On August 5, 2015, Microsoft announced that Sway had been moved from Preview status to Generally Available status for all Office 365 users. Microsoft describes Sway as a digital storytelling app, which is a fancy way of saying publication software with multimedia features.
Sway tries to tap into the more multimedia-savvy and younger enterprise workforce by offering them communication tools beyond the basic PowerPoint presentation. Only time will tell if this is good news for enterprise communication or if it is simply more bad news.
Let it Sway
I'm not going to go through the mechanics of how to create a Sway story, but I can say the tool is fairly easy to use, even for an old guy like me. Sway combines features from PowerPoint, Movie Maker, and WordPress, among others, so that a person with limited multimedia skill can put together a storyboard in very little time.
If you have an Office 365 subscription, then you already have Sway. If you don't have Office 365, but you have Windows 10, you can get Sway for free from the Windows Store. Microsoft provides tutorials and examples to get you started, so Sway may be worth a try for your next presentation or report.
Is this anything?
Sway is another example of Microsoft's fundamental market strategy of providing the modern enterprise workforce with powerful collaboration tools through Office 365. In Microsoft's vision, the modern worker will be communicating with other workers through digital technology. This ability to effectively collaborate and communicate is vital, because the modern workforce is mobile and spread out.
For the most part, I agree with Microsoft's assessment of modern workforce collaboration and communication. For many, collaboration over distance has been an important part of enterprise communication for years now, and it will only increase in importance as a younger, digitally-raised workforce start their careers.
By positioning Office 365 as the hub that makes all of this enterprise collaboration possible, Microsoft is inserting itself into the very fabric of corporate culture. It's a strategy designed to create a brand and an ecosystem that's synonymous with enterprise communication. I think it's a solid strategy, and I commend them for the effort.
However, with all that being said, I'm not convinced that Sway is going to play an integral part of this enterprise collaboration ideal. The problem is a key word used throughout Microsoft's announcement—creativity. Effective storytelling with a tool like Sway requires some creative skill, and that's a limited commodity in most enterprises.
After attending thousands of meetings and witnessing hundreds of feeble PowerPoint presentations, I've come to the conclusion that most of us are not that creative.
Perhaps that's too harsh. Maybe it's not that we aren't creative, but rather, we're not allowed to be creative. Perhaps it's a corporate culture self-fulfilling problem—PowerPoint presentations are bad, because PowerPoint presentations are always bad. That's just the way it is.
Sway tries to break this vicious cycle by providing tools for adding images and videos to the storytelling process, but that doesn't mean workers will be able, or allowed, to tell the story much differently than they have before using PowerPoint.
Whatever the reason, PowerPoint presentations, in my experience, are seldom an effective form of enterprise communication. Some better tools are welcome. The question is, will an app like Sway make a difference? Perhaps we are just doomed to bad presentations, no matter what tool we use. With time, the younger generation may have some ideas that can save us from ourselves.
When was the last time you attended a meeting with a good presentation? Do you think new apps like Sway can improve the presentation experience, or do we remain doomed? Will the interjection of some younger workers into the enterprise environment change the presentation format for the better? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.