Sunday, September 11, 2011

Presentation Dilemma - Powerpoint or Prezi

I’m pretty sure that we all have experienced that painful phenomenon “death by Power Point”.  Endless slides filled with bullets of text that the presenter proceeds to read for us because for some reason they think we can’t read it ourselves.  Oh right, the iStock_000013149893XSmallpresenter used a 12 or 14 point font because they had to fit all the text on the slide, so actually we really can’t read it!  Yes they may add some multimedia affect by using every one of the slide transitions available at least once to impress their audience.  They may fill their slides with creative animations, as well as funky sound effects, and blinking icons.  Anyone experienced this?  Anyone stayed awake through to the end?  If you’ve done or still do this to others, please read on…  there is a better way!

Yes I’m guilty of doing this to others in my presentations early on in my career.  I have been using Microsoft’s Power Point since it was invented. I used to do the typical things: choose a template (background, color, and font), create my outline of points in outline view, and presto, my presentation was born!  Definitely, presentation skills are something one has to acquire through practice and learning from others that do it well.

I’d like to defend Power Point for a moment.  I was tweeting with one of our middle school teachers the other day about Prezi versus Power Point.  She made an interesting comment that she teaches her students to use Prezi since it is more engaging and Power Point is ugly.  Here’s the transcript…

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imageI read a book recommended by Stephen Lamb (@SEE_EYE_OH) a couple of years ago: Presentation Zen.  If you are a presenter or are contemplating becoming one, you must read this book.  It will save you from a painful learning curve both for you and your audiences.  It really is not about the tool.  Power Point is not inherently evil (or good).  It is all about design, purpose, audience, and story telling.  Here is some practical advice I gleaned from reading the book and/or experience over designing and giving hundreds of presentations:

  • tell stories through pictures, few words, etc.
  • don’t overuse transitions – choose a few sensible options, be consistent
  • don’t use weird spins or bouncing animations
  • minimize the words on a slide and unless it’s a quote, don’t read them
  • use large fonts
  • minimize the use of clip art – it can become cheesy otherwise
  • appeal to your audience’s emotions, speak to them and their needs
  • use a picture to trigger an emotion, arouse imagination, tell a related story, and hook them for the message you have to deliver
  • use comics tastefully
  • be playful – use humor, have fun
  • don’t overfill a slide with too many graphical elements – can be distracting and confusing
  • all visuals should be intentional and should support your message
  • use short embedded video clips to bring others into your presentation to support your messaging
  • know your material by gut – avoid reliance on notes
  • use quotes to add credibility to your stories

I could go on but hopefully you get the point.  Designing great presentations is an art form.  It takes a lot of organization, story telling, selection of words, pictures, videos, or comics, and careful consideration for transitions and animations.  This question can help, “what information am I representing with the written word on a slide that could be replaced with a photograph or other image / graphic?”

So, for me, the tool doesn’t force you to create good or bad presentations, you are responsible for that!

Why Power Point versus Prezi?  I have been trying to force myself to use Prezi for a live presentation for a few years, mainly because other people are and it looks interesting.  Every time I set out to do that, I get frustrated with what is missing in terms of a tool set.  It doesn’t support transitions or animations - I do iStock_000015756375XSmalllike to use these carefully to support slide groups or soft timed slide builds.  A transition in Prezi is basically to move from this point (“slide”) to another.  Prezi transitions basically glide and zoom from one spot to another.  I’ve seen Prezi built presentations that are the equivalent to “death by Power Point” where the presenter thought he was being pretty hip in using it...  To top it off, the audience starts to get vertigo from the poorly chosen zoom and glide pathways.  I noticed that Prezi now has templates to help you get started – this is bad in my opinion.  Just like people rely on Power Point templates to save time, this supports poor design, lookalikes, and boring presentations.  Presentations need to be designed to fit their purpose – templates are generic and don’t support good presentation practices – they make us lazy.

I think what Prezi does bring is the ability to tell a story through a 3 dimensional “world”.  From what I can tell, a well designed Prezi will have a big picture diagram of sorts where the pieces of the story (the slides) are embedded in a meaningful and tasteful way.  Path transitions are nearby so that the audience doesn’t become ill from too much movement.  Path choices support the message – they aren’t arbitrary movements.  Chris Anderson of Wired and Ted.com fame presented at Ted in 2010 on innovation.  He brilliantly used Prezi to support story telling.  If you haven’t yet seen this video, I encourage you to view it (about 18 minutes) as a great example of presentation skills and how the tool, Prezi in this case, supported it.

Global innovation

Navigate Chris’ presentation on your own here: How web video powers global innovation.

Notice how he used the back drop of the Ferris Wheel to embed the story elements of his presentation.  Using Prezi he basically navigated around the wheel to the various “slides” that contained the words, pictures, and videos that supported his presentation.

Another great example of using Prezi effectively is Maria Andersen’s Levers of Change in Higher Education.  She uses a black and white drawing of a factory to effectively tell her story of traditional education and what needs to change.

I have a presentation to give later in October for teachers on social networking with an emphasis on getting started with twitter.  I’m going to attempt to create this using Prezi to see how I can leverage its unique capabilities.  It will be a struggle to get out of my Power Point mind-set and I hope I can apply my “zen” learning to this next creation…  Wish me luck!  And if you have any presentation advice you can share, I would love it if you could provide it in a comment here.