The ability to give clear and interesting talks is an important skill for any professional. More so for academics who need to talk about their work constantly to gain attention.
So I have been looking to improve my presentation skills. To expand my tool-set beyond MS PowerPoint, I recently took a risk with a fascinating online presentation tool called Prezi.
I have used PowerPoint all my life. My students experienced ‘Death by PowerPoint’ as I slowly learned how to give more bearable talks over the years. (I said more bearable. I still have a ways to go). Still, PowerPoint is great. Well-designed slides that use fonts, animations and transitions appropriately get the information across effectively, and images embedded in slides make the content more interesting. And preparation of slides is fast and straightforward. However, when I needed more flexibility, especially when presenting non-linear ideas, I wished PowerPoint could be more versatile. I found that versatility in Prezi.
Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software that allows story-telling through visualisation. It’s marketed as a “virtual whiteboard that transforms presentations from monologues into conversations: enabling people to see, understand, and remember ideas.” A big-picture concept can be broken down into finer details by zooming in and out. Ideas can be interconnected in a non-linear way, a bit like the way mind-mapping works. Rather than a series of slides, content is placed on a single canvas much like this RSAnimate video on motivation.
Here is a great example of a Prezi presentation (click on the full-screen button at the bottom-right corner to see it better. Press the Escape key to return back here):
So as I said, I took a risk with the tool for one of my presentations recently, and I realised how big a risk it was during the actual talk. These are the lessons I learned:
– Mastering the tool follows a steep learning curve (colloquially speaking). Because of this, one can get lost in learning how to use the tools to design the ‘canvas’ and forget to focus on designing the talk itself–the ideas to include, their coherence and the timing.
– It is easy to get swallowed up by the fancy graphics of the tool and forget the mindset of the audience. As most audiences are used to linear, hierarchical, step-by-step presentations, a patchwork of ideas will quickly throw them off the scent of the main idea being communicated. Although this is usually the fault of the presenter as was the case in my presentation.
– Audiences usually need an indicator of how long the presentation is. They need to know if the talk is now halfway through or nearing the end. With PowerPoint, it’s fairly easy to incorporate the slide number (slide 8/17). In a non-linear Prezi presentation, some creativity is needed to indicate progress. I’m still figuring out how this is done.
– Audiences can get overwhelmed by Prezi graphics. In a fast-paced presentation, dramatic transitions can disorient audiences (zooming in and out, shifting from one slide to another on the other end of the canvas, alternating font sizes, etc). This happened to me when I realised that I had to rush at the end of the presentation, and my rapid laser-pointer clicks created a frenzy of images, text, shapes, etc flying across the screen in a disorganised manner, giving that shaky camera effect that some movie directors use these days. My audience was left confused, with the information overload I was trying to avoid. Again, timing and content selection is important.
I presume that all of the pitfalls above can be avoided if one takes time to prepare the presentation and rehearses the talk. Expert use only comes with experience using the tool.
Despite my first experience, I intend to use Prezi more frequently in future talks. However, PowerPoint will always remain my go-to tool for routine presentations.
For a taste of how my presentation looked like, click play below. If it doesn’t work, click here.
For other more fascinating presentations, click here.
If you have a university email account, you can register for a free educational Prezi license.
Finally, some great Prezi tips are available here.