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As presentation specialists we are often required to help put the finishing touches on presentations or create them from scratch. One of the questions we have to answer is whether to use PowerPoint or Keynote? There are good arguments for both so we decided to provide our perspective on this question. I have to state from the start that I am a Mac user but for many years worked primarily in a Windows environment. I switched to Mac about 6 years ago after starting Direct Impact Media so much of my early knowledge and experience with creating presentations was using PowerPoint for Windows. I now use both, but I am still more familiar and faster when creating in PowerPoint.

I like PowerPoint because of my familiarity with it and the fact that it is a much more universally used program. I also like the fact that I can create a PowerPoint presentation on either platform and play it back on either platform whereas Keynote is strictly for the Mac. Since I am a Mac user, I often create PowerPoint presentations using my Mac knowing that they will likely be played back on a Windows PC.

A word of wisdom…if you create a PowerPoint presentation on a Mac and play it back on a PC or vice versa, remember that even though the transition of PowerPoint from Mac to Windows is usually fairly seamless, it is always necessary to test your presentation prior to presenting. Never assume it will work perfectly and expect to do some troubleshooting or re-formatting when switching platforms.

Now for some of the differences:

Themes and Templates

When it comes to building your presentation, both PowerPoint and Keynote do basically the same thing. If you are building a new presentation using the built-in themes and templates then Keynote has some really nice looking themes that seem more contemporary than the ones available in PowerPoint. PowerPoint 2013 does offers an updated selection of templates and themes although they still don’t have the elegant appearance as the standard templates in Keynote.

Text

Although Keynote provides more control over text spacing and kerning which is very convenient, PowerPoint provides the ability to create more interesting text effects than does Keynote. For instance, in PowerPoint you can give text a 3-dimensional look with shape and embossing, which is something Keynote does not allow you to do. To create the same look in Keynote you need to create the text in Photoshop or Illustrator and import it into Keynote. That makes last minute text changes much more difficult and time consuming. PowerPoint allows you to add a variety of 3-dimentional effects right in the program, which can elevate the look of your presentation.

Transitions

Transitions are also somewhat more interesting in Keynote and offer some animation techniques that are just not available in PowerPoint. I do like some of these transitional effects and they do look more sophisticated than what is available in PowerPoint. Surprisingly, with the launch of PowerPoint 2013 the transitions and animations have remained basically the same as previous versions. The transitions and animations in Keynote add improved production values when used appropriately and have been the reason we have opted for Keynote when building certain presentations. Always keep in mind that one of the most common mistakes is to overuse transitional effects. It is important to remember that β€œless is more” and the fancy transitions should be used sparingly.

Multimedia

The ability to insert photos, graphs, and video is important when building your presentation and both programs do a good job. Typically, when inserting video on a Mac you want it to be in an .mov format and on a PC you want to use a .wmv or mpeg format. A Mac will play .wmv’s if you have Flip for Mac or another third party plugin. Most Windows machines with QuickTime installed will play .mov’s but the recent release of PowerPoint 2013 has expanded capabilities and support for .mov’s and numerous other file formats. One feature in Keynote that I really like is the ability to use a looping video file as a background image for a slide. This allows you to have a moving background and is quite useful for adding a very high-end look to a title slide or sponsor logo.

There are good reasons for using both programs and it may come down to what the user is most familiar with. The best advice is to assess your needs before creating your presentation and decide which one works best for your specific needs. If you have trouble with either there are many good online tools and videos to help you out and I always recommend lynda.com as a great source of online tutorials.