With the wide variety of software tools available, you can stick with the tried-and-true PowerPoint and Keynote applications, or go with one of the less familiar but effective alternatives

By Danny Bradbury | December 2017

Distilling complex financial and investment issues for clients can be a challenge. As a financial advisor, you can use presentation software to help get difficult messages across relatively quickly. There are some heavy hitters in the presentation software market, and they have their uses, but they're not the only choices. In fact, there are some lesser known options available to you.

The two benchmarks for business presentations are: Microsoft Corp.'s PowerPoint, which runs on both Windows and the Mac operating system (macOS); and Apple Inc.'s Keynote for macOS.

You can buy PowerPoint 2016 outright for $140 but, like its predecessors, it's also available as part of Microsoft Office 365 in a subscription configuration; the latter option means you don't have to buy the whole Office software suite at once. An Office 365 Personal Edition account will set you back $8 a month and give you access to the entire suite.

PowerPoint is famous for its slides-based presentation method and its wide selection of templates. This software's latest iteration offers several new features, including the ability to collaborate on slides online simultaneously. This feature will enable you to put together slides as part of a team with two or more people in different locations.

The product's "design ideas" feature is likely to be useful for non-designers. Click on this button and the software will analyze the elements that you have on a slide and suggest alternative layouts. It's the next best thing to having a second set of eyes on a slide.

One of the nice things about PowerPoint 2016 is its support for stylus interfaces. With many Windows laptops now also supporting tablet mode, you can scribble your way to success using a stylus instead of a mouse to drag, drop and edit elements as needed.

PowerPoint 2016 also is available for macOS (whereas Apple's Keynote, an alternative to PowerPoint, is for macOS only). Keynote, which ships free of charge on modern Macs, features a three-pane window design with an "inspector" on the left-hand side of the window to find your files, an editing panel in the middle and formatting options on the right.

Apple originally was designed for a graphics and design interface, so the company's software excels in graphics and animation. Keynote is known for its innovative slides and superbly animated transitions. In one of several innovative animation effects, slides can illuminate your words on the screen one by one using popping light bulbs. In another, the interface can change individual rows and columns to highlight changes to specific elements in a table.

Both PowerPoint and Keynote offer major benefits for you: one is the ability to edit and display presentations on an iPad, which is still the mobile device of choice for many advisors; the other benefit is the ability to update graphs and charts dynamically during your presentation based on underlying data in a spreadsheet - Excel in PowerPoint's case; the Numbers spreadsheet if you're using Keynote. This feature makes producing custom presentations far easier because you can quickly update the numbers in a graph to illustrate a specific client's situation.

Speaking of graphs, this is a feature in which PowerPoint excels. It offers a range of options and variations for graphs, such as waterfall charts and histograms (both of which are types of bar graphs that are effective in visualizing financial statements), Pareto (which contains both bars and lines), box-and-whisker (used to display both quartiles and median value), treemap (a series of rectangles that cover the entire chart to depict two quantitative variables, such as sales and growth) and sunburst (essentially, a stacked pie chart). Although presenting data in different ways is nice, sticking to the most simple, clear ways of presenting financial information to your clients may be your best choice.

Both PowerPoint and Keynote will serve your presentation needs admirably, as each relies on the traditional slide-after-slide presentation format. The transitions and templates used also have become part of the corporate vernacular. Any client who has sat through a few presentations produced in either of these packages will be used to the look and feel and will be expecting more of the familiar visual effects.

If you want to think outside the box, you can take advantage of some other tools to help breathe new life into your presentations. One such tool is Prezi, from Prezi Inc., which takes a storytelling approach. The Prezi tool has an online presentation creation and hosting service that begins at US$7 a month.

Instead of using successive slides, Prezi allows you to create an entire, zoomable graphic with sections and subsections. Using your own graphics or someone else's as a base, you can turn each point that you want to make into a zoomable subsection and have Prezi move between each of them automatically by hitting the "next" button.

This way of presenting stimulates viewers and draws their attention in ways that even the most adept PowerPoint presenter cannot. Prezi also allows you to zoom easily in and out of the presentation manually, quickly moving to another part of the graphic in response to your client's questions. That's a useful way to keep the presentation responsive without having to flick back and forth through multiple slides to get to the one you want.

Prezi introduced a "charts" feature for its premium version, Prezi Plus, in September. This launch followed the company's spring 2017 purchase of Infogram Software Inc., which offers its eponymous online chart and graph package that's also useful as a presentation service. That feature is available in a free configuration; a more functional version begins at US$19 a month.

The addition of graphs alongside a Prezi viewer app for Apple's mobile operating system, iOS, can make the latter software most suitable for presenting directly to clients in a face-to-face meeting.

Prezi also allows you to publish to the web, and Prezi's latest version features an analytics option, which allows you to view how those online presentations have performed. This feature can be useful when publishing generic presentations to educate an audience on financial issues by showing which aspects of your presentations garner the most interest.

Another product that provides analytics for online presentations is SlideRocket, which allows you to import presentations, including PowerPoint files, then add more features before publishing them online.

SlideRocket was acquired by ClearSlide Inc. in March 2013, so you also can use the tool with that company's web-based conference service, ClearSlide Meetings, enabling you to provide sophisticated presentations to a remote audience of one or more. Clearslide is available at a base rate of US$35 a month.

These days, presentations don't have to be boring. Armed with presentation software options such as these, you can articulate complex issues clearly - and take your powers of persuasion to the next level.

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