talking Heads had sung "Rock Lobster". Oh well, it's almost as funny this way.)
My beliefs: If your presentation sucks then PowerPoint won’t save you. Some of the best points need more than one line to be stated clearly. The slideware should be capable of standing on its own. I shouldn’t have to hear your talk to have an understanding of what you were trying to get across. As much fun as it might be; I doubt you were hired as a professional animator or sound engineer. So don’t get carried away in those departments. Don’t feel the need to conform to any templates. Design slides to fit your message and your audience, but don’t let the message get lost in the translation.
I’ve probably been guilty of violating all of this advice in the last few months, but hopefully writing this all out will help me remember in the future. Regardless… PowerPoint, like Visual Studio, is an excellent canvas for ideas that will also let you shoot yourself in the foot if you would like.