November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Best PowerPoint Alternatives for Creating Great Presentations

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We’ve all endured “death by PowerPoint.” It’s a painful experience for the audience and probably not all that fun for the presenter either. To help my students deliver effective presentations—free of those deadly bullet points—I have my go-to applications.

First, a good presentation begins with a clearly outlined story. Even presentations that are strictly fact-based can have a narrative. I always have students write outlines for the stories their presentations are going to tell, and I offer them a choice of outlining tools, including Text2MindMap, Penultimate, and that reliable standby, Google Documents.

To get started with Text2MindMap, students type their outlines on the provided “canvas.” When they click “draw,” a mindmap appears, illustrating the connections between the topics they provided. If the visualization doesn’t match what the students think are the connected items, they can edit their outlines and generate another mindmap.

Penultimate, a free iPad app, allows you to use a stylus to handwrite and draw in digital notebooks. Students can drag and drop pages into any order at any time during the outlining process. For the student who likes the long-hand approach, Penultimate is a nice blending of analog and digital processes.

After the outlines are done, we can begin creating slides. Telling a story with the aid of a slideshow is best accomplished with high-quality imagery. High-resolution pictures won’t become pixelated when you expand them to fill the slide. If students don’t have their own pictures, they can search for public domain (PD) and Creative Commons licensed images. Pixabay is an outstanding place to find images in the public domain. The Flickr Commons is another recommended source of PD content.

A free, beautifully designed application, Haiku Deck is the best presentation tool currently available for the iPad. Haiku Deck helps you find Creative Commons licensed images for your presentations. Each time you add a slide to your set, the application provides an image search button alongside it. Enter a search term and Haiku Deck will suggest high resolution images for you to use. You can also upload your own images from your iPad or import them from Instagram and Facebook.

When it comes to presentation software, there are plenty of alternatives to PowerPoint or Keynote. There’s Google Slides, which in the last year has expanded its theme options. Like Google Docs, Google Slides is a collaborative tool that students can use to create a presentation as part of a group project. Another benefit of using Google Slides is that as a teacher I can attach comments to specific parts of student slide shows, whether its calling attention to spelling mistakes or praising an especially well-designed slide. Two other worthy applications in this category are Empressr and Slide Rocket.

Empressr is a Web service for creating and sharing high quality online slide presentations—with a couple of features differentiating it from its competitors. First, Empressr gives you the option of embedding video from multiple sources into your slide show. Next is the editor feature, which allows users to draw, create, or edit images inside their slides.

Slide Rocket is similar to Empressr, with some very nice features such as 3-D transitions and a collaboration feature that enables other users to co-create presentations. Slide Rocket makes it easy to include video, images, or third party plug-ins. There’s also an option to sign in with a Google Account, which is why Slide Rocket has become fairly popular in schools that use Google Apps. Students can log in using their Google credentials, work on their projects, and save their work without having to keep track of a separate username and password.

Before my students stand in front of their peers to share their presentations, there’s one last thing that I require. And that’s to share their speaker notes with me so that I can provide some guidance if the images they’ve selected don’t match the spoken message.

A well-designed slidedeck is key, with the potential of making a good presentation into a great one. Have your students try these tools to help them do their very best work.

Three Sources of Images for Student Presentations from School Library Journal on Vimeo.

Richard Byrne About Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne (richardbyrne@freetech4teachers.com) writes the award-winning blog “Free Technology for Teachers.”

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