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.

Short takes: SharePoint/Delve and shortlinks; CESG guidance on Office 365; removing Sway from the App Launcher

So, it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve run out of annual leave this year so I’m still working… looks like everyone else has gone home though so I’m really just clearing down my mailbox, searching for Inbox Zero nirvana. As I do, there are lots of little snippets that I might like to remember, so here’s a little Christmas compilation…

SharePoint, Delve and short links

We have a URL shortener at work and one of the things it’s really great for is taking reallyreallylongandundigestibleurisfromsharepoint and making them risu.al/short. Unfortunately Alex Eggar, who leads our Business Productivity group, highlighted to me that I’m better off using SharePoint’s sharing functionality… otherwise Delve won’t know what’s going on…

There’s loads of information on Delve for Office 365 administrators and Paul Olenick (SharePoint MVP) has an interesting post the describes more about Delve. What I haven’t managed to get clear in my head yet is why a short URL bypasses the Office Graph… I’m still accessing the content… but I’ll leave that one to the experts!

CESG Guidelines for use of Office 365 at OFFICIAL

I had an interesting meeting with a customer recently, discussing how their Office 365 implementation aligned to UK Government (CESG) guidelines. Whilst they are guidelines, and this customer is only loosely affiliated with the Government, the CESG guidance on Office 365 could be considered as a useful benchmark.

The guidelines are available on the gov.uk website. Currently they include:

Turning off the App Launcher tile for Sway

As I wrote a couple of months ago when describing how to selectively remove tiles from the Office 365 App Launcher, disabling Sway in Office 365 didn’t used to remove the tile from the launcher. Since earlier this month, that behaviour has been changed with more details in Microsoft knowledge base article 3075256.

Office “Sway” breezes into view

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a new Office authoring product.  It’s not about blogs, documents, or presentations – its all of those and neither of them (say Microsoft). It’s something totally new: a “web-oriented canvas with content aggregation and assisted authoring”. And it’s called Sway.

I’m sure there are other products that do similar things – my kids are very excited about the things they’re doing at school using Google Drive at the moment (although I’m not sure that goes quite as far).  Storify has been around for a while, but Sway seems to go further – and I think it’s really quite exciting…

Sway is about sharing information – the content people have access to (photos, social posts) but this is increasingly dynamic – so we want to create presentations that reflect the current state of things. As users, we create/publish/share instantly but need to do this without having to master the details of many apps. Microsoft sees Sway as a digital assistant to do the “heavy lifting” for polished cohesive output.

I’m sure that all sounds good to a marketing person but what does it really mean? Well, I have a real use case. I have something that I’d like to present to a particular audience (Milton Keynes Geek Night). That audience is made up (mostly) of designers, web developers and very image-conscious people. They know what looks good.  I have 1 minute to get my message across – and if it looks messy… well, I’ve blown it.

I want to avoid using the same templates that people have seen time and time again, or needing great design skills – and Sway uses machine-based algorithms to help present the content. It’s kind of like a “designer in a box” where I can specify intent (what’s important, what to keep together, etc.) and use Sway’s capability to display on different devices – with it’s engine to reflowing content appropriately to the device.

There’s a Microsoft video that demonstrates this and draws out the fact that Sway is mobile-first, cloud-first so device agnostic (indeed, Microsoft starts the demo using an iPhone):

If you don’t have 17 minutes to watch the video, it includes:

  • Inserting a photo; using voice to text to dictate a caption; swiping to emphasise (or delete) content.
  • Adding more content using different devices (e.g. OneNote content as text, then breaking out into sections by highlighting text as headers, adding content to the story line from OneDrive – dragging photos onto the canvas; grabbing items and grouping them with transformation effects like stacking images; adding videos from YouTube and tweets from Twitter).
  • Showcasing pictures to make them centred, larger (or even smaller); grouping content but without having to say how many pixels high/wide they should be and the exact location.
  • Defining a structure (Sway can can have linear or non-linear outputs); changing the colour scheme based on the colours in an image, or using pre-populated moods.
  • Sharing via social networks, emailing, or embedding in a web page as HTML5.
  • And viewing just needs a browser – no additional software.

Sway is in preview at the moment – and more styles, layouts, etc. will follow.

You can sign up for the preview at sway.com (I’m on the list and hoping to get to play soon). Now, if only I had an approved account I could create a dynamic Sway about Sway – and this blog post would be so much more exciting… oh well, hey ho – for now the videos and links in this post take the old skool (WordPress) approach.