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PowerPoint vs. Word: Choosing Well

read mysteryPowerPoint is often the program of choice for creating any ole document — and often the wrong choice. For more about how we acquired this bad habit and why you may want to break it, see this article. This article provides tips on which program to use for what.

Before you open Word, PowerPoint or Excel

Figure out what you want to cover, and its flow.

  • Use the Post-it method for complex and/or a lot of potential content. Use the process results to create a written outline or use the organized stickies for your outline.
  • For other material, go directly to writing an outline (hand-write, or type in Word).

DO NOT think about how you want things to look — this puts your creative process on the wrong path. DO NOT start your process in the program because you think it will save time — it actually takes longer that way.

For a true webinar (not an online meeting)

Use PowerPoint.

Do not create one or more slides for each point in your outline. Doing that creates programs that bore people, take longer than they should, and have lower instructional or persuasive quality.

Instead, focus on slides that illustrate and support what you plan to say/cover (they don’t duplicate it). To do this: Highlight the things on your outline you want to support or illustrate. Work on those slides before you create introductory or close slides.

Tips: Do not use PPT’s notes view for your own speaker’s notes because it just doesn’t work well. Using the slides for your notes may prompt you to create overly-long decks and wordy slides. Instead: Put your speaker’s notes in a Word document. (I often put notes and the program outline in the same document.)

For an online meeting

We have lots of online meetings so let me be more specific: When you need an agenda, a report, or some other document meant to guide or support discussion: Use Word.

You can share Word the same way you do PowerPoint but it’s not always necessary for an effective meeting. Try sending the document in advance and just discussing it on the phone.

If you do not need an agenda, report or other document to discuss: Do not create any document, just talk things over on the phone.

For materials meant to be used as a reference

For policy and procedures and how-to’s; including materials that include screen-shots, graphs and so on: Use Word.

For things that will be read on their own

This includes items to be used in self-study, as well as things people will probably read on their own because they missed the presentation or meeting: Use Word.

In live training programs

Use PowerPoint sparingly as an electronic flipchart. This includes showing things you want the class to discuss or analyze (such as an example or case study), models (e.g., steps in a skill), and instructions for exercises.

Use Word for handouts, including handouts that also act as how-to reminders and reference.

When PowerPoint is easier

One of the strangest aspects of PowerPoint’s overuse is how awkward it is with text. (Considering the extra steps and forced-formatting, you’d think fewer people would use it inappropriately.) As klugie as it is with text, PowerPoint makes creating and editing graphics easy as pie. If you like those functions but should really use Word, create the graphic in PowerPoint and then:

  • Save just the graphic as a jpg or other graphic file and paste into Word (saving it as a file makes it easy to use and reuse)
  • Or just copy and paste into Word

About Excel

People who work with lots of numbers tend to like Excel over Word. The thing is, Excel is not designed for words, it’s designed for numbers and data.

On the other hand, Word has table features that act a lot like Excel. You can sort alphabetically, search, add, subtract, and do other simple mathematical functions. More importantly, Word has table functions that automatically let you work easily with words. So next time you have a list or a short description and think it will be fine in Excel… don’t do it. Use Word and insert a table.

Making the change

You may have noticed the above shows few uses for PowerPoint. If changing from PowerPoint to Word means fighting a strong tide, start small: Use Word documents in landscape orientation with two columns. Looks a lot like slides, without the bad habits!

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