June 30th, 2010

Prezi: A Better Way of Doing Presentations

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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.

Resources

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.