Some thoughts on the brand-new Office Sway

A lot of reviews of the brand-new Office Sway com­pa­re it to Power­Point, tend to think of it as a repla­ce­ment and even call it a „Power­Point kil­ler”. From my under­stan­ding, this is not what Sway is inten­ded for. Here are my two cents on posi­tio­n­ing Sway wit­hin the spec­trum of office pro­duc­tivi­ty tools:

On an average Power­Point slide, there are 30.8 words, two fifths of all Power­Point sli­des con­tain more than 50 words. Though this might be the rea­son that „4/​5ths of all PPT pre­sen­ta­ti­ons suck”​​1 (Guy Kawa­sa­ki), we should real­ly hope that many of these „pre­sen­ta­ti­ons” have never been inten­ded to be pre­sen­ted to an audi­ence. In fact, many of them might be what Nancy Duar­te calls a Sli­de­doc (see <http://​www​.duar​te​.com/​slidedocs/>) – a pre­sen­ta­ti­on file which in fact is a docu­ment inten­ded to be read.

Duar­te defi­nes a sli­de­doc as „[…] a docu­ment crea­ted using pre­sen­ta­ti­on soft­ware, where visu­als and words unite to illu­stra­te one clear point per page […]” which „[…] can be read and digested more quick­ly than eit­her a docu­ment or a pre­sen­ta­ti­on.” and has a high „spreada­bi­li­ty”.​2

As a mat­ter of fact, sen­ding pre­sen­ta­ti­on files or offe­ring them for down­load is increa­singly beco­m­ing a method of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on – inclu­ding, but not limi­ted to, cor­po­ra­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on. The­re­fo­re, there might be a clear case for sli­de­docs. None­theless, in my eyes, using Power­Point to crea­te docu­ments to be read is an obvious case of Maslow’s ham­mer. But don’t blame the ham­mer when you hit your thumb:

  • If you are going to crea­te a docu­ment to be prin­ted and han­ded over to a reader, use Word (or any other word pro­ces­sor).​3
  • If you are going to pre­sent in front of an audi­ence, use Power­Point (or any other pre­sen­ta­ti­on tool).

The arri­val of Micro­soft Office Sway (see Office Blogs) will add a third opti­on – and might replace sli­de­docs as a com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on tool:

  • If you are crea­ting a docu­ment to be read on screen, you almost surely will con­si­der Sway.

Sketchnote - Microsoft Office Sway

Unless you need detail­ed con­trol over the design or a fixed-size page lay­out, Sway might beco­me the pre­fer­red tool for the crea­ti­on of „sli­de­docs without sli­des”; sways (docu­ments crea­ted using Sway) might beco­me a sub­sti­tu­te for sli­de­docs as an instru­ment of cor­po­ra­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on. Sprea­ding them is extre­me­ly easy and their respon­si­ve design has a huge advan­ta­ge over (pre­sen­ta­ti­on) sli­des or (docu­ment) pages: As readers are increa­singly using mul­ti­ple dif­fe­rent form-fac­tor devices for the con­sump­ti­on of infor­ma­ti­on, the con­cept of a fixed-size fixed-lay­out page (or slide) beco­mes more and more an obsta­cle for them.

With Sway, you will be able to crea­te both, docu­ments to be read or con­tent to be pre­sen­ted. Though it might be tempt­ing to „recy­cle” one as ano­t­her – do not mix that up:

  • For docu­ments inten­ded to be read, Sway enab­les you to over­co­me the limi­ta­ti­ons of a fixed lay­out (e.g. <https://​sway​.com/​s​m​i​th_fashion>). Your readers can con­su­me your con­tent con­ve­ni­ent­ly on any device – whe­ther in the office or in a plane or while tele­com­mu­ting. Focus on con­tent, not design – Sway will take care that your docu­ment is ren­de­red at least appro­pria­te­ly (if not beau­ti­ful­ly).
  • Sway may also be used to pre­sent to an audi­ence (e.g. <https://​sway​.com/​c​N​T​u​n​H​kUu0421Q1H> or <http://​chan​nel9​.msdn​.com/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​T​e​c​h​E​d​/​E​u​r​o​p​e​/​2​0​1​4/OFC-B214>). In that case, you still need to adhe­re the recom­men­da­ti­ons for good pre­sen­ta­ti­on design.​4 At least, that means that you will have much less text in your sway com­pa­red to a sway inten­ded to be read. Using sways which are inten­ded to be read for a pre­sen­ta­ti­on in front of an audi­ence will almost cer­tain­ly lead to an equi­va­lent to „death by Power­Point”. Pre­sen­ta­ti­ons are not to be read, but to be pre­sen­ted and should not resem­ble docu­ments con­tai­ning a lot of text – rea­ding and listen­ing at the same time is almost impos­si­ble.

As the bor­der bet­ween text docu­ments and pre­sen­ta­ti­on sli­des con­ti­nuous­ly ero­des, it beco­mes more and more important to choo­se the appro­pria­te type of media. If you keep that in mind, Sway might beco­me an extre­me­ly use­ful part of your com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on tool­box.



  1.  <https://​twit​ter​.com/​g​u​y​k​a​w​a​s​a​k​i​/​s​t​a​t​u​s​/​5​1​5​0​1​5​2​1​6242118656>.
  2.  Duar­te, Nancy, Sli­de­docs, (Sun­ny­va­le: Duar­te Inc., 2014), acces­sed Febru­ary 25, 2014, <http://​www​.duar​te​.com/slidedocs>, 6.
  3.  Or (if you tend to be dis­trac­ted by the over­whel­ming mass of lay­out opti­ons) an edi­tor, see Allin Cotrell’s famous essay „Word Pro­ces­sors: Stu­pid and Inef­fi­ci­ent” at <>.
  4.  I high­ly recom­mend Garr Rey­nolds book „Pre­sen­ta­ti­on Zen” (here at Ama­zon).

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