I have a love/hate relationship with Prezi—that "zooming presentation editor" that sends some into bloodthirsty declarative fits ("It's a PowerPoint killer!") and others into fits of nausea ("Does Prezi come with air sickness bags?")
For those still not familiar with Prezi, here's the lowdown: It's a unique alternative to slide-based presentation (PowerPoint, Keynote) with a single large canvas for your content that you can zoom into and around (almost) infinitely. In terms of how you can tell your story with it, I often liken it to the bulletin board in The Usual Suspects.
Rules for Using Prezi
We have been experimenting with and using Prezi at Edelman for a couple of years now. We occasionally pitch with it and in fact, have a fairly good track record of winning some large accounts using Prezi presentations. Mostly Edelman teams approach us about using Prezi out of a desire for something that "won't look like PowerPoint" and that will "dazzle 'em!" But we kind of view Prezi as a power tool that isn't appropriate for every job and is fairly dangerous when used wrong way.
Before we create a presentation in Prezi, we ask the following of our account teams:
- An agreement to resist favoring style over substance of content
- At least one team member will learn the basic of the program to allow for last minute edits
- A story rationale for using Prezi
This last item has been the most important for us. We believe Prezi works best when there is an overall metaphor or story construct that benefits from the program's style of organizing information. A great example of this was a Prezi I saw given by Chris Anderson of TED in which he discussed TEDx conferences around the world. He used a map of the world as his visual construct and "flew" around the world showing with Prezi showing videos from various international TEDx events. That was a simple, but perfect use of the program. At Edelman, these are some of the visual constructs we've used with Prezi:
- A sea of 160 photos for an idea called "160 Stories"
- An eccentrically decorated den in which we zoomed in on every shelf and corner to reveal information
- A mosaic of anonymous silhouettes for a proposal offering to identify a set of highly influential industry players
Prezi's Long Term Outlook
I still believe there are some major and glaring deficiencies with Prezi. But the development team pushes out updates regularly, and in the past year they have added needed features such as fade-in animations and a slide sorter-like view of animation sequencing. Just last week Prezi introduced a new simplified interface that I think will lead to increased adoption.
I got a preview of the new interface last month at the Presentation Summit in Scottsdale where I heard Prezi CEO Peter Arvai speak (that's him above). I also got to speak with some of the Prezi staff including their lead developer. What I came away with was that Prezi is not only listening to its users, but is looking very long-term with regard to putting Prezi into business and creative workflows. In addition to being used as a presentation tool, Peter sees Prezi becoming a digital whiteboard for collaboration and ideation.
Prezi Shouldn't Look Like Prezi
For me the novelty of Prezi's aesthetic wore off a long time ago. I view it now like I do PowerPoint and Keynote: It's simply a tool, and it is up to the user to use it well or poorly. In the same way that so many PowerPoint presentations fail because they look "PowerPoint-y" with endless bullets and poor layout, the vast majority of Prezi presentations feel like "Prezi" with rapid and disconnected jumps from screen to screen.
There is some good work being done though. Australia's Presentation Studio is creating some of the best Prezis I've seen that don't "look like Prezi." (They will be posting more Prezi work in the coming weeks on their site.) And if you go hunting on Prezi.com, there is good work in the hundreds of thousands of presentations that have been uploaded. Many are even available to repurpose for your own use.
Prezi is here to stay. It frustrates me that many presentation designers still dismiss it out of hand. To them and to everyone, I would urge adding Prezi to one's presentation toolbelt. Start learning how to work with it and follow it as it continues to improve. The only way we'll get more Prezis that don't look like Prezis is to get more people using it and to get the most talented presentation designers out there to adopt and elevate it.
Get on board at Prezi.com where you'll find tutorials, examples and a growing community of users. And when you come across great Prezis, send them my way!