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​.duarte​.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​.duarte​.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).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *