In the course of the past two weeks, I have read three separate writings that hail Apple Keynote as the antidote to Death by PowerPoint and a savior to the presentation community.


Let me begin by saying that I have absolutely nothing against Keynote. I like many of its creative transitions and its direct export to video is vastly superior to PowerPoint's deficient offerings. But a magic bullet for everything that people do wrong during a presentation? Again…please.

PowerPoint's bad reputation is owing to the fact that roughly 3.5 bazillion people use it, and of those 3.5 bazillion, 98% of them are undertrained. If all 3.5 bazillion people switched overnight to Keynote, would they all become better presenters? Of course not! The ony inevitable result of this fiction would be the sullying of Keynote's reputation.

If you are a clueless presentation content creator — if you like to stuff untold text blather onto your slides, compose complete sentences, and make things spin stupidly onto the slide – there is no magic potion within Keynote that will compel you to stop. I'm sorry, but Keynote's cleaner default slide is not enough to stem this tide. Apple Keynote will not infuse in you a decade of experience, a modicum of good sense, or a schtickle of restraint. It just doesn't work that way.

Apple Keynote is thought of more highly because, by and large, the people using it have higher graphical skills and deeper design sense. That is a gross generalization, I know, but as a cultural axiom, there is little denying that the background of the loyal and zealous Mac user is more creative than that of the corporate-based Windows user. As an author and conference host for Corel products, I have been a witness to this for the past 15 years, and I see little on the presentation side to contradict it.

The people creating more attractive slides in Keynote have an advantage over the typical PowerPoint user because they stand a better chance of being able to get out from under their slides and present more emotionally and powerfully to their audience. With cleaner visuals, they have more access to their audience's emotional senses. But this is because of the violinist, not the violin. That same person, if sat down behind PowerPoint, would likely follow his or her instincts and create slides that are less "PowerPointish" than the norm.

PowerPoint use outnumbers Keynote use by factors that have many zeroes behind it. Going on sheer numbers, I'll bet you that the number of PowerPoint slides that are beautiful, impactful, and artful (however you might choose to define those terms) outnumber those of Keynote.

These types of statistics are meaningless. Talented presentation designers will do good work with whatever tool they adopt. Inexperienced content creators will struggle with whatever tool they are given.

I have more to say about this, but let's first hear what you have to say…

11 Responses

  1. Switch to Keynote? Heavens no! Support keynote as a responsible presentation professional? Heavens yes!
    Recommend one over the other? Not with out some sort of payment…

  2. Well… I am a little biased.. But a tool is a tool. Here’s where I think Keynote has some advantages.
    1. Better starter templates.
    2. More robust tools for adjusting images right on the canvas.
    3. A focus on typography (without options that allow you to easily cram a slide too full)
    4. Easier support for multimedia content.
    But… anyone can make a bad presentation… with or without Keynote. Just give them a stage and a flip chart (or even just let them open their mouths).
    We all love our tools… but its ultimately the content that matters.

  3. Here here! Many Keynote presentations fall into the same trap as the vast majority of PowerPoint presentations:
    – Poor planning
    – Too much text (bullet point or otherwise)
    – Over reliance on animation to cover up for a lack of preparation/imagination (yes, Keynote may have a spinning box slide transition but is it helping me tell my story any more effectively?! Um…no)
    Keynote snobs face the same perils as the gazillions of PowerPoint users…no end of fancy transitions or template backgrounds (BTW – they’re only refreshing because nobodys ever seen them before!) will disguise this fact. It all comes down to the human being driving the software.
    Rant over. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to vent my spleen!

  4. I have been stuck behind the PC for too many years — so long, I confess, this is the first time I’ve heard about Keynote. I’m going to check it out and unleash myself!

  5. I use both. One when I can. One when I must.
    I prefer Keynote because:
    – Just starting out, you have defaults that work with those aiming for effective design. PowerPoint’s defaults have me fighting the software all along the way.
    – Charts. With both, the default over-stylized charts need to be altered to more simpler, and more effective designs. Comparing the outputs of the two just makes PowerPoint look amateurish (
    – blank slides. Yes, PowerPoint has blank slides, but the default slide in PowerPoint is one with a title and a section for a bulleted lists. I create one blank slide and the rest that follow are as well. This is important to me given that 90% of my sides start as a blank canvas.
    – As Mr. Harrington said above, better attention to typography
    – Presenter tools in Keynote are in my opinion superior
    – Better object control (images, etc.)
    – In the few occasions where transitions are useful, Keynote gives me better control.
    – Better control over gradual builds, including bullets, when bullets are necessary.
    I use both (PowerPoint on Windows and Mac) and Keynote ’09. I use Keynote when I can and PowerPoint when I must.
    Sheer number of PowerPoint users doesn’t mean it’s better or higher quality. It’s just pre-installed on most computers, especially at work. An ill-begotten monopoly.

  6. I also work in both Keynote and Powerpoint, and agree with Mike Pulsifer. Both programs have their strengths and shortfalls. All things considered, I prefer Keynote, but end up using Powerpoint simply because it’s what most people have.

    Both programs have the same weakest link– users who don’t have a good sense of presentation. Regardless of the platform you prefer, simply having Word/Pages doesn’t make you a writer, having Excel/Numbers doesn’t make you an accountant, and having PowerPoint/Keynote doesn’t make you a presentations designer.

  7. Not in a kajillion years will I switch.

    I will have Keynote on hand for those few clients who use it, but the point has been made over and over again — it’s not the *tool* that makes the presentation. It’s the presenter. Edward Tufte could have just as easily written, “The Cognitive Load of Keynote.” What’s going to stop a presenter from using Keynote to create a slides full of bullets?

    That said, throwing away all slides and using life size cut outs would be more compelling than using a Keynote slide full of bullets — but wow — has a “cube transition…”

  8. Love this sentence in your editorial: If all 3.5 bazillion people switched overnight to Keynote, would they all become better presenters?

  9. I agree Rick. It is not the software, it is the presenter’s skill that decides how good a presentation is.

    I love Keynote, but a major defect is the absence of a Keynote player on the PC platform. The “export to PPT” function just doesn’t work reliably for me.

    The transitions are beautiful – but we all know that can be a problem. Less is more.

    I am not sure I agree about the typography. I find the fonts can be a little ornate and I usually change them.

    I will continue to use both – unless someone pays me as well!

  10. I take the points on both “sides” here, but for me Keynote edges it because the interface makes it faster to use. To put it brutally, I can get more done! 🙂


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