PowerPoint alternatives offer engaging options

(MoneyWatch) Open the door to any conference room in America, and there's a pretty good chance you'll walk into a presentation conducted with PowerPoint. This ubiquitous program has delivered more slides to bored eyeballs than McDonald's has ever served hamburgers.

Maybe it's time to try something new. It's not just a matter of change for its own sake -- alternative presentation programs have different visual options and approaches, which means your presentations might be more compelling as well. What are your options? Here are a few presentations programs you might want to try:

Kingsoft Presentation Free: Among PowerPoint alternatives, Kingsoft Presentation Free is the most traditional, and in that sense it's a good choice for someone looking to break free of Microsoft Office but who doesn't want to stray too far from convention. Indeed, the program is easy to learn for anyone coming from PowerPoint, as its dual interface is inspired by both the modern ribbon and older menu systems. You won't get lost in this user interface. It also opens existing PowerPoint decks, so your existing work is not lost. And though the interface is similar, it comes with a broad range of different templates and themes, so your presentations will have a different vibe. And the price is right: It's free.

Prezi: A longtime favorite of mine, Prezi is a free Web app that approaches presentations in a completely different way than PowerPoint. Instead of a sequence of slides, Prezi lets you assemble your text and images anywhere you like on a vast landscape, and then use motion effects to pan around, zoom in, zoom out and rotate to deliver your presentation in any creative or innovative way you like. It's a great idea, and can lead to some impressive presentations. To really blow away an audience, try using Prezi instead of PowerPoint sometime. Don't overdo it, though: In the same way you wouldn't want to use a dozen fonts on the same slide, you need to be conservative in your use of motion or you'll give your audience whiplash.

Haiku Deck: Want to make a presentation on the go? Look no further than the free Haiku Deck for the iPad. This presentation tool is custom designed for the tablet environment, and it's easy to cook up some really attractive presentations with just your fingertips. Haiku's real attraction is the way it integrates image selection into the heart of slide design. The app helps you build very image-centric slides by automatically looking up royalty-free images that match keywords on the slide you're building. You won't find a lot of other common features here (like animations or transitions), but it has visuals nailed.

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