Prezi: Zoom, Zip, and Stretch

If PowerPoint is a brick, Prezi is Silly Putty. Many people discover the presentation tool Prezi and never go back to PowerPoint.* What I like the most about Prezi is its versatility with graphics, text, and movement. Like PowerPoint, Prezi can create a linear presentation. But very often information is not, should not be, portrayed as being linear. Information and knowledge emerge from a web of connections and influences. Prezi allows a presenter to recreate and stretch that web and then hone in on specific strands.

Some creative people have learned how to maximize Prezi’s flexibility, and not just for oral presentations. They use it to create¬† stand-alone presentations of research, to visualize arguments, and curate collections of material. What follows is a variety of links I’ve collected that discuss and demonstrate Prezi’s potential.

The Journey of the Modern Thought Leader, created by Lulu.com, a self-publishing company, features bold graphics, carefully chosen text, and a smooth flow. It offers self-promoters basic but powerful tips for how to market him or herself in the digital age. This Prezi’s design reminds me of a slide show that’s been stretched and gently twisted, as it climbs up and dips down with each stop on the canvas. Toward the end, the presentation returns to a slide show format, when it moves from left to right to display four links for publicly sharing ideas. Though that shift might sound regressive, it’s not. Rather, the return offers a needed change of pace, surprising the viewer out of the established flow. The slide show format also distinguishes the concrete information–a list of links to Ted/TedX, Ignite, and related sites–from the rest of this Prezi’s content, which are ideas. Ideas, like the ones in “The Journey of the Modern Thought Leader,” follow a fluid path.

If You Put It That Way” by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro begins with the front page of a newspaper and ends with a wide angle view of a theater stage set. The newspaper frame (which is the equivalent of a PowerPoint slide), contains smaller frames. Like all the frames in this Prezi, the newspaper frame is embedded within the image of the stage. “If You Put It That Way” explains how to make a Prezi by way of example. It uses the combination of image, text, and movement–from a close-up detail to the large picture–to convey information and visualize it as a web of relations. One of Cavagnaro’s main points in this presentation is that our tools are metaphors for how we think. As Cavagnaro writes, metaphors “affect what we do” and our tools are metaphors for what we do, how we do it, and how we think. PowerPoint can only show one slide at time, moving forward or backward, forcing us into a linear thought mode. Prezi, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to break out of that limited movement: Zoom in. Zip out. Go diagonally. Enter layer upon layer of information. Open a portal and watch a YouTube video.

Students and instructors at the Bard Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, use Prezi to curate materials. For example, “The Christmas Hearth” is a timeline that offers a “50-year cross-section” of Christmas cards with images of Christmas-themed fireplaces. On the x-axis is the decade and the y-axis contains types of cards, ranging from “motif” to “setting.” “The Christmas Hearth” reveals how these different types of cards waxed and waned in terms of popularity over time, thus demonstrating how Prezi can be used to visualize patterns. For example, the timeline shows that in the 1920s, people were more likely to send a calling card with a Christmas motif on it than people did in the next forty years. Different comparisons between the cards can be easily made because it’s possible to see the whole collection in one big gulp or in smaller groups.

Prezi has spawned resumes. Someone has dubbed his a “Prezume.” The challenge with this genre is to use Prezi not as a gimmick but to add something about a job candidate that a regular resume cannot supply. Prezi is most useful when information and design (content, arrangement, and movement) can be combined to convey meaning about someone’s expertise and qualifications. To that end, though I think the Prezume is very clever, it’s difficult to get a whole picture idea of that job candidate. On the other hand, this sample Prezi-based resume does a fairly good, if bland-looking, job at keeping the standard categories of a resume intact and allows viewers to zoom in on specifics, including samples of work. Finally, here’s a Prezi that combines a teaching philosophy with work experience to form a visually stunning resume, one that clearly reflects the candidate’s expertise at storytelling, teaching, and design.

Prezi’s motto is “Ideas matter.” They do, and as some of these examples demonstrate, they are.

*I wanted to find a link in favor of PowerPoint over Prezi. When I googled “powerpoint is better than prezi,” most of the top hits were on the subject of why Prezi is better than PowerPoint.