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Prezi: Escaping the Powerpoint Grind

Abstract:
Most people, when faced with the possibility of giving a lesson, presentation or lecture, whip out PowerPoint – but how many PowerPoints can you say really caught your attention and engaged you? Prezi is a free, web-based presentation tool that enables the creation of engaging and creative presentations using a zoom-and-pan interface. It’s worth exploring for anyone who needs to communicate effectively with their students or audience.


Most people, when faced with the possibility of giving a lesson, presentation or lecture, whip out PowerPoint and stack up slide after slide. It’s simple and gets the information across, and it’s incredibly popular. But how many PowerPoints can you say really caught your attention and engaged you? Whether you are presenting your year 6 class of 12-year-old students, a lecture theatre of undergrads, a group of colleagues at a conference or are delivering PD to educators, effective communication via your support materials is vital, not optional.
While this it is certainly possible to do this using PowerPoint, its affiliation with Office and linear format lend themselves a little too easily to excessive use of text and clunky aesthetics. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the potential to overuse kitsch transitions, animations and text effects, which does little towards communicating your point clearly. From a practical perspective, issues with compatibility and sharing can bring PowerPoint presentations and collaborative work to a grinding halt. There are a number of alternative presentation tools available, but few address these issues as elegantly as Prezi.
Prezi is a web-based presentation tool that uses one single ‘infinite’ canvas and a zoom-and-pan interface. Rather than a series of slides, it acts more like a concept map that allows you to walk through it, focusing on certain points along the way. It saves everything online, in the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about transporting or losing your work, and offers embed code that works in most sites (including LMSs like Moodle and Blackboard). It’s free, and it works on every computer.

Explore

The Prezi interface does take some getting used to, but it enables highly creative and interesting modes of content presentation. Take some time to explore some existing Prezis before jumping in yourself – it helps to understand how the interface works and what the possibilities are before trying to create your own. The two examples below are a great starting point for exploration.
The first presentation is a good example of how content can be structured in a non-linear environment:
http://prezi.com/bhkwggc3dd76/navigating-21st-century-education/
The next presentation by Simon Crook does a great job of demonstrating what is possible with multimedia in a zoom-and-pan interface:
http://prezi.com/azlyf3f8kpsl/twitter-in-education/
Both these Prezis allow you to make a copy to use as a starting point for your own presentation. For more inspiration, Prezi’s ‘Explore’ tab has a public gallery of hundreds of presentations to use and copy.

Using it

Prezi’s ‘Learn’ tab has tutorials for beginner, intermediate and advanced users, a very well-structured community support forum, and a blog of specialist tips and tricks. If you still feel the need for more visual support, YouTube is a great resource. Do take the time to do a tutorial or three before you start, as the ‘zebra’ tool and interface can be frustrating to work out at first.

Really using it

Presenters often forget that they are communicating with real people. It’s too easy to paste bullet point after bullet point onto slides, forgetting that presentations should be used to support and augment what you are saying, not replicate it. Prezi makes you think about visually augmenting and supporting the concepts you deliver – think mind map, not palm cards. The real power of Prezi lies in this ability to tackle concepts. Unlike Powerpoint, you’re not restricted to a linear format. You can show, instantly and visually, the connection between two concepts. You can move back and forth between non-adjacent items. You can show a whole as a sum of its parts, the parts summing the whole, or the bigger picture. You can highlight, scribble and draw arrows all over your presentation if it suits you.
Explore the sharing options – Prezi makes it very easy to collaborate on presentations with colleagues asynchronously, and it’s a powerful tool for student group assessments. Public settings allow real-world feedback from colleagues or other students via the comment tool, or use the embed code to post your presentation in your own online space for discussion and comment.
Don’t let the interface put you off – Prezi offers a powerful and creative web-based alternative to traditional presentation software, with a whole host of new possibilities.


About the author: Sarah Thorneycroft is an academic developer at the University of New England, Australia. You can find her blog here, and follow her on Twitter here.
 

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