Ten Tools Challenge: Prezi (Tool #2)

"I accept your challenge!"

“I accept your challenge!”

In January, I decided to take up Jane Hart’s Ten Tools Challenge.  I’ve already blogged about my Tool #1, Explain Everything, and here is my tool #2 (ok, ok I’m a bit behind schedule):  Prezi.

As many of you know, Prezi is a zooming presentation tool – an alternative to PowerPoint and Keynote.  It lives online and, with a free account, you can create your own Prezis that also live online (or you can download them to your desktop).  Here’s a good example of a well crafted prezi, featured on the Prezi site, to give you a feel for what’s possible.

While I’ve used Prezi in the past, I’ve just recently surfaced from a Prezi-deep-dive –  five presentations (on wildly different topics) in one month.  So it seems like a good time to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses.

First, a little about how Prezi works.  Unlike Keynote and PowerPoint, where the navigational metaphor is a series of index cards or slides to progress through one to the next to the next, a Prezi presentation exists on a large (endless) canvas.  You plop content (text, images, video) down on the canvas in any order and then create a pathway through your content.

So here’s a sample from a recently built Prezi::

Part of a Prezi, showing various content pieces in a frame.

Part of a Prezi, showing various content pieces in a frame.

The blue circle is a “frame” and the little content bits and bobs within the blue circle are all related to the topic of that particular frame. Once you upload your content into the frame, you then decide in what order to display them. Here’s that same frame of content, with the “pathway” turned on.

Same Prezi frame, with the editing path turned on.

Same Prezi frame, with the editing path turned on.

With that as backdrop, here’s what I think are the advantages of using Prezi:

Easy modification. Whenever I am asked to give a talk, I usually reconfigure the content to reflect the interests of the group. Sometimes I add new information, cut back on less relevant things, or change the order to accommodate schedules. By having all of my content on one canvas, I can easily change the pathway and modify for a new audience. All the content is still there (on the canvas) but may not be included in this particular pathway.

Focused attention. The zooming capability makes it possible to focus the viewers’ attention and indicate emphasis in a dynamic, visual way.  This is particularly useful when you want to emphasize forest-to-trees relationships.

Visual context. If used well, Prezi can help you do a better job of using physical space to assist your audience and help them remember how the parts of your talk relate to each other.

Easy importing.  You can import a PowerPoint slide deck to Prezi.  While the import function works well, you have to massage the slides to take advantage of the zooming and other features.  Keep in mind that animation effects you created in PPT, won’t survive the import.

Easily displayed and shared online.  Since Prezi is an online tool, it is easy to neatly (without ads or distractions) embed it, display it, or share a link. Of course, you can use SlideShare or Speaker Deck to do that with PPT and Keynote files.  Oh, there’s a Prezi iPad app too.

Helpful tutorials. Prezi’s done a very good job with video tutorials and masterful cheat sheets on their website.  Nicely done.

And now the disadvantages:

It’s a bit gimmicky.  If you want to be precise about it, Prezi is still a linear presentation tool.  Afterall, you are just proceeding along nodes on a linear path. Those that complain about death-by-PowerPoint could still complain about death-by-Prezi.  But I do feel that using this tool urges me on to be more visual in my thinking.

You don’t own it. Because your presentation lives online, it’s got all the advantages and disadvantages of a cloud-based existence.  Namely, you can access it from any where and easily share it.  But, you could also loose it (Prezi could go belly up).

Size limitations. Prezi works on a Freemium model. The free public version gives you 100MB of storage space (enough for 4 or 5 Prezis).  To get 500MB of storage space you have to pay $59/year.  (2GB for $159/year).  I found the limits of my free allotment when I created a Prezi that included four short video segments.

Motion Sickness.  Some people complain that swooping Prezi’s give them a headache or make them feel slightly nauseous.  As one prone to motion sickness myself, I’m always careful to limit the amount of swooping and turning. Using frames, being judicious about effects, and strategically positioning your content (shortening the path points) makes this easy to control.

As you can see, advantages and disadvantages.  I would say that when I sit down to create a PPT or Keynote “deck”, I always just open the application and start plunking things down.  With Prezi, my first instinct is to create a storyboard, so that I can understand the whole of what I’m trying to accomplish before I get into the trap of bulleted-list thinking…and that just feels like a good thing.



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8 responses to “Ten Tools Challenge: Prezi (Tool #2)

  1. ldinstl

    Nice post. I’m one of those who finds Prezi a bit dizzying. But I can definitely see story-boarding a presentation there first. Is there a simple pathway to exporting elements to slides (ppt or keynote)?

    • rheyden

      Good question, Liz, and I should have included that. Yes, you can import PPT slides to Prezi. The import works well, but then you have to massage the slide content to take advantage of the Prezi panache.

      • rheyden

        Just added a bullet to the post on this importing question, Liz. Thanks again for bringing it up.

      • ldinstl

        Actually I was wondering the opposite — whether you can create the slides/storyboard in Prezi and then download to use in ppt for display. I suppose you could create the slides in ppt, upload to put them in sequence, and then re-order the ppt slides. Somehow that seems like the long way through Omaha, though, doesn’t it. 😉

      • rheyden

        Hmmm….yeah, a long way through Omaha that would be. Looking back on your original question, I see you were thinking of storyboarding in Prezi (and thus the question about downloading into Powerpoint when you’re done). Leave it to you to think of the really unusual and intriguing way to use a tool! I suppose you could use Prezi as a storyboarding tool. I used a storyboard template (from Pages) for that (laid down the parts and flow of the talk there), then went to Prezi for the final presentation). I had marked candidates for zooming on the storyboard, but found I did more zooming and special effects once I was actually working in Prezi. The real downside of going back to PPT at the end is that you’d loose the zooming (forest to trees) effect that is one of its hallmarks. Just found this interesting thread, about PowerPoint and other presentation tools, on the ISTE LinkedIn discussion thread: https://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&srchtype=discussedNews&gid=2811&item=228852644&type=member&trk=eml-anet_dig-b_pd-ttl-hdp&ut=3Pv_ZibcWotRI1. Worth a look.

  2. Great explanation and balancing of pros and cons. I do not get queasy, but I do fear getting lost when I am self-guiding. Motion– a sense of moving forward in the presentation and focussing on what the presenter chooses to emphasize– is a significant advantage. Forcing the presenter/creator to storyboard upfront produces more succinct and straight presentations.

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