There's nothing as boring as a bad presentation. Reams of dull slides projected in a darkened room is a pretty good recipe for a nap. But it doesn't have to be that way. A presentation with engaging visuals adds to your narration rather than just replicating it, making it a very effective way to get people's attention – and with the right free software, it's surprisingly easy to achieve.
Although Microsoft Powerpoint has become almost synonymous with presentations, it isn't the only way to get your slides on screen. If you don't fancy paying for a Microsoft Office subscription, there are lots of free tools that will help you create even more attention-grabbing slideshows and won't cost you a penny.
1. WPS Office
WPS is our pick for the best free presentation software; a familiar interface with plenty of choice
Once known as Kingsoft Office, WPS Office is, in interface terms, about as close to Microsoft's office software as you're likely to find. WPS Presentation (its PowerPoint-alike) has enough muscle to perform just about every task you'd expect of a slideshow app.
WPS Presentation is fully compatible with PPT and PPTX files, and incredibly stable – as you might expect from commercial software that's been around for this long. The range of templates on offer is particularly impressive, and there's also a stack of animations, transitions and effects to choose from. There's even support for embedding numerous different file types including Flash SWF files and most video formats.
This flexibility makes WPS Office the best free presentation software. Read on for four more of the best tools for bringing your slideshows to life.
Review and where to download: WPS Office Free
2. LibreOffice Impress
LibreOffice Impress is very capable, but lacks a dab of professional polish
LibreOffice's free presentation software, Impress, has an, er, impressive pedigree. It also has a raft of features and templates at its disposal. But don't make the mistake of thinking it's an exact PowerPoint analog.
Certain features of more modern PowerPoint versions aren't included (internet broadcast, collaboration, animated diagrams) though LibreOffice Impress adds some pretty cool features of its own, like various export formats including SWF, import compatibility with Keynote files, and full support for embedding fonts in your presentations. Plus, of course, it's completely free open source software.
There's another benefit, too: you'll need to do some heavy work to get Office 365 running on anything earlier than Windows 7, but LibreOffice Impress maintains compatibility right back to Windows XP.
Review and where to download: LibreOffice
3. iCloud Keynote
All the finesse you'd expect from Apple in an online presentation application
Apple's flagship presentation software is, in our opinion, the best part of the suite formerly known as iWork, and it's free to anyone who owns a post-2013 Mac. However, we think Keynote's best incarnation is the one that comes as part of its iCloud online app suite, mainly because anyone with an Apple ID - Mac, Windows or Linux - gets free access through a web browser.
It's a pretty good translation of the package, though it's a little closer to the iOS version than the desktop one. This means there are a few caveats you'll have to live with. Documents created with the full version sometimes include elements which aren't supported by the online version, and while you'll have no problem creating some very flashy presentations with the numerous 4:3 and 16:9 templates, the simplistic tools mean they won't match the complexity of those created by its desktop counterpart.
Anything you do create can be shared online by sending simple link to any recipient, or you can take your pick of Keynote, PDF or Powerpoint downloads.
Try it online: iCloud Keynote
Powtoon delivers eye-catching visuals with a light-hearted twist
If you've seen animated infographics online, you might already have an idea of what Powtoon can offer; it's perfect for creating video presentations slightly more lively and charming than the standard PowerPoint fare, with royalty-free music and eye-catching looks. Whether its blend of cartoony assets and sprightly animations is the right thing for you is another question.
Such frivolity may help you stand out, but it might single you out as a presenter who isn't taking things seriously. That said, Powtoon's dedicated Slides section provides a more traditional editor for making more straightforward slide decks, and anything you create there can be later tarted up in the Studio section.
Try it online: Powtoon
Prezi lets you make slick, dynamic presentations without traditional slides
Prezi's take on presentations is very different, since it does away with slide decks altogether in favour of a massive canvas. Cram it full of all your pertinent info, lock off views representing the most important areas, then zoom, twist, reveal and jump between them for a truly dynamic presentation.
It's all very special and next-generation, and it's certainly easy enough to get some brilliant looks out of Prezi's online presentation tools, but there are some big downsides too. Primarily, the free edition makes all of your presentations public by default, presumably to discourage business users from exploiting the tool without paying for it.
There's a secondary negative too: many people, faced with Prezi's sometimes unpredictable movements, find themselves becoming somewhat seasick when watching particularly active presentations. Be careful with your movements, and watch a few of the advice videos on Prezi's site so you're sure you're doing it right.
Try it online: Prezi