PowerPoint presentations are the standard for presentations in the workplace.
Except that they kind of suck—Jeff Bezos actually placed a blanket ban on PowerPoint at Amazon.com early on.
It's not really Microsoft's fault. PowerPoint gives you all kinds of templates and graphics tools, but all anyone ever uses is boring bullet points on a white background.
Today, Microsoft is introducing a pair of new PowerPoint features, Designer and Morph, that make it a lot harder to create a boring presentation.
"We want to make PowerPoint smarter," PowerPoint Partner Group Program Manager Shawn Villaron tells Business Insider. "The quality of your slides is going to go up."
The catch is that you'll need a Microsoft Office 365 subscription to take advantage, and the new features are only on the Windows desktop and Windows Mobile versions of PowerPoint thus far. Microsoft promises it's coming to other versions of PowerPoint in the future.
But Villaron says the mere fact that these major new features are being released less than two months after Microsoft Office 2016 came out is proof that the monthly fee is worth it, as the company picks up the pace with all its software.
The first feature, called PowerPoint Designer, actually suggests slide layouts and features based on the content. If you include a picture, for example, it suggests a series of remixed slide designs that might change the color scheme to match the photo, or place the photo at an interesting, eye-catching angle, or both.
So you drag a picture into your slide, like so. Note the Designer suggestions on the right:
If you choose one, it looks like this:
Nothing that Designer suggests is anything that you couldn't do yourself. But even if you knew the right menu options to get to the features, you don't necessarily have the design background (or the patience) to make it all sing.
And so, rather than take control away from the user, Villaron says, the whole point of Designer is to shorten the loop between Microsoft's internal team of graphics experts and users.
Furthermore, Microsoft is actually leaning on its machine learning expertise on the backend to constantly update Designer with new, more relevant and good-looking suggestions. This is a big part of why you need that Office 365 subscription to take advantage: Villaron says it's going to get better and smarter over time.
The second big update is PowerPoint Morph, which makes it much easier to do simple animations in your presentation.
Sure, you can do animations in PowerPoint today. But, again, even if you know how, they're weird and fidgety and take lot of steps to accomplish.
Meanwhile, check out this presentation by Microsoft PowerPoint Senior Manager Chris Maloney, made with PowerPoint Morph:
That cute little cartoon? Done in PowerPoint. Maloney says that people retain information better when it's done in this more visual, animated way, and it certainly looks more interesting than bullet points.
Here's another example:
Villaron says that this is the kind of pace that customers should expect from PowerPoint going forward: The presentation is a cornerstone of Office, and Microsoft is working on making it smarter across all devices.
Villaron also notes that the PowerPoint organization has a "very close relationship" with the team behind Microsoft Sway, the app that many (Business Insider included) have called a PowerPoint-killer, meaning that it could be an early indicator of things to come.
With Office 365 giving Microsoft the path to update its software faster, Villaron says this is only the beginning. In fact, Microsoft is also launching into beta an "Office Insider" program that lets brave souls sign up and test out new Office features a few weeks ahead of schedule.
"We've never been able to do this with Office," Villaron says.