Sway is not replacing PowerPoint: The real story

There has been a lot of misinformation about the Sway service from Microsoft being a replacement for PowerPoint. This is simply not true. After spending time with the lead of the Sway team at the recent Microsoft MVP Summit, I came away with a much clearer understanding of how Sway differs from PowerPoint and when you might use each product.

In my understanding, the key use of Sway is for situations where you are willing to give control of the design decisions (positioning, colors, layout, fonts, etc.) to the Sway design engine. You simply give it pre-created content, and allow it to create a web/mobile-first design. PowerPoint is for situations that require full control over the design, such as maintaining corporate branding guidelines. You create the content and the output is usually a presentation that is delivered in front of an audience or emailed to them.

Here is a table that goes into more of the differences between Sway and PowerPoint in four key areas: Content, Design, Creation/Editing, and Delivery.

(as of Nov 2015; features may change or be added)
Who decides the contentYou; Sway suggests additional content from web sources based on the content you createYou
Who decides which content is most importantYou (although Sway may interpret priority settings)You
Include web contentYes, primary content sourcePossible; some web content may require effort to download and include; primary content is on device already or created in PowerPoint
Include content from programs like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, or PDFImport brings in content from some sources; Some limitations on copy and paste features for text; limited formatting options; Graphs or charts may need to be saved as images before importingEasy, many options for copying and pasting from other Office programs
Who decides the design (colors, fonts, positioning, etc.)Sway design engineYou
Degree of control over designMinimal, limited to options Sway allows you to controlYou have full control
Design approach to viewer interactions with contentWeb centric; scroll, motion, touch are important elementsMainly static; interactions need to be manually added and have some limitations
Able to maintain corporate brand guidelinesNoYes
Mobile creation/editingIntegral and designed from the start to support; some may consider as primary methodNow coming to mobile platforms and web application; limited features compared to desktop applications
Desktop creation/editingWeb browser for all platforms; Windows 10 desktop appNative desktop applications
Creation of content such as diagrams/graphsSimple charts can be created in Sway (Preview feature at this time); diagrams must be imported as imagesYes
Stand-up delivery in front of audienceHas screen by screen mode that can be used by a presenterYes
Viewers consume on own without presenterPrimary delivery method; display of content adapts to device sizeYes, usually through slidedocs
Sharing via emailEasy, link providedInclude as attachment subject to organization/provider rules on attachment size
Embed into websiteEasy, embed code providedMore difficult, usually convert to another format such as PDF or SlideShare first
Location of finished productOn Sway servers; not compliant with corporate security policies that restrict content being on non-corporate serversOn corporate servers/computers; corporate content security restrictions maintained
Use of builds/animation you controlNoYes
Non-linear & interactivity when presented in stand-up deliveryYes, flexibility given to presenter to jump around cards or focus on elementsYes, needs to be pre-determined for best results

I see Sway being used for less formal situations, such as personal sharing of content with family and friends, community groups who want to more easily generate content without the burden of the design work, or situations where you need the content to be easily shared/embedded via a web viewing experience. PowerPoint will continue to be the choice for corporate presentations and slidedocs, and any situation where a presenter is at the front of the room and branding is important. Sway and PowerPoint will continue to co-exist, with each product being used in different situations.

Note: This article was originally written in November 2014 when Sway was in Preview and was updated in November 2015. As with all software, some features may be added and current features changed as the product evolves.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.