Thoughts on the use of Sway as a presentation tool

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a short talk on adopting cloud services at Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN). I’ll admit being a little nervous – the talk was supposed to be 5 minutes (and I had more to say than would ever have fitted – I later learned it’s pretty rare for anyone to stick to their allotted time) and I’m not used to speaking to an audience larger than a meeting room-full (a typical MKGN audience in the current venue is around about 100).  Just to make things a little harder for myself, I decided to use Microsoft Sway for my visual aids.

For those who are unfamiliar with Sway, I got excited about it when it first previewed in 2014. Since then it’s shipped and is available as part of Office 365 or as a standalone product. It’s a tool for presenting content from a variety of sources in a visually-appealing style that works cross-platform and cross-form factor.

Even though Sway has an app for Windows 10, some of the content (e.g. embedded tweets) relies on having an Internet connection at the time of presenting.  Wi-Fi at conferences is notoriously bad and 3G/4G at the MKGN venue is not much better (although it did hold up for me on the night). So, with that and the 7Ps in mind I had PowerPoint and PDF fallback plans but I persisted with Sway.

I’m still not sure Sway is a presentation tool though…

You see, as I swiped and clicked my way through, the audience saw everything I saw. I prefer the simplicity of a picture, with my notes on my screen – I talk, the audience listens, the image re-enforces the view. Sway didn’t work for me like that. Indeed, Sway falls into what Matt Ballantine recently described as the latest whizz-bang tool in a post about a request he was given to knock up a few slides of PowerPoint:

“PowerPoint [… is …] rarely used to perform the task it was designed to do […] The latest whizz-bang tool is the answer! Prezi, Sway or whatever it is that the cool kids are using. Actually, though, the answer probably lies as much in new skills that people need to develop to communicate in a Digital era. Questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the message that you are trying to deliver?
  • Where will they be?
  • How will they consume your content?
  • How can you extend the conversation?”

We use Sway at work for weekly updates on what’s been happening in the company – internal communications that used to make use of lengthy HTML emails (I almost never used to read to the end) became more immersive and easier to engage with. And that’s where I think Sway fits – as a tool for communications that are read asynchronously. Not as a tool for presenting a message to an audience in real time.

You can see what you think about the use of Sway as a presentation tool when you take a look at the Sway I used for my MKGN talk.

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