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Cool Tools #2: Prezi

Zoom zoom zoom!

You may have heard about Prezi, “the zooming presentation editor.” You might have even used it yourself! But I bet you haven’t taken full advantage of the one major thing that makes Prezi different from PowerPoint: there’s no such thing as a slide.

If you haven’t seen a Prezi before, check out the example below. In college, I created this video using Prezi to teach my environmental group about nurdles. People loved it so much, I was asked to present it multiple times and do a workshop on Prezi creation!

How it works

Because it doesn’t use slides, Prezi should never be used like a standard presentation editor. I’ve seen Prezis that were clearly made by just copy/pasting PowerPoint slides onto Prezi’s canvas, and it results in a jarring presentation with very uncomfortable transitions. Let me be clear: between PowerPoint (or Keynote) and Prezi, neither is superior to the other—they just have different structures for creating a presentation.

So how is Prezi used most effectively? Well, when I create a Prezi, I throw the concept of a “slide” out the window. Instead of slides, Prezi provides a single enormous canvas where you put all your content. The presentation is then created by panning and zooming to various locations on this canvas. Think of these as “stops” on the path of your presentation.

How I use it

I use Prezi’s zooming animation style to:

1. Create visual continuity between stops.

If you group similar ideas together, their physical proximity is revealed when the presentation zooms from stop to stop. Thus the movement of the presentation itself enhances the viewer’s comprehension by subconsciously indicating how ideas are connected. I did this in my nurdles Prezi by creating several conceptual groupings: nurdles, animals, and exfoliation products. You can tell when I’m shifting to a new topic because you see the entire canvas shifting. Another way to unify similar ideas in Prezi is by creating a background that ties each stop together in some way. Some of Prezi’s templates give you a good starting place to do this.

2. Reinforce key ideas with visual metaphors.

If you’re talking about objects of different sizes, show that one is smaller by zooming in to see it. If you’re talking about a physical direction, move to the next stop by panning in that direction. If you’re talking about a hierarchy, physically nest ideas within one another, so that the zooming reveals that one is inside the other. A good example of this is the fish portion of my nurdles Prezi. By showing the word “fish” being “eaten” by an even bigger “fish,” I drive home the concept of biomagnification in a fun and visual way.

3. Incorporate hidden details that add depth and delight.

In other presentation editors, if something’s not on a slide, it’s not going to show up in the presentation. In Prezi, the nature of the zooming animation creates tons of space for visual elements that the viewer only sees in between stops in your presentation. An example in my nurdles Prezi is when at the very end I talk about the issue of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Because they latch on to bits of oceanic plastic, I placed “POPs” all along the side of the N in “nurdle,” even though you can only see this detail during transitions. It doesn’t matter if the viewer doesn’t see it, but if they do, it only serves to reinforce the magnitude of the problem.

This last point can also be a pitfall—if you aren’t careful about the positioning of content on the canvas, stray elements from other sections of your presentation may be visible as you zoom around. It’s not only messy, it also distracts the viewer, because they rightly assume that anything on the screen is salient. Nothing should be positioned randomly—your physical space should be thought out carefully.

The key to a good Prezi is to make its defining characteristic a feature rather than a bug! If you do it right, Prezi can help you tell powerful stories that people will remember.


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