One of the many jokes about Powerpoint is how much time people who use it spend picking transitions between slides. They spend more time picking out animations, and which wipe effects to use, than they do thinking about what goes on the slides themselves. Or what their audience needs to learn and how best to convey those lessons. It’s like wanting to make a movie and spending all your time picking fonts for the credit reel at the end. It’s backwards and broken.

Because of how Powerpoint, and Keynote, are constructed, other common habits for creating presentations are equally flawed. The tools are slide centric, not presentation centric, and people instinctively follow the metaphor built in to their tools. Fundamentally I don’t care much about presentation tools as the tools are mostly irrelevant. You can make a good presentation with any tool and a bad one too. Like writing, the hard part isn’t which software you use, but how you use it. The important part is what goes on between your ears.

Popular presentation tools focus on slides, which should not be the focus at all. No one comes to listen to a lecture in hope of great slides. They want good ideas, expressed well, especially ideas that answer the questions that motivated them to attend the lecture in the first place. Most people I know, when informed they need to give a presentation, immediately begin making slides, and they may as well tie a noose around their own necks. There is no point in making a single slide until you know some of what you want to say, and how best to say it. If you make slides first, you become a slide slave. You will spend all your time perfecting your slides, instead of perfecting your thoughts. You will likely talk to your slides when you present, and not your audience, as you will have spent more time on the slides than you did practicing giving the talk itself. Sadly, I don’t know of any tool that guides their users properly towards how good speakers prepare.

In Chapter 5 of Confessions of a Public Speaker, I explain the best way to prepare for a presentation. You start by thinking about the audience. Why are they coming? What questions are they hoping you will answer about the topic? What are your well thought out answers? What is the best way to express those answers? Only after some hard thinking on these questions is there any hope a presentation will turn out well, and it’s only then that a speaker should start thinking about slides. And even then, slides should be a tool for drafting. Make the quickest and dirtiest slides possible, and then start practicing the talk. After each practice, improve how well the slides support what you want to say. Only then will the slides have the proper role as a prop, rather being the star and making you the prop.

I first saw a demo of Prezi years ago, and it seemed interesting. I liked the idea of a fully 2D space to work from. But as I used it I realized it had taken the things I hated most about Powerpoint, and emphasized them. Prezi bills itself on the ability to ZOOM, to MOVE, to TRANSITION. All the most distracting elements for would-be speakers, elements that distract them away from the quality thinking required to speak well.  Instead of thinking “I’m so proud of how I worked hard to explain this important idea so that my audience can understand it” they think “Here comes my favorite transition! Look at how the entire screen is going to rotate! WOOT!”. I can see how, in the hands of a skilled communicator, Prezi makes some things easier to do, but a skilled communicator would do just fine with any tool.

I’ve experimented with many different ways to present. If I want to have more control over how to represent things in 2D, I use a WHITEBOARD. Hooking up an iPad with a drawing app works wonderfully well as a virtual one. And it’s easy to switch between it and Keynote if I want to follow the basic structure of a slide deck.  I was deeply inspired by watching Bill Verplank speak at UIE years ago, where he simply drew as he talked. It was more dynamic than any software, and more personal too, since we all could watch him work with his hands. He’s not a dynamic speaker, but he doesn’t need to be, as the clarity and value of his ideas are strong enough on their own. I can’t draw like Bill can, but I’ve found working with a whiteboard, virtual or not, invites an audience’s attention in a way software can never do. And as a speaker if I work at a whiteboard, I can’t hide behind slides. It forces me to properly prepare too.

The people most drawn to use Prezi are those who are more enchanted by the pretense of style, rather than substance. To this day I have yet to see a Prezi presentation that would not have been better had the speaker used something else, including nothing at all. Many presentations would be better if the speaker just spoke, sans slides or any props at all. If they just spoke, they’d be forced to think hard about what they wanted to say, and not expect to hide behind whizzy transitions or obfuscated slides.

If anyone has seen a great talk done with Prezi, please leave a comment.

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102 Responses to “Why I hate Prezi”

  1. joan |

    look at this for transition information

    https://prezi.com/wf7mxfwgec8n/controlling-your-transitions/

    if you really want to understand how to utilize transitions effectively in prezi (as opposed to making your audience sick, there are many ways to minimize that while utilizing prezi to it’s full potential)

    Reply
  2. Chris |

    Visual media, as an adjunct to public speaking, can make a bad speech even worse. We all seem to be in vehement agreement on that point. However, the right image can shorten a presentation with technical or difficult concepts or relationships. Occasionally, animating that image may be useful. Where slides and Prezi shine are in online or self-guided presentations, where the presenter is unable to drive the boat, so to speak, but needs to use other techniques to focus the audience and emphasize points.

    Reply
  3. mandarine |

    There are a few instances where prezi might be just the right presentation tool. It’s when you actually want to present your work as a big poster (thinking infographics here, mostly). When your work is not linear and would look really perfect as an 8ft tall poster with the big picture and the smal print eaqually relevant, that’s where prezi could be perfect. I make presentations daily and have found a handful of such occasions. Prezis can otherwise be kinda OK for presenting nonlinear stuff ‘mindmap’ style (generally for immature concepts and interactive presentations). Otherwise, if I /had/ to use prezi, I’d just do a linear prezi with slide-like steps and just a zoomout on table of contents for big sections. No zooming, no rotation, just pan. One thing prezi got right is strict limitation of font use. Too many horrible powerpoint presentations with no typographic consistency out there.
    But I agree with the article: the presentation comes first. The tool is just a tool. And whatever the tool (even with a blackboard), modesty is key.

    Reply
  4. magatz |

    I’ve spent almost 10 days to think in a Prezi way.
    Yes if you focus only on panning, zooming your audience will feel sick, very soon.
    But if you spend your time, thinking about the Great Picture, and let the people drill in detail, when needed, then Prezi is the winner. Surely you can’t produce anything nice in two hours, but if you have the time you need than… go Prezi

    Reply
  5. Len Babin |

    For someone who claims to be a professional public speaker/presenter, it is hard to understand how you could miss the point of Prezi. PowerPoint nerds will like fancy transitions and they will be thrilled by Prezi. They may even try to convert PP slides directly into Prezi – a fatal mistake. But, if they don’t understand how to create a real presentation, they will fail using either tool.

    It is hard to understand how you cannot see that being able to show the big-picture message over and over again while zooming into key details is way ahead of linear slides. It is hard to understand why you cannot see that people who deliver messages want to use the power of Prezi to focus on the major messages on one large canvas and deliver the details in an innovative way. Anyone who is only about fancy transitions should stick with PP. It *is* getting better so stick with it. The rest of us will jump into the future.

    Reply
  6. David |

    I like a lot about Prezi, but they also give you so much to hate. It seems that they suffer from a combination of indifference and incompetence. I guess this is why PP has survived so long, at least it is reliable and robust. Here are some things I hate:

    1. Useless restrictions on color choices. For example, when I insert a circle or square into my presentation from their shapes library, I have to choose from 1 of 5 colors, and black is not one of the options.

    2. Prezi may be the last place on the internet that can’t handle gifs. You can insert a gif animation, but it will appear as a static image. I bought Prezi specifically for a presentation that I’ve spent two months working on. Switching to PP is not an option anymore. Now I find out I cannot insert several of the gifs I had planned on using. Do they not care enough about their users to make a simple update? Is the problem that they don’t have the software engineers? I’m a PostDoc at MIT and one of our bright undergrads could code this for them. Instead of addressing this problem, their service reps give the same useless answer “you can use SFW or FLV files.” I don’t have SFWs or FLVs, I have gifs.

    Reply
  7. Lorenzzi |

    umad?

    Reply
    • lee strahan |

      I have just used Prezi for only the second time at a Rotary Conference in Australia
      I was presenting on our foundation and the 15 local and global grants that district 9790 are working on this year
      I love the format of prezi because you can show the overall picture and then draw your audience into the story, then when your done its off to the next story….. If you use Prezi to fast, yes you will feel sick. But the proof is in the pudding, i had so many people from the audience ask “What was that program” and only the other day had an email asking about it.

      It gets a big thumbs up from an old Power Point Presenter

      Go Prezi

      Reply
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