June 30th, 2010

Prezi: A Better Way of Doing Presentations


Everyone seems to assume that a presentation must be accompanied by a PowerPoint. Conferences even require presenters to submit their PowerPoints as a condition of being accepted. But we’ve all seen terrible PowerPoints that detract from the presentation, and many people just don’t use PowerPoints well, hence the term “PowerPoint-induced sleep.”

Teaching with Technology column

But maybe it’s time to (gasp) question the use of PowerPoint itself (stick with me here)! Why do we assume that we must put up an outline of our points to help the audience understand them? The best presentations on TED are not accompanied by a PowerPoint of bulleted lists, but rather photos or other imagery that illustrate a point or make an effect. A speaker might flash the simple word “why” on the screen to prepare the audience for questioning a common belief. A single photo could be used to elicit a laugh or set the tone of the discussion.

One alternative to boring PowerPoint slides is to use Prezi. This web-based tool allows the user to create a single canvas of text, images, videos, etc. online. The presenter flies from location to location on the canvas, sometimes turning elements upside down, sometimes zooming in or out, to explore the relationship between ideas. Like a painter, the canvas draws the developer to choose visual imagery to create the presentation, in contrast to the text-heavy, outline-based methodology of PowerPoint.

The theory behind Prezi is that our ideas are not linear, but rather bundles of interconnected concepts that are better captured as a whole with many parts. Prezi allows the user to illustrate the relationship of concepts to one another.

I have abandoned PowerPoint entirely and now use Prezi exclusively for my presentations. This is a remarkably freeing experience. I find myself shedding my assumptions about what a presentation must be as I explore new ways to present concepts.

The true power of Prezi comes from painting a larger point composed of its constituent elements. For example, a Prezi on learning could start with the word “Learning” and then zoom in on each letter to find that it is composed of the elements that go into learning. The presenter zooms in and out during the presentation to illustrate the complex relationships that exist at different levels of the topic.

Try Prezi for yourself, and then come back and share your ideas for using Prezi in the classroom by entering your suggestions in the comment box below.


A very funny comedy routine on bad PowerPoints: watch it here »

The Prezi homepage: http://prezi.com/

A great example of how to do a presentation without PowerPoint:
Watch it here »

John Orlando, PhD, is the Program Director for the online Master of Science in Business Continuity Management and Master of Science in Information Assurance programs at Norwich University. John develops faculty training in online education and is available for consulting at jorlando@norwich.edu.

  • Diane

    I agree that PowerPoint can be misused. They can be deadly boring. But let us not toss out the baby with the bath. Students and others can be taught how to use PowerPoint more effectively.

    I will give Prezi a try, but the example you gave could be done in PowerPoint too–just don't use the text tools…just put in pictures. People are very comfortable with PowerPoint and many schools are standardized on it.

    I have students create PowerPoint presentations but I limit the number of words they can use. They must be interactive. They must include questions. No transition effects, links are allowed–just basically visuals that can be used effectively as visual metaphors. Instructors and students alike need to think Visually…this is part of what Daniel Pink has to say in his book a Whole New Mind. This is the Visual Conceptual Age.

    Have you tried Glogster? Check this out too. You can create an interactive one page poster that takes viewers to many different places. The real genius of any visual presentation is to get people involved in the presentation…make it interactive not passive and visually exciting.

    It really isn't the tool…it is the designer that has to understand the power of Visual Thinking and the Visual Metaphor.

    Thanks for sharing this new tool with us and hopefully you can share some visual thinking and visual presenting strategies with your next post…

    Diane Gregory

  • Diane

    Hi Again,

    I just tried using Prezi. I think I get what is different from Prezi & PowerPoint. It is the power to zoom to bring attention to selected items and the power to arrange things organically so that we don't have to deliver a canned presentation in a lock step order. As an art educator, I think Prezi naturally focuses more on images than text. When text is used, it is used more as an image because of the zoom in and out capabilities. This is much more fun and enjoyable.

    I have a blog site (onlinelearningcafe.com) and I plan to use it on my blog site. Apparently from what I read, one can publish it or link to it. If one buys one of the premium rather than free versions, there are more options and I suppose it becomes your intellectual property to do whatever. Right now I will stick with the free version as I try it out and see how it goes.

    There might be adjustment to making this change because it is definitely not linear. So one can just start like brainstorming and idea and then link or relink ideas. I like that…it is more intuitive and teachers can use this as both a thinking, organizing and presenting tool all in one. One does not need to advance plan in a separate mode. One just starts in Prezi.

    Way cool. I recommend trying this out to see how this works…both as a developer and presenter. I think I will have my students sign up for this beginning this fall. They have to make a teaching presentation and this tool may lead to more natural and interactive and less boring presentations. It is ideally suited for art and art education.

    Diane Gregory

  • Derek

    I agree with Diane that it's the design, not the tool. At least for the most part. The nice thing about Prezi is that since it uses a different presentation model, it helps users think outside of the box when it comes to the visuals for their presentations. You can use it as a concept mapping tool first to organize your ideas, then tweak that map to provide a useful set of visuals for your presentation. The default settings on PowerPoint (with a heading and bullet list on each slide) don't help users think creatively, and the linear approach that PowerPoint uses is also somewhat limiting.

    Here are some more tips and resources for using these tools for effective presentations from my center.

  • Bill

    Although I have been "playing" with alot of Web 2.0 tools, I've suggested to our faculty that, "If I had to learn only one tool this year, it would be Prezi." It has a low learning curve. It is very easy to embed a Prezi presentation into a Blackboard course site (copy/paste embed code).

    You can use Prezi to present the broad picture, while adding detailed content (PDFs,YouTube videos) to the same presentation and shrinking them so that they don't detract from the overview, but are easily zoomed in on, if needed, for further details.

    A Prezi presentation could also be used effectively as a study tool for students. Better than flash cards. A presentation which repeats, while flowing through the information that you are rehearsing for an exam.

  • Robert

    I totally agree with the overall argument made in the piece here, as well as the comments posted, but want to be a bit on the over-cautious presentation technology side of things and emphasize the points made above about tool versus design versus presentation style and presenter comfort level. For personally I really am excited about the potential of Prezi, but will also say I've seen some badly done/confusing presentations using Prezi. Especially problematic has been the opposite problem of using the more static PPT format and there is too much going on with the set up of a Prezi presentation that then both confuses the audience members and the presenters.

    Another excellent resource is Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen (book and blog site), Reynolds builds upon Pink's ideas, as mentioned by Diane above, and applies them to presenting.

  • Brian

    Having spent several hours playing with Prezi, I think its proponents are more infatuated with its novelty than the actual capability of the product. It seems to have even a smaller learning curve than PowerPoint which means it will soon suffer from more abuse at the hands of the inept than Powerpoint does. The greatest flaw I found in the medium was the constant zooming in and out required during any presentation. If the PowerPoints you produce are surefire sleep aids then Prezi is sure to create vertigo and seasickness. I'm not kidding.
    While the zoom effect could be interesting and useful in some situations, Prezi's absolute reliance on it to move within the presentation takes its toll on the viewer faster than the inane sound effects and animations of PowerPoint.
    Go to Prezi. Download the trial version and play. Tell me if I'm wrong.
    While, as pointed out in the article, Prezi does allow the user to turn elements upside down (to what purpose is beyond me), it goes without saying that poor PowerPoint producers will also be poor Prezi producers and poor Prezi producers will be even worse PowerPoint producers. PowerPoint has its flaws but I find most of them are directly related to the misuse of the presentation producers. Until something better something along, despite the fact that you must learn and think to use it effectively, it still represents the best, easily available and universal product.

  • John

    Thanks for the link to your website. It's got some really good advice. I've put in into a teaching wiki I created.

    I also like the Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen site. It does a really good job of explaining composition.

    I agree that Prezi can also be used poorly. Right now, its major advantage is in breaking out of the Powerpoint mindset and getting us to think about presentations. Powerpoint naturally tends towards text–it's designed for bullet points and outlines–while Prezi tends towards graphics.

    We're just starting to explore how a system like Prezi can be used for non-linear presentation mapping. It kind of combines idea-mapping with presentation software.

    I'm soon going to do a presentation that touches on marketing, student development, social media, and other concepts. I'm thinking about how the concepts link together in a mosaic. I will try to find overarching themes for the wide picture, and then put the subthemes within this wide picture, and go back and forth between them during the presentation.

    I feel that Prezi is clarifying the relationships between elements in my own presentation, but we will have to see how it works out.

    Thanks for the ideas.


  • Derek

    Brian raises an interesting point about the nauseating effects of the zooming used in Prezi. I gave a keynote talk last month using Prezi, and I heard that someone in the audience had a similar reaction as Brian's, that the zooming in and out was confusing and a little vertigo-inducing. However, I had ten audience members come up to me after my talk to find out more about the presentation tool I used because they thought it was extremely effective.

    I would guess that there's a small percentage of people (not over 10%, maybe closer to 1%) who find the zooming hard to deal with and that Brian is in that group of people. Far more people find Prezi an innovative and useful presentation tool, but that's not necessarily license to ignore the people who find it nauseating. I know Prezi modified their zooming algorithms a couple of months ago to make this issue better, but it's still something to think about when using the tool.

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  • Dina

    In my opinion there is no argument here. The Powerpoint can be misused.
    I'm teaching PPT for the last 10 years elementary and middle school and you can make it interesting but, yes, I'm looking for change like any other educator who tries to improve his teaching methods.
    Yesterday I tried Prezi. It's wonderful, easy and friendly. Took me about 10-20 minutes to learn and to browse some ideas and create a small presentation.
    Unfortunately I was forced to stop, I was very dizzy and had a sensation of vertigo. I was very surprised since I'm never seasick and perfect in flights. It took me a whole day to get over this.
    I started reasearching this problem and I can't find any serious comment on this matter. Now, above any other educational concern, no matter how priceless Prezi is , my question, how safe Prezi is? Not only for presenting but also for teaching students to create their own presentations. I'm not sure I can take this responsibility.
    I'm very interested in starting using Prezi in addition to ppt and I hope that the "Prezi people" will take this concern more seriously and provide some answers.
    Thanks, Dina

  • C

    I've heard about a new service that effectively converts Powerpoint's to Prezi's with scholars and faculty in mind. Maybe some of you have interest in it… The service is called PrezentDesign and can be found on google.

  • In order to help prevent some of the vertigo-inducing problems. When you are setting your paths make sure you go to a larger view before zooming into a new element. It will give you a sense of direction and allow the reader to see where they are headed. Just zooming from one element to the next will cause that problem. Make a frame around the entire picture. For example, I'm doing a reading skills one and have 5 books that represent each skill. Inside each book is all the information. Between small elements, I zoom back to the book before heading to next area.

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  • I have came a cross with an interesting software, a good mix of powerpoint and prezi. With familiar buttons like in powerpoint. Very much like powerpoint, then you can zoom in and make use of 3D object and graphs. it is called prezvision. This is their website – http://www.prezvision.com/en

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  • Nicole B

    I agree that Prezi trumps PowerPoint. I find much more creative and fun. PowerPoints are useful, but my first choice is Prezi. I agree that the zooming in and out can be too much and sometimes cause headaches, but there are ways around it. Despite this setback it can still be quite useful in the classroom. It is something new, fun, and creative that is easy to use and students would have fun watching.

  • Amanda

    PowerPoint has become a very common tool today. Its once wonderful way of presenting has become out used and over dated and I believe that Prezi is a wonderful new substitute. Thoughts do not come in a linear sort of pattern they way PowerPoint presents its information. I especially like that Prezi relates all of its information together just like our brain does. I believe that Prezi should more frequently be used in the classroom. I also think Prezi could assist students with ADD or ADHD in learning.

  • mar

    Is Prezi safe since i got a message saying that it could maybe have access to my private passwords etc. Why does this happen please