Prezi and its possible relatives?
May 15, 2012 4:44 PM   Subscribe

To Prezi or not to Prezi, and a general question about such things.

Prezi meaning the online (mostly) editor for presentations with this zoomy, storyliney way of doing it. Have you used and does it work? I have this fear that all that animation is going to get people very lost very fast unless I turn very clever about presentations all of a sudden (not my strong point). If it worked well for you, is it worth paying up for the offline editor suscription? Are other similar tools around, or packages to add onto LaTex/Excel/whatever with the same ideas for presentation building? Personal anecdata from users of Prezi and Prezi-like things will be read with much interest, particularly those of you in educational settings.
posted by Iosephus to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It's just a tool. People get very carried away with it. Personally, it makes me nauseous (literally) with all the zooming. If you are not good at presentations, why not focus on your spoken words and skip the visuals?
posted by wingless_angel at 4:45 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

It works best if you are presenting a spatial or geographical structure to an audience. For example, our economic development org had a five-pointed international program and they laid out the program on the five points of the star in their logo. A friend of mine is in a doctoral program for chemistry and he used it to travel around molecules and talk about their components. Offline editing is not necessary but you'll want to pay to scrub their logo (unless education gets it for free; I believe they did at one point.)

As an all-around tool, I prefer Javascript-based presenters like Impress.js. They can easily be edited and presented offline if you know HTML/CSS.
posted by michaelh at 4:49 PM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: I'm a graduate student and have used both PPT and Prezi for classes and professional presentations. I am by no means an expert in either program. From the short time I've used Prezi, I can say that each has their pros and cons. Although my personal philosophy towards presentations is to show only pictures and charts, I also understand that sometimes people need to read as well so I try to put bullet-points in as well. I am not a "read off the slide" presenter. Any features I might reference are from the "educators" license (which you can get if you have a .edu address)

I like Prezi better than PPT for some things: it gives you space to show relationships between concepts. Yes, in the wrong hands the zoomy animations can be nauseating, but if you keep it simple you can avoid that. To get started, I thought of each frame as a ppt slide, and then as I became more familiar with the mechanics, I began to understand how to branch out from that. I like showing the big picture, and then focusing on the sub-components (and components within sub-components) to make my point. I like being able to link directly to YouTube Videos, as well as the ability to upload and insert your own graphics.

I like that it is online, meaning you can access it from any computer with an internet connection without worrying that the version of PPT isn't right or that you've forgotten your video adapter. Since it's online you can also share your presentation with your audience after the fact. You can create a PDF that has each frame on a page, so that you can have a paper version if needed (often my classes required us to hand in a paper version.)

However, there are caveats: There is a learning curve. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to select something and have it insert a text box instead.

I do not like that my presentation is on servers I don't own or control. If Prezi were to disappear tomorrow, I'm guessing my presentations would disappear along with it. AFAIK there is no way to export your presentation to PPT or even to plain text, so you are tied to Prezi for that presentation going forward. In hindsight I would have kept big, important presentations in PPT (where I can continually tinker, refine, and control on my computer) and used Prezi for "throw-away" presentations. You also cannot access your presentation if you do not have an internet connection (although you can download it and run it in a "prezi viewer" on your computer ahead of time, but you won't have access to embedded YouTube videos, I presume.) AFAIK there is no "notes" feature (a la PPT or Keynote) which could be a problem (I like notes because I don't put everything on my slides. See previous note about my presentation style :)

Since I'm starting to amass a collection of presentations that I am re-using (with some small tweaks) I see the value in having a repository of presentations you can control. Prezi doesn't really allow you to do that, so I think I'll be stepping away from it for a while.

TL;DR: Okay for presentations that are highly conceptual and you don't mind losing should Prezi go bust.
posted by absquatulate at 5:20 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine recently hired me to freelance a presentation for her beginning graphic design class. She mentioned Prezi as a possible tool. I'd never heard of it, but I took a look and figured it might just work.

And it did. It was a pretty simple job, FWIW. Basically a history of design, hitting the highlights and keeping it fairly general. She was happy with the end result, and reported back that her students enjoyed it and, yes, learned from it.

The most important thing I discovered was that the presentation tool itself is not the biggest issue. Build your presentation around a simple, coherent structure and the rest will mostly take care of itself.

In my case, the structure pretty much defined itself. I followed a timeline, roughly grouping events and ideas together where possible to create seven "eras." Each era contained 5-9 elements with pictures and video representations.

Once I got the hang of the interface and the quirks of the program, it was really easy and turned out a good result.
posted by ronofthedead at 5:23 PM on May 15, 2012

Frankly, I think prezi makes it far too easy to make terrible, terrible presentations. It is like a return to the days of animated transitions with every slide, but far more garish and distracting. (Extreme overuse can easily lead to nausea in the audience.) I have seen it done not terribly, but it needs a very, very light touch with the features that seem to be its defining characteristic, and I don't see the added value for most academic settings. The only positive I've been able to discern is when the presenter has complex diagrams and can use it to zoom in to various parts, sort of like the above example of a geographic structure.

Basically, think about why you would want to use it. Would it actually help you convey your ideas more clearly? Or would you be using it because it looks distinctive / different / exciting? If it is the latter, rethink.
posted by advil at 5:25 PM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Prezi is obnoxious, useless, and seizure inducing. I've seen two academic talks done with Prezi and absolutely hated it (and so did everyone else at those meetings). There are many useful (and also free) alternatives that do a better job minus the obnoxiousness.

Check out Deck.js. I gave this talk using Deck and it was really well received. Deck has a variety of plugins including one that allows you to write in markdown (which if you're unfamiliar with is the easiest markup one could learn).

If you're really set on 3d stuff, also see impress.js and reveal.js.
posted by special-k at 6:04 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've used both Prezi and Powerpoint in class. Prezi has been most useful when I need to zoom (for example, when I want to walk students through multiple details in a painting, I can construct a map from point-to-point in the image). But it's kind of a chore to work with, to be honest, and the zipping and whizzing and rotating calls too much attention to itself. I haven't had motion-sick students yet, but I've definitely heard complaints in the halls.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2012

I like Prezi a lot, but you do have to be careful about overuse of some of the features. The new interface where you can make each step on the path by centering appropriately and saving the current visual is a drastic improvement. I use it for work, but only for less formal presentations or to launch events (conferences, meetings, trainings, etc). I don't use it for formal academic conferences (obviously).

Good luck! I think it's a great tool and really makes people pay attention because they want to know what you're using to make the slides work that way.
posted by superfille at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: This is good timing, I work in communications and just recently instigated and oversaw a huge revision of the decks we use to communicate to our 15 000+ employees every month. As part of the process, I debated whether to use Prezi or not.

Whether you use Prezi or PowerPoint or whatever, the key thing to ask when doing anything to a slide is: "why is it there?"

Every single thing in a slide should facilitate understanding. You're telling a story, and a deck is the illustrations. Like illustrations, they should not have too much text*. And, it should not have something in there, just because it looks cool. If you have a look at many of Prezi's showcase examples on their site, you can see a lot of this.

So what facilitates understanding? Metaphors, and symbols ("our company is a tree, and our frontline staff are the roots that suck up revenue and help us grow"). You only need the very biggest of facts - the speaker can and should supply the rest.

The reason for this preamble is that - aside from the zooming and the flipping and the rotating - Prezi is very limited with the objects you can create in it. Diagrams, shapes fonts etc are very limited. It's difficult to change one word in a sentence to bigger text than the rest for example. Simple stuff.

This means, when you're trying to put illustrations that will facilitate understanding, you're going to be relying very heavily on jpegs and images from other places if you're trying to communicate in an effective way. That might be okay with you - the zooming and the flipping and so on might make so much intuitive sense as a metaphor that it's worth the trade. But in most cases it probably won't be.

Additionally, I don't know what version of PowerPoint you're using but it grows increasingly powerful. Most people rarely go beyond fly-in or checkerboxes or some other useless shit when it comes to ppt, however you can use quite sophisticated zooming and transition animations, you can animate separate objects on the page to move to pre-selected places etc. Find a graphic designer who can actually use ppt to see what can be done.

You'll note those examples I give are all animations that can be used as metaphors for organisation movements/transitions - things going up or down, things extracted from other things, zooming down into detail from a remote view, highlighting different objects at different points in the "story".

This are the kind of transitions that are worthwhile in presentations. Fading in and out for whatever, zooming into another area instead of the next slide. These are not worthwhile.

Personally, I think Prezi can facilitate understanding better than PPT for a very select number of topics and ways of talking about them, but I think that number is daily shrinking. To see what I mean, compare the best ten prezi's you can find with the best ten ppt's. When I did that, the difference was striking.

*There are broadly speaking two types of slides. Slides used primarily for presentations, and slides without presenters. The latter is often less visually arresting and more information/text rich because it's more like a book or email in ppt form - and it cannot rely on a presenter to get any extra information or context across.
posted by smoke at 6:17 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Based on personal experience in the library world, the answer is "not to Prezi." Its time seems to have passed.
posted by wdenton at 8:21 PM on May 15, 2012

I thought Prezi was totally awesome when I first found out about it. Then I sat down and actually watched some full examples. I felt motion-sick for about an hour afterwards. If I were at a conference and a talk turned out to be in Prezi, I would leave, because it's just not worth it to end up feeling physically queasy!
posted by ootandaboot at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: Well, that was quite enlightening, thanks all. I think that while a nice part of the material I would present could benefit from the way you can show things in Prezi, it has too many limitations and if people are actually getting ill from all the zoomy-flippy, then that's a particular killing defect. I loved the javascript tools (new to me!), will keep them in mind but I'm not that fluent with CSS and such things, nor have the patience for the level of detail involved. I found smoke's comments quite interesting, and will see if I can't get things going on with extra common sense and a smarter use of Power Point.
posted by Iosephus at 12:31 PM on May 16, 2012

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