Office Sway: What Is It and When to Use It

Haniel Croitoru

by Haniel Croitoru on 8/19/2015

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Article Details

Date Revised:
8/19/2015

Applies to:
Office 365, Sway


For the first time in a long time, Microsoft recently released a new app for Office product family called Sway. Office Sway is a presentation tool used to deliver captivating presentations.

Sway cards can contain multimedia content

Figure 1: A collection of multimedia content on a Sway storyline

As with many new innovative technologies, it sometimes takes time and usage before the marketplace establishes the right niche. That’s because it’s not enough to understand what Sway is and when to use it, but also how to use it best. Until now, the de facto Microsoft application for presentations has been PowerPoint with traditional slide content that included text and imagery. However, since it’s launch, Sway has seen a rapid uptake, which should make you ask yourself whether it’s better to use Sway or stick with PowerPoint based on your target audience and purpose.

A Sway (equivalent of a document or presentation) is composed of multiple cards that are combined into a storyline.

Cards are containers that hold text, images and videos. You can combine cards into groups. A collection of cards make up the storyline. Unlike a page-centric document such as PowerPoint presentations, storylines can shift across the screen in a continuous fashion. Office 365 Sway adds an interesting twist by being strictly cloud based with both interactive and dynamic content. Now that you know what Sway is, what follows is a summary of when and when not to use Sway. You can also find an introduction to Sway on Docs.com.

Sway cards get organized into a storyline

Figure 2: Creating a Sway storyline.

When Should You Use Sway?

This list indicates the typical times when you might choose to use Sway to deliver presentations to users.

When creating media-rich content

The proverb, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” hold true in many cases. This is especially true in Sway where much of the presentation is optimized to display images and create smooth transitions between cards.

When you want your reader to interact with content

One of the things that sets Sway apart from other presentation applications is its ability to include live content such as tweets and embedded IFRAMES from numerous sources that the user can interact with including Google maps, and numerous other audio, video and picture sharing sites. You can find a full list of embeddable sites here.

A Sway card can contain a tweet and a Google map

Figure 3: Twitter card and Google Map card inside the Sway storyline

When you want to focus on content rather than formatting

Sway allows the user to focus on the content without worrying too much about the formatting. You can choose from numerous canned designs, fonts, and navigation patterns. Sway also lets you control the level of emphasis on the card transition animations. Not enough? You can try the Remix! option, which will randomly select from the designs, fonts, and layouts to give you a unique experience. Like a big gumball machine, you can see what’s available but you never know what you’re going to get.

A default theme for a sway

Figure 4: Original design

A remix theme of a sway

Figure 5: Remix 1

Another remix of a sway

Figure 6: Remix 2

When a document is not required

A user stores their sways in Office 365 under their account. They can easily share a sway with other specific users, everyone within an organization or the public via a link. However, you cannot export a sway into a file. Microsoft has chosen to make a general move with Office 365 away from emailing documents and toward sharing information via links. Sway is well-aligned with this strategy. So you can share links to a sway but you cannot take a sway into a format that is offline.

When not to use sway

We must consider not only what content doesn’t lend itself to be “swayed” but also whether it makes sense for the audience that will be consuming it.

Look and feel matters

Sway offers some great ways to theme presentations. However, at this time Sway is limited in its flexibility and only allows a selection of pre-defined design themes.

  1. Sway only allows you to select from the selection of choices it offers you. You cannot pick your own colours or fonts.
  2. You can create cards for your content but you don’t have control about how it will actually render or appear.
  3. Text formatting is limited to bold and italics. You cannot choose any other formatting such as choosing other fonts per card or changing font colour throughout.
  4. Cards don’t have any animations associated with them such as content appearing or shifting on the page.

Focused on web rather than print

Yes, this is 2015 and organizations should be mostly paperless by now. At least that was one of the goals when computers were invented. The reality is that organizational behavior is sometimes hard to change, which includes not printing content that is readily available online. Since sways are purely cloud-based, there is no way to export them into a document or print them. If that is something that your organization requires then it’s best to create the presentation using a more traditional tool.

Are you ready to captivate your audience in new ways?

If you’re looking for new ways to share media-rich presentations with others, you may find that Sway offers a quick and convenient way to do so. When possible, try to use Office 365 Sway in your own organization for your next presentations where content matters more than format and pictures are more prevalent than the text that describes them. Take a look at the “Get Started with Sway (Preview)” video to familiarize yourself with the tool.

For detailed insights into guiding users and organizations around when to use what in Office 365, we at 2toLead have written a 60+ page whitepaper on How To Decide: When To Use What in Office 365 that you can download for free here. In addition to this whitepaper, we presented a session on this topic at Microsoft Ignite in May 2015 and you can hear our recorded session free here.


Topic: Sway

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