Microsoft Powerpoint has become such a ubiquitous part of presentation culture that people speak of “making a PowerPoint” rather than “making a presentation”. It makes sense that this software is so popular. It’s part of the core Office package and it’s a powerful, comprehensive piece of software.

That’s also PowerPoint’s biggest downfall. If you’re a real PowerPoint guru you can do some pretty incredible things. If you’re just an average user, unlocking its potential is a steep hill to climb, which is why most PowerPoint presentations end up being pretty awful.

Luckily you don’t have to be constrained by PowerPoint as your only option to wow the crowds at the next quarterly meeting. There are many cloud-based, slick and beautiful presentation packages to choose from.

Most of them are much simpler  than PowerPoint and take a much more guided approach to design. That’s not a plus point if you’re a professional designer, but if you just want to make something that looks great and aren’t a creative by trade, these services can be a real life saver.

Prezi

Prezi revolutionized presentations when it first launched. Sure many people went a little overboard, but it’s use of non-linear spaces and freeform paths through “slides” opened up possibilities no one had considered before.

Prezi presents the user with a blank slate that can be zoomed in and out what seems like to infinity. You create a great big slab of content on this giant sheet and then define a path through it which is effectively your presentation.

Items can be nested inside other items and placed in relation to each other on that plane. This makes it easy to present an audience with complex ideas such as models, processes and anything that’s easier to understand wholistically. From a create design point of view you can also do a lot with Prezi that’s simply not possible with traditional slide format presentations.

There are some drawbacks. One of the main complaints is that some audience members can get motion sickness if you go overboard with the zooming features. It is however very easy to learn and comes with powerful design tools and many excellent, customizable templates. Once you’ve made an effective Prezi, it’s very hard to go back to traditional slides.

Try it at Prezi.com

PowToon

PowToon is a rather quirky presentation platform that offers some pretty sweet animation tools to make videos, presentations and a bunch of other weird hybrid content types that fall somewhere in between.

PowToon has a very intuitive cloud-based creation tool and a ton of support and pre-made objects. While a PowToon may resemble a PowerPoint presentation at first glance, the end product is much slicker and seamless in comparison.

One of the best features PowToon offers is the ability to download your presentation as an MP4 or to send it straight to YouTube. If you want to do a live presentation where you control the progress of the visuals, you can use its presenter mode and really impress your audience with cutting edge HTML5 visuals.

Try it at Powtoon.com

Google Slides

Google Slides is the service closest to traditional PowerPoint we’ve looked at here. If you are already comfortable with the basic creation process from PowerPoint then you’ll be right at home here.

So why would you use Google Slides rather than PowerPoint? Obviously, Google Slides is entirely cloud-based and PowerPoint is not. That’s changing now that Office 365 has live, online versions of their apps.

However, Google’s sharing, collaboration and overall online user experience is still better. If you want to make a PowerPoint-style presentation in collaboration with other people, such as fellow students in a group project, Google Slides is a great choice.

On the other hand, in terms of features Slides is very, very pared down compared to PowerPoint. Whether that is a positive or a negative is a matter of perspective. If you are a PowerPoint pro, then Slides may feel very limiting. If you just want to make a traditional slideshow without all that learning and feature overhead, you’ll be very happy with Slides indeed.

Of course, the biggest advantage might be that Slides is free. As long as you have a Gmail account you have access to the entire Google suite of cloud tools. For the right use case, Google Slides is actually the best overall option.

Try it at Google Slides

Canva

If you’ve ever looked at a presentation made by a professional graphic designer, you may have wondered how you could ever compete with years of study and a trained eye for visual flair.

The good news is that with Canva you can make people in your audience feel similarly inadequate and you don’t even need that three-year design diploma.

While Canva very much still has the feel of a traditional PowerPoint presentation, the actual design sensibilities are far superior. If you don’t feel comfortable with something way-out like Prezi, but feel that PowerPoint doesn’t give you the right inspiration or impact, Canva has the goods.

It’s almost impossible to make a presentation using the elements and templates provided here that isn’t beautiful.

Try it at Canva.com

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

They say that first impressions are the most important. That’s very true when it comes to standing in front of a group of people and presenting to them.

Having a bad PowerPoint presentation will really undermine your message. You could have the most important subject matter in the world, but if your presentation is distracting or looks awful it will be hard to keep anyone’s attention.

So it’s good to know that beautiful, easy and effective presentation tools are only a click away. Many of them even have free basic accounts that can pull you out of the fire at short notice, so why not step up your visual communication game?

It’s time to take the slideshow out of the 20th Century and embrace the future of getting your message across.