Storytelling with Prezi (rather than Death by Powerpoint)

I give a lot of presentations.  I hate making slides to support them.  I find it tedious, and often more time-consuming than creating the presentation itself.  And I can’t help but thinking that I’m not necessarily enhancing my talk through this extra effort.

I’ve heard a lot about Prezi, (Prezi is a flash-based nonlinear storytelling tool for creating dynamic multimedia presentations. The end result is not a set of slides, but a canvas where the user can zoom in and out, discovering contextual relationships) but I finally decided to give it a try after reading one of my students rave about it on Flip The Media.  True to my nature, I took my chances and took it for a test spin in front of 50 Very Important People at the University of Washington’s College of Arts & Science board annual meeting.  I was the lunchtime keynote, hence I needed to provide a balance of enlightenment and entertainment.  Here’s my Prezi (which I co-presented with my MCDM colleague Scott Macklin, as well as with our student Katherine Turner):

Here’s what I liked about the platform:

– I actually enjoyed creating the presentation — not because of all the whiz-bang movement, but because creating it was a non-linear experience, very much like rearranging post-it notes on a white board to tell a story.

– Educators get a free premium license as long as they have an .edu account.

– The presentation is “in the cloud” so I can access it anywhere.  I prefer to create my Prezis offline — the top-of-the-line premium account gives you a downloadable desktop program to do so on either Mac OS or Windows.

– While offline, you can actually upload .mov files — but there’s a 50 MB restriction.

– Last week, Prezi announced “Meeting” functionality, providing a collaborative, real-time presentation creation tool with others.

Here’s its challenges:

– A Prezi is essentially a large Flash file.  So no iPads and forget about mobile use (until Android gets its Flash act together on tablets, etc.).

– I’m not crazy about the resolution: images end up pixellated on large screens.  YouTube links — even the HD ones — get hashed up straight out of 2006.  You also have to be careful not to jump around your canvas too much, your viewers might get seasick [for the Prezi above, I actually used considerably fewer moves when I presented to the Board, preferring manual manipulation — I added the additional steps prior to embedding in this post to facilitate automatic play).

– Unlike your Keynote or PowerPoint presentations, you don’t have outright control over your content.  Even with the desktop Prezi, it always check to see if your license is up-to-date.  No license?  No access to your content — on your hard drive or in the cloud.

– You can’t upload your Prezi to Slideshare, which is really too bad as Slideshare has become the de facto YouTube for presentations (my Seattle Town Hall talk from earlier this year has over 3,000 views).

– Prezi doesn’t have “Presenter’s Notes” functionality — so no “cheat sheet” for you as you present.  And if your presentation isn’t self-explanatory once you make it public online, it’s not going to make a whole lot of sense without those supporting notes.  Maybe that’s why Prezi is a self-described tool for “digital natives.”  There’s some sort of visual vocabulary for a younger generation that I have yet to master!

Despite these limitations, I’m likely to keep using Prezi for my classes and future presentations.  I’ve attempted Death by Powerpoint.  I’ve tried to reduce the casualty count through Presentation Zen (although one of my students said that my Town Hall talk was showing some signs of Presentation Zen “cliche”).  I’ve used Google Docs Presentation to simplify shareable my class slides.  But what Prezi gives me that none of these other approaches do, is inspired joy in the creation of a presentation.  It’s my virtual white board that gives me both the “big picture” of what I’m trying to present, along with the ease of shifting elements around to improve the narrative.  I’ll even go so far as to say that it makes me a better storyteller — to the relief of those who are subjected to my talks.  It bears mentioning that one of the Board members who watched my presentation, political cartoonist extraordinaire (and UW Communication Dept. alum) David Horsey told me afterward that he’d like to try Prezi out as well.

Originally posted to Flip The Media.