Friday, August 6, 2010

Why I Like Prezi

In my life, I have given a *lot* of presentations. In high school, they were presentations on group projects. In university, they were presentations on research projects. At Google, they're presentations on how to use our APIs. When I first started giving presentations, I used Powerpoint, like everyone else. But I kept thinking there must be a better way, and I experimented with other options - flash interfaces, interactive Javascript apps. Then I discovered Prezi, and it has become my presentation tool of choice.

Prezi is an online tool for creating presentations — but it's not just a Powerpoint clone, like the Zoho or Google offering. When you first create a Prezi, you're greeted with a blank canvas and a small toolbox. You can write text, insert images, and draw arrows. You can draw frames (visible or hidden) around bits of content, and then you can define a path from one frame to the next frame. That path is your presentation. It's like being able to draw your thoughts on a whiteboard, and then instructing a camera where to go and what to zoom into. It's a simple idea, but I love it. Here's why:

  • It forces me to "shape" my presentation. A slide deck is always linear in form, with no obvious structure of ideas inside of it. Each of my Prezis has a structure, and each structure is different. The structure is visual, but it supports a conceptual structure. One structure might be 3 main ideas, with rows of ideas for each one. Another might be 1 main idea, with a circular branching of subideas. Having a structure helps me to have more of a point to my presentations, and to realize the core ideas of them.
  • It makes it easy to go from brainstorming stage to presentation stage, all in the same tool. I can write a bunch of thoughts, insert some images, and easily move them around, cluster them, re-order them, etc. I can figure out the structure of my presentation by looking at what I have laid out, and seeing how they fit together. Some people do this process with post-its, but I like being able to do it with a digital canvas.
  • It works well for explaining concepts that make more sense with a diagram, because you can basically make your entire presentation be the diagram — and then you can just fly around that diagram, pointing out the flow and zooming into the important bits. For example, I used pseudo diagrams inside the robots API and gadgets API prezis to explain the API <-> server interaction.

Prezi isn't perfect, of course. I've made several feature requests, and have a list of others. There are the small requests, like wanting higher quality images and a code style for embedded snippets, and there are also the big picture requests. I want to be able to link prezis inside of prezis, so that I can make "components" of presentations, and easily zoom from one to the other. I want to be able to create multiple paths for a given prezi, so that I can skip over bits for some audiences, and emphasize them for others. Hell, I'd love if I could have one canvas that had every bit of possible content on a topic, and I could use that one canvas for 20 different presentations. I don't know that Prezi will ever implement these ideas, but I have more faith in them doing so than any other presentation tool, since they are making a point of thinking different.

Generally, I just love the fact that somebody is thinking different about presentation tools. There are so many people out there that are giving presentations every day, so as a society, we owe it to ourselves to invest more thought into how we do presentations. That's why I also like events like Ignite and Webjam, because they are challenging people to rethink the timing aspect of presentations.

(Not to talk about Wave all the time, but—)

My love for Prezi is similar to my love for Wave. Prezi is re-thinking presentations. Wave is re-thinking communication. Prezi gives me a blank canvas that can turn into a presentation of any shape. Wave gives me a blank wave that can turn into a document or conversation of any structure. Both of them are unfinished, but both have a bright future, and even if they don't succeed, they're successfully challenging the traditions of today.


shiva said...

im ur new follower...nice post..
i luv the way u present it ..

Unknown said...

Me too! One reason I love Prezi is that it made me start to think about systems documentation in a different way. Instead of "here's the diagram that describes the code/hardware/services organization", it's like "here's a picture of the system." Today I want to talk about *this* part" (zoom, twirl).

El paseador said...

Cool. I like storytelling for my pres but I didn't have the tool for making the slides. Prezi looks like if it were about to make me super-happy with my next pres.

Thank you for sharing!