Why Prezi won’t revolutionize your presentations

Today, Ekant Veer shares his thoughts about Prezi. Ekant is a Marketing professor at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand), publishes frequently in a number of international marketing journals, and runs his own blog on academic life. Oh, and he is one of the most engaging and entertaining presenters that I have ever seen! So let’s see what he has to say about this new presentation paradigm.

If you’ve never heard about Prezi, here’s a quick overview (and see video below)… but it’d be far better to go to their site and have a play. Prezi is a reasonably new means of creating presentations. Instead of a linear series of slides, you create a mindmap or a flow diagram of your topic and include content as you go. The platform offers a very different feel from your standard Powerpoint or Keynote presentation by zooming in and out of your mindmap.



Prezi is web based, so you can edit your presentations (Prezis) from anywhere with an internet connection, as well as access old Prezis whenever you need. You can also play them on your iPad with a free Prezi Viewer App, which since its latest version gives you some basic editing capabilities.

 

How Prezi and I met…

I heard about Prezi from a colleague a few months back who was certain it will revolutionize the way we present, and signals the end of Powerpoint. In my usual vitriolic style, I told him that replacing one presentation platform with another, albeit sexier, is not revolutionary. To me, it’s like changing from an old car, to a new car…the new car has nicer bells and whistles, but it’s still a car. To me, revolutionary needs to change a car into a helicopter; a carrot into a steak dinner; a mouse into a hippopotamus. None of which I was convinced Prezi would be able to do for presentations…

Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago when I came across a different colleague’s webpage where he openly shared one of his Prezis. I had a quick look and was actually quite impressed by the slickness of the Prezi and gave a little giggle with how ‘cool’ it looked.

This is what I think draws most people to Prezi in my mind: it’s cool… play it from your iPad, and you’re off the cool chart.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves… Is it really worth investing time and effort into Prezi just to look cool? I appreciate I’m talking to mainly Apple junkies here who are more interested in looking good than functionality, so perhaps it is. Let me run you through a few pros and cons of Prezi, and then I’ll let you make up your own mind…

 

Pros

Pedagogically, the only reason I see Prezi offering any real value over linear based presentation platforms is that you can zoom out and see how your whole presentation fits together. As a student, this can be invaluable. We hear a lot of times how a presentation just doesn’t seem to flow or that they just don’t see how everything fits together.

Because Prezi encourages (almost forces) an integrative and holistic means of presenting, it is far easier to show a student how the whole lecture/seminar fits together. This is, for me, the best, and possibly only advantage.

Another key advantage is that it’s free for basic access. Free access for corporate clients means that all your Prezis are public and anyone can see this. You will need to upgrade to make them private and do a double upgrade to Pro status if you want to have more storage space and the ability to edit Prezis offline.

HOWEVER, if you’re based at an academic institution as a teacher or a student, you get one upgrade free (so you can make your Prezis private) and the next upgrade to Pro status is heavily discounted. Make sure you check out the Edu profiles… don’t pay if you don’t have to! Finally, all those years of tolling away as a disenfranchised doctoral student and through the tenure system is paying off…

Prezi iPad app

 

You can download your Prezi to create handouts… but you can do the same with Powerpoint & Keynote. You can share your Prezis and collaborate with others, which is cool, but not all that common, I suspect. You can download your Prezis and play them offline, but the filesizes are big (my simple presentation was 20megs compared to 260kbs it would have been on Powerpoint). You can link in YouTube movies, sound, websites and the like, but you can already do that, too…

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I really think my first Pro, is my only real Pro.

 

Cons

Ok, I’m usually a pretty tough grader, and this review will be no different.  Like I said, I don’t see the point to Prezi over Powerpoint, pedagogically. Yes, your students will (as mine did today) oooh and aaah at it the first time they see it, but seriously, it’ll be so normalized, that any ‘cool’ factor will soon be lost.

It’s a little lackluster with regards to its presentation. I can’t seem to find a way to easily change object colours beyond the handful of themes on offer. The fonts are basic and the overall feel, although has the potential to be very cool, takes a lot of effort to get there…

prezi presentation

Prezi's concept of non-linear presentations might be able to help your audience to get the big picture of your presentation. However, making good prezis requires practice and some effort, especially given that prezi's formatting features are not very exhaustive.

 

It can be a little difficult to get the hang of, but I won’t hold this against Prezi – everything is difficult the first time and with practice, it gets easier. I tell my students that I occasionally load up the DOS emulator on my PC, just to feel alive and young again…I then go on to explain what DOS is…which then leads to the obligatory “In my day” rant…

One of the things I personally found annoying, is the motion sickness. Prezi flies around zooming in and out of content in its cool and nonchalant way… after a while on a massive screen, I start to feel pretty sick…I’m sure my students did, too, but I didn’t stop to ask, this is all about me.

You can’t manage the transition speed between content, which could have helped.  You can overcome the motion sickness by having all your content on Prezi in a straight line…but then why bother with Prezi? Go back to Powerpoint or Keynote.

 

Conclusion: Should you Prezi? 

It’s cool…it’s sexy…it’s new enough that you’ll get people’s attention compared with the standard linear presentation. However, it’s not revolutionary in my mind.

No fancy gadget will make a bad teacher better. No new technology will make stale content more current. If you are seriously interested in improving your lecturing technique, then there are far better ways to do it than to convert all your presentations into Prezis, which would take hours…

Invest that time into updating your material, or sitting in colleagues’ lectures to see what they do, or, heaven forbid, get some additional training. Prezi will no doubt be around for a while, but I don’t expect it to be the BEST presentation software on the planet, as claimed by their CEO Peter Arvai in a recent email to me.

If you want to revolutionize your presentations…perhaps throw away your presentation completely.  Don’t pretend a new lick of paint will cover up the fact you are still driving an old car.  Think outside the square and fly….kinda like at the end of Back to the Future…you know, that movie in the ‘80s…In my day etc etc etc.

About the Guest Lecturer: Ekant Veer, PhD, is a father, husband, friend, Consumer Researcher, Marketer, award winning teacher and researcher, and happens be a Senior Lecturer of Marketing at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He owns an iPad, but hates Apple. Follow him online via Twitter (@VeerOffTrack), Facebook, or on his blog about academic life.

Disclaimer: All images by Prezi.

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Comments

  1. Pawel Kuzma says:

    At last. Somebody did the wright thing and write briefly about “+” and “-” of PREZI. Gratz. There is lack of articles that shows the good and bad side of prezi.

    Prezi is a tool and it will not solve peoples problems with presentation stkills and thinking. All promotional videos are trying to convince you that presi will make you presentation king :) .

  2. Excellent post. Although I don’t use presentations a lot, I decided to switch to Prezi a while back. The main reason that led me to doing is that the presentations can be accessed, edited, and presented from almost all devices.

    Another reason that I found important is the ability to easily embed the presentations or share them with others while still being able to access them and edit them, adding more content which they can see once they access the presentation again.

    The zooming feature gets the attention of the audience, and I believe when you do get their attention, they will likely follow you.

    One important thing to note when using any of these presentation tools is not to stuff the slide with too many words. I have tried both Powerpoint and Prezi, specifically when just using simple words and not put too much stuff on the screen and I noticed that Prezi allows me to do this easily. For instance, I can zoom into a big word representing the topc, then, I can zoom to smaller words that I’ve placed around the topic word. Finally, when I finish, I can zoom out to recap.

    I agree with the author of the post in that Prezi can cause motion sickness, but this is cause usually by one of two reasons:
    1) The presenter is moving too fast through content or trying to skip a number of points.
    2) The presenter does not know how to use Prezi and structure the content. Therefore, the contents he place are too far from each other causing unnecessary big jumps.

    I have used Prezi in a few presentations and I’ve noticed a noticeable improvement when it comes to engaging the audience, especially when videos, images, or flash is used, or, if the zooming features were used correctly.

    Just thought I’d share my experience with Prezi so far, thanks!

  3. Sebastian Hill says:

    I agree with all Ekant is writing, including the motion sickness..
    One important “Pro” that he forgot to mention in my opinion, is the mindmapping style Prezi uses to present the whole picture. I think that because of that your presentation sticks longer, connections between subjects are clearer, etc.
    That, in my opinion, gives it a reason to be around for a while!

  4. Niklas says:

    Ekant, very nice post indeed, but for me it kind of misses the point of Prezi: non-linearity. Isn’t the core idea behind the software that your are no longer forced to follow one single predefined order of things to say (the order in which your PP bulletpoints appear), but can move more freely and easily back and forth between different aspects? How many times have you seen (or in my case: given) presentations where the speaker tells half of his story while still showing one of the early slides, and then later has to flip over stuff he already said? I personally cringe every time during a discussion where the presenter wants to go back to a particular slide and has not gotten the fact that you can jump directly to it even in PP (just type the slide number and press Enter), so the audience is treated to a bizzare high-speed backwards trip through 40 slides? In Prezi, its two clicks; plus the content stays in context because you still see the adjactent stuff. I agree that producing one of those über-fancy presentations Prezi shows off turns out to be pretty difficult – but then that is the same for PP. But Prezi seems more supportive and ‘natural’ for me as a presenter, helping me to make better arguments since the software adapts to me, not the other way around. So maybe the bottom-line is: When you need to give a very systematic, linear, step-by-step talk about stuff you yourself know inside-out – a.k.a. giving a class – Prezi and PP are pretty similar and all your good arguments apply. But when your are having more of a conversation with your audience, spinning new ideas and trying to cover fresh territory that still has yourself looking for the perfect way to express your idea, then Prezi can really play out its strenghts – e.g. in a workshop/conference situation. I really love it how you can re-focus or even re-arrange stuff in the midst of your presentation, plus its really elegenat how you can just hide all these ‘back-up slides’ somewhere on the canvas and jump right to it when someone asks about them. I even started to use one single even-growing Prezi where I throw everything into and then just make topical areas larger or smaller depending on the topic of the talk. But then that is maybe not a smart strategy but just leads to a semi-chaotic reincarnation of my more-than-semi twisted mind…

    • Ekant Veer says:

      Cheers for your thoughts, Niklas – I think you’re right – if you’re jumping all over the place during a workshop, then yes, Prezi offers greater flexibility – if you’re going to use it as a brainstorming tool (adding/subtracting from your mindmap as participants throw out ideas) then Prezi also has the upper hand – but neither of these are, in my mind, the main use of Prezi – it is still touted as the ‘Best Presentation Tool’ – which to me implies one person (or a few people), delivering to many – if it was a business management tool or a mindmapping tool, then it wins over other products on the market. But for presentations, it has more problems that benefits in my mind.

      I think we, as users of presentation platforms, need to understand there is no single, perfect solution. I will use Prezi again in situations you describe, but for my presentation style in class, I’ll likely stick with Powerpoint/Keynote. I think we all need to think of a platform that suits our style/needs, rather than adapt our style to one preferred platform – Prezi offers a new avenue in this way – I would normally have just drawn a mindmap on the whiteboard – now I can ‘Prezi’ my and the students thoughts…

      Perhaps rather than a blog on Prezi, I should have written a blog on the single mindedness (perhaps even close mindedness) of academics…

      • Jo says:

        The idea of multi-platform is an important one not only when it comes to presentations. I am writing, for example, with at least four different writing apps (ommwriter, byword/iawriter, macjournal, and pages), and each app fulfills a different purpose.

        But the app only comes second and should serve what comes first: what do you want to achieve, what is the purpose? In each situation (presenting, writing, thinking), there are different things we want to achieve (allow listeners to become participants, creating flow, flexibility). Technology can help us, but we have to become aware of all the different aspects we want to employ it for first.

  5. Jo says:

    Thanks, Ekant, for this great post! I am tempted by prezi every now and then, as I really like their zooming metaphor, but I agree that prezi is (at least at the moment) still too limited in its formatting and user interface features in order to really take over from Keynote and Powerpoint. Also, there are a lot of different things that would revolutionize presentations and lectures more than just a different way of visualization: How do you increase participation? How do you stimulate own thoughts? Prezi can maybe do this, but there are many other ways that are equally or even more able to do so. For example, I am experimenting with twitter integration at the moment, and I will write something about this in due time.

    What are others’ thoughts on Prezi? Slick or motion sick? Let Ekant and the rest of us know!

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