PowerPoint has some very fancy animation capabilities. With Office 2003, Microsoft really upped the ante, allowing things like movement of a graphic object from point to point on a slide, or even movement following a complex path. This can enable a sharp PowerPoint designer to create some very slick animated sequences in his or her slide show. Some can even rival simple Flash animations for visual complexity. I certainly don't think you should go overboard with animations, but they can definitely add a visually engaging component to a presentation and there are times when they can really help to clarify a concept (eg: "the data moves from here to here in the network...").
Web conferencing vendors use several ways to deal with displaying PowerPoint slides to attendees. The major options are:
- Show the PowerPoint in a screen share of your desktop. This provides the ultimate in flexibility for supporting PowerPoint features during playback, since you are using Microsoft's proprietary player and it obviously can display everything you built in. But I'm not a big fan of this option. Large frame screen shares that involve big changes in graphic data content (like moving from slide to slide or animating pictures and photo objects on a slide) may not show a smooth motion on the attendees' computers. The software is grabbing big chunks of screen data, transmitting it in packets, and reassembling it on the far end. It can't be truly continuous motion by definition, and the illusion of continuity is only possible on the highest bandwidth, fastest networks. More commonly, the attendees will see choppy half-renderings of the intermediate positions.
- Convert the PowerPoint to a Flash video file. This can solve a lot of problems, since the Flash player is a common add-in for most people's systems already and runs on all the major operating systems. But even Macromedia (now owned by Adobe), the makers of Flash, can't convert everything possible in PowerPoint. I tested the latest version of their Breeze web conferencing software (which has gotten much better over the last year or so!) using my animation torture test. They came through better than many conversion-based vendors, but it still couldn't handle a couple of slide transition animations and a piece of word art. The converted shape and size of the text was wrong and it ruined the visual effect on the slide.
- Conversion to HTML is a trick that many of the lower-priced vendors use. This utility is built into the PowerPoint software. Being able to display the slides within all the common browsers is an easy way to support the presentation layer, but it is by no means perfect. Again, several PowerPoint transition and animation features just don't make it through the conversion process. One vendor who relied on this was astonished to see the results of my test slide set, which even locked up the system at one point.
- A few of the biggest enterprise targeted software products use proprietary conversion and display software that put the slide presentation into their own internal format. Taking WebEx and Microsoft Live Meeting as two of the most popular products in this genre, I find that they can usually handle anything I throw into my PowerPoint. The downside is that these packages require dedicated software sitting on the attendee's machine, and their record for smoothly supporting non-Windows operating systems is spotty at best. When pressed, most of their support folks will admit that sometimes Macintosh systems can see the presentation as intended... sometimes they can't. At least not without some dedicated troubleshooting and configuration led by an expert.
If your audience could be using a variety of operating systems and browsers, you may want to eliminate slide transitions and animations just to be on the safe side. If you elect to use them in your presentation, make sure to run through everything ahead of time and confirm that it works as you intended.