Prezi is cool, but it’s still just a tool

I heard about Prezi a couple months ago, but have only recently had the chance to try it out in a couple projects myself.

Prezi is…

Prezi is an online (and offline, for a price) presentation tool which lets you create presentations in a non-linear format on a white canvas. Instead of clicking through slide by slide as in Keynote or PowerPoint, Prezi lets you create paths to move around the canvas, zoom in to reveal details, zoom out to see the big picture.

Here’s what I like about Prezi and why I’ve been using it lately:

1. Prezi lets you see how the details fit into the overall presentation.

Comments I’ve heard from viewers is that they like how Prezi lets them see how various different points in a presentation fit into the whole. There are a couple of recent TED talks (like those by Ron Gutman and Chris Anderson) that demonstrate this well. Not only do “Prezis” give the audience perspective, I think they force presenters to craft their messages in a different way. As you’re building your presentation, you always see the whole canvas and are forced to ask, “How will this point fit into my main message?”

The ability to zoom is also quite helpful when you’re highlighting features on a website, for example, because you can zoom into particular areas as you’re talking about them.

If you’re looking for similar functionality in other platforms, Keynote has a “Magic Move” feature, but it’s not very PC-friendly (see #3). PowerPoint also has a pptPlex plugin available, which I haven’t tried yet (because Microsoft is being all exclusive and anti-Mac :().

2. Prezi encourages non-linear thinking.

I don’t think I’ve even begun to tap into the possibilities with this, but from the main formatting Prezi toolbar (which isn’t a “bar” at all, but rather a series of circles), to the big empty canvas, Prezi encourages users to view presenting in a whole new way. Think of how you’d jot down ideas from a brainstorm (non-linear) as opposed to how you’d take notes from a lecture (linear, often). I think this offers an exciting opportunity for presenters to engage the many in their audience who prefer a more non-linear approach towards learning and discussing ideas.

3. Prezi makes sharing easy.

Sharing a PowerPoint presentation with different computers can be a nightmare. If it’s going to be presented on any computer besides the one it was created on, you have to make sure it has the right fonts installed, that the videos are embedded etc etc. In contrast, sharing a Prezi is as easy as passing on a link, or logging in to your account on prezi.com. You can access your Prezi online and edit or present it straight from the website. There are also download options if you want all the files offline, as well as PDF printing options.

The Problem with Prezi

Will “Death-by-PowerPoint” be replaced by “Vertigo-by-Prezi”? – Garr Reynolds

Prezi is the new trendy tool in the world of presentations. But the thing is, it’s still just that: a tool. Often as presenters we can fall prey to the temptation of creating a presentation around a particular tool, rather than using the tools to help clarify our message and engage our audience. Creating any talk or teaching doesn’t start on presentation software (even if that software is a “blank canvas”), it starts with you the presenter and the idea you want to share. If you’re presenting or teaching, don’t let your slides steal the show! If you watch the talk by Chris Anderson talk mentioned above, you’ll notice that while there are a lot of interesting things going on on the screen behind him, he and his message remain the focus of his talk, the visuals merely support what he’s trying to communicate.

I hope that you’ll try out Prezi (send me a link if you do!), have fun, and let it help you rethink how you structure your talk. But don’t ever ever let it distract you from your message and the most important aspect of your presentation: creating a connection with your audience!

P.S. Taking a Stand!

If you share my irritation over presentation software that tries to steal the spotlight in presentations, know that we’re not alone. While much can be said about this, no one has put a larger stake in the ground about this issue than the Swiss Matthias Poehm. For many years he has seen this as a problem, and in response started the Anti-Powerpoint-Party (yes, a political party!) to fight the worldwide domination of presentation software. While he targets PowerPoint specifically, one can only assume he’d express the same passion against Prezi as well. Check out his video and call to arms (sans slides, you’ll notice) below, or watch it here. And join the movement, if you like…

“If you have a PowerPoint presentation (and this PowerPoint presentation went very well), and you take the same presentation and do it without PowerPoint, then you will find out that in 95 out of 100 cases, the version without PowerPoint will beat the version with PowerPoint.” – Matthias Poehm

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