Friday, March 4, 2011

Praise for Prezi

Thanks to a tip from Justin Lloyd, I've recently started playing with a web-based presentation tool called Prezi. It's a relatively new app created by a Budapest-based startup that, since its 2007 launch, has grabbed the attention of folks who are frustrated with the limitations of traditional presentation software. If you give talks - in academic settings, corporate venues, wherever - you should take a look at Prezi. Here's why:

Traditional presentation software (I'm a sucker for Keynote, but I also used PowerPoint for years) is organized around the slide. You can think about the larger narrative, and there are many ways to connect slides to broader themes, but the slide view seems to inspire a sort of silo approach toward information: "This slide contains these facts; that slide contains those facts. Let's look at them one at a time."

In contrast, Prezi allows me to put all the information on one broad canvas, enabling audience members to see how all the pieces fit together. Additionally I can inspire retention by displaying information spatially as well as chronologically. Doing so, I can prioritize information through the depiction of physical scale not easily replicated with traditional presentation software.

Sure, PowerPoint allows me to display a headline for main ideas and smaller sized font for secondary points. But Prezi allows me to create informational groups and the zoom out to show surprising connections or zoom in to reveal details. This malleable "big picture view" helps audience members grasp the whole without getting bogged down by the parts.

Best of all, while I can use Prezi to create a path from node to node (zooming into and out of the canvas as needed) I can also click anywhere I choose, reorganizing the narrative on the fly. So if an audience member wants me to return to a particular point, I can reorganize the flow of ideas to accommodate the impromptu need.

Prezi is really cool, but it's hardly perfect. The "zebra" interface takes some adjustment, and the choice of fonts and features is relatively limited when compared to PowerPoint or Keynote. Oh, and the Flash-based app can occasionally glitch up on you, requiring some patience and even an occasional restart during Prezi-creation (no problems during delivery, though, thank goodness). Yet whether you're using the desktop or web-based version, you're sure to find that Prezi inspires new ideas about making presentations flow.

The pricing structure feels about right - with free options and educator-discount options available. I went ahead and splurged on the pro version, and I'm glad I did. So take a look at Prezi - and see whether it helps you rethink your next presentation.

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