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Yesterday I gave a talk in the business school at the University of Edinburgh, about my experiences of innovation in high-tech companies.  For a while I’ve been hearing about a new presentation tool called Prezi, and this seemed like a great opportunity to try it out…

I have been a Microsoft PowerPoint user for many years, and I love it.  I know how it works.  I have built some great presentations it it.  I have always felt a little defensive when it is derided, because although there is some very bad PowerPoint out there (and I am guilty of creating some of it) that isn’t really the fault of the tool – it’s the fault of the author.

There are several distinct things I use PowerPoint to create

  • Visual aids for a talk
  • Speakers notes for a talk
  • Handouts for a talk or presentation
  • Reports that are in visual / slide format
  • Rolling visuals for exhibition stands

I find PowerPoint is pretty good for all of these applications.  The problem I have is that I find it very tempting to use PowerPoint to produce a single slide deck that fill many or even all of these functions at once.  This is the crime that leads to “death by powerpoint” presentations where a speaker does little more than read the slide content aloud.

Prezi does one thing only – but does it well – it is a tool for producing visual aids for a talk.

Starting with Prezi is very different from starting out with PowerPoint.  Most obviously there is no such thing as a slide!  A blank Prezi is simply a large white canvas to which the author can add visual elements such as text and pictures.  Once all the required visual elements are created, a path is created to pan and zoom around the canvas in a specific order, and this determines what is displayed as the presentation clicks through.  This is easier to demonstrate than to explain, and there is a great introducory video (made with Prezi of course!) on the Prezi homepage.  Of course, the fact their example presentation looks great is partly due to the benefits of Prezi, and partly because it was produced by skilled illustrators and designers…

I found it really easy to use, and more importantly it made me focus on the visuals for my presentation.  I don’t have a particularly good eye for design, but I produced something that I think was a lot better than I would have in PowerPoint for supporting a talk.   The down side of using Prezi for me is that I had to create separate speakers notes in a Word document, and print them out.  PowerPoint would have allowed me to view my speakers notes on my laptop display while the presentation appeared on the projector.  It also makes no sense at all as a standalone, and there is no easy way to make handouts from it (although it can be done by creating a copy and using a separate path.  My presentation is online here if you’re curious, although it won’t make a lot of sense without the narrative:

You can use Prezi for free via the website, and download presentations to use offline.  With the free version, all presentations you create apre publicly visible. A $59/year subscription adds more storage space and allows creating of private presentations, and a $159/year subscription adds the option of editing presentations offline – a must for serious users.

At the moment it is a great way it make a presentation that stands out, although as more people use it that advantage may wane.

I enjoyed my first attempt at using Prezi.  I will still use PowerPoint for a lot of things, but I’m planning to use Prezi more in the future.

If you have any comments, tips or experiences of Prezi to share, I’d love to hear from you!

Showing 2 comments
  • Anne Johnson

    Just made time to click through the presentation – it’s a very decent job for a first time Prezi – glad you avoided some of the more rhetorical swoops which it makes possible. It’d be worthwhile posting at least a precis of the narrative. That’d I’d previously known of Peter Denyer helped. Here’s a link to the obit in The Times

  • Ian Stevenson

    Thanks Anne.

    I was fortunate enough to work with Peter a few more times after VVL – including at ATEEDA where we still miss his guidance.

    I’ll try to figure out a way to either add some narrative or use some of the material in future blogs.

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