Here at BrightCarbon, we like Prezi, and we are happy to use it. We can use pretty much any presentation technology to create presentation visuals – from whiteboards and sketches to Keynote, Prezi, or anything else you can think of.
We understand that people are bored of PowerPoint, unable to harness it for effective presentation design, and looking to avoid Death by PowerPoint. We understand that in 2012 people don’t want to get up and present boring bullet points. For most though, Prezi is not the answer.
Text is Still Text, Bullet Points Still Don’t Work
Prezi easily allows the use of text, images, and insertion of videos. Because most Prezis are created with a reader in mind, text is usually still used to convey messages – and so the problem of audiences being able to read for themselves is still present when using Prezi for presentations. Just as PowerPoint doesn’t work well when audiences read bullet-points for themselves and ignore the presenter, Prezi also doesn’t work well when audiences read bullet-points, however fancy the transitions between them.
Prezi Allows Interesting Transitions Between Frames, but Within-Frame Animations are Limited
Done well, PowerPoint allows a significant range of sophisticated on-slide animation. Prezi allows smooth transitions between frames (as they call slides), but once one gets to a frame, try setting a motion path, animating a graph,
or doing anything other than zooming in to another level… (Prezi added a simple fade-in animation, to use within frames. It’s a good start.) PowerPoint actually allows more high-end animation than Prezi, although Prezi’s transitions are easier to master.
The Canvas Provides a Spatial Framework for Organising Information – But Few Presentations Make Use of It Properly
The major feature of Prezi is the ability to organise information spatially on a giant canvas, and zoom around. This is perfect for presenting information that is spatially related. Yet even the most popular Prezis – those held up by the company as best practice, viewed millions of times – fail to make use of the feature properly. We think Prezi is a great tool to deliver content that all relates to a physical thing that we can zoom around e.g. a typical hospital, or New York, or anything else where content can be explored spatially. Unfortunately, we hardly ever see Prezi used in this way. In most long Prezis, the viewer is left confused as to where on the spatial plane information has been placed. (For those who are interested, the pptPlex plug-in for PowerPoint from Microsoft can organise PowerPoint slides on a spatial canvas. It works well – although it isn’t supported. We would like to see it included in the next version of PowerPoint.)
Frames in Prezi are Spatially Related Whether this Makes Sense or Not
Prezi suggest organising content around large photos, or diagrammatically. But even the basic examples given, or the ‘best practice’ Prezis promoted by the company, contain material that shouldn’t be related spatially. Why should ‘What do Dinosaurs Look Like?’ and ‘When did Dinosaurs Live?’ be related spatially? Prezi’s canvas format forces a spatial relationship where none exists. Want to show a series of photographs in PowerPoint without spatial movement? No problem. Want to do it in Prezi? Prepare for motion sickness, and confusion as to why the photos are related to each other in space.
Nesting of Content Within Frames Mixes Spatial and Hierarchical Relationships, Which is Confusing for Audiences
Prezi recommend nesting ‘less important’ information within frames – which to the viewer looks like a zoom in. But on a spatial canvas, we expect a zoom to suggest a closer look at something in space (e.g. USA -> New York -> Central Park, or Hospital -> ER -> Blood gas analyser). It’s simply confusing when the zoom ends up providing additional detail with no relationship to the spatial nature of the canvas (e.g. USA -> New York -> Dutch colonists in 1624). But few presentations allow all information to be usefully organised in a single spatial plane.
Prezi’s Default Settings Encourage Poor Practice
Just as PowerPoint’s ‘click to add subtitle’ encourages the use of bullet points, Prezi’s default ‘click to add text’ and path settings also encourage poor practice. We like that Prezi encourages the use of images and videos by making these options prominent, but we don’t like that path settings make the issue of motion sickness very real for most Prezis. We aren’t quite sure why authors are encouraged to rotate text, or why it is so easy to arrange content over large distances, which contribute to motion sickness. Why not keep all text horizontal by default, discourage the use of rotation, and encourage shorter ‘pans’? Why not allow control over the speed of panning?
For the advanced user, PowerPoint offers more powerful options than Prezi. For the part-time slide designer? Prezi can deliver something new – but often it replaces ‘Death by PowerPoint’ with ‘Sea-Sick and Confused by Prezi’. We’re not sure that’s a huge step forward. The clear message is to use whatever presentation technology you use effectively – often by ignoring some default settings.