Once upon a time, a lecture meant listening to an expert share his or her insights, and following their thought process as we listened. What the speaker said was of paramount importance, although he or she might stop occasionally to doodle something on a flip chart or chalkboard.
PowerPoint has taken the presenting world by storm, turning everyone, including those with no training whatsoever, into overnight art directors, creating presentations with every color imaginable, unlicensed audio files and low-resolution graphics off the Internet, and animations to make even the stoutest viewer dizzy. For a moment we thought we had arrived – that presenting had become accessible to even the most timid. Instead we now deride PowerPoint as the butt of our presentation jokes, all the while continuing to rely on it with alarming co-dependency.
We will skip over the advent of Keynote, because, although it is a sleeker and more sophisticated version of PowerPoint, it is still, at its core, neither revolutionary nor new. There is, however, a quiet little piece of software making inroads in the presenting community and changing the way we present altogether. That software is Prezi.
Prezi is available online for either Mac or PC platforms. It works off computers or iPad and can import PowerPoint presentations for conversion into the Prezi format with tremendous ease. From this point on, however, what transpires is both Prezi’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness: Prezi lets users build presentations that are not, technically speaking, linear. It lets viewers move through ideas much like the creative thought process moves. This creates presentations that are radically more engaging to audiences, but also means that the presenter (or content expert) must be the one creating the presentation.
Prezi is intuitive to learn and navigate. It puts the focus back on the core idea (where PowerPoint tends to focus on the medium). This shift has made raving fans out of most Prezi users. It may also be the reason Prezi hasn’t taken off at the rate that PowerPoint enjoyed. Something so different is intimidating, especially when presentations are typically created under severe time restraints.
The Prezi site has excellent — and free — tutorials. These tips should also help demystify it:
- Ideas have a visible hierarchy and connection within a presentation. Done well, this is extremely clarifying. Done poorly, it is terribly confusing
- Links, images, videos and other content can be linked so that you move seamlessly from idea to idea, without the use of bullets or other supporting content. This means presenters must know their content well.
- Highly designed backgrounds and repeated content patterns (tile slides, bulleted text slides) on every frame are minimized. Instead, the content and interrelation of ideas are primary.
- Animation is real-time – allowing presenters to zoom in on visual elements for emphasis as they speak, and move between frames as though moving through space and time.
Prezi lets presenters to use linear presenting models if they wish to do so, by importing their PowerPoint slides. This feature helps ease the easily intimidated user into familiarity with the software, but certainly does not use Prezi’s greatest strengths.
Prezi may not be for everyone, but it’s worth investigating and understanding for presentations where conceptualization is king.
Next month: Our six-part series ends with a look at virtual trade shows