Why I hate Prezi

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.

126 Responses to “Why I hate Prezi”

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
    • karen

      Prezi has little to do with communication–it’s all ego and fluff.

      Reply
  5. 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
    • 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
      • Kahnet

        “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.”

        Shouldn’t they ask you questions about your topic instead ?

        I agree with this article it’s not the tool who matter. Personnaly I’m only using Powerpoint. But each time I’m doing a presentation with powerpoint, every one is asking me which software I used. Because they don’t even think that skill still exist, for them it’s only a matter of tool.
        I think that nowadays people are so assisted by tons of apps and software that they lost the fact that they still need to think and create themselves.

        Reply
      • Jared J. Jemison

        Say there’s a group of monkeys that has been customized to eat bananas. Now, give them a pineapple and they will wonder for days what the hell are they holding instead of eating it. You get the point?

        Reply
  6. Adriana

    I was introduced to Prezi a couple of days ago and my teacher used it for a class presentation… I got very sick from all the moving and zooming… all I wanted was to enrich myself with new things but with Prezi it was very hard to follow…

    Reply
  7. Krista

    I totally agree that people over-rely on presentation slides, but I completely disagree that Prezi is nothing more than an over-animated version of powerpoint. It is one of the BEST tools I have found to both think through and present non-linear, complex concepts. I have one of my presentations linked below- creating it was a serious exercise in structuring my abstract thoughts, and I definitely think the effect this presentation had on my audience came from that concept mapping rather than the “ZOOM”, “MOVE”, “TRANSITION” effects that this author speaks about.

    Link: http://prezi.com/wrykyflwrwht/ed-tech-challenge-overview/

    Reply
    • Richard M. Thornton

      Let me guess, you get paid to advertise them? Prezi is loathsome, hell, mediocre at best, it’s even more boring than powerpoint, yet even more distracting, pricey and just full of gimmicks that’s not needed if you’ve a bit of creativity on other tools.

      Reply
  8. Pooja

    If you don’t like Prezi, there’s another tool you may like known as Visme (www.visme.co).

    It’s a great free way to create presentations that are HTML5 based and all in cloud.

    Reply
  9. Paul

    I will give one good reason to never sign up to Prezi. It is impossible to stop the yearly payments after you sign up. For three years in a row I have been billed on my credit card for an annual professional subscription when I don’t have one and have no access to any professional features. I go to the Prezi website and there is no way to contact them. It appears I will be paying Prezi for the rest of my life! It’s a blatant rip off!

    Reply
  10. John Rogers

    You claimed: “The people most drawn to use Prezi are those who are more enchanted by the pretense of style, rather than substance.”

    Not at all in my case. What instantly attracted me was the ability of this tool to help us think and present ‘holistically’, which is very difficult to do with Powerpoint’s linear structure. It seems to me the ideal tool for systems thinkers to constantly go between micro and macro and show different levels of a topic or system.

    Here is how I used it to present the topic of Local Money: http://prezi.com/byn39kcf9s2g/local-money/

    On the point of dizzying transitions, here is a real Prezi expert masterfully laying that to rest in Death by Prezi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS8IUtTbyC4

    Reply
    • Scott

      > Not at all in my case.

      So you claim. Looking at your link I disagree. It’s probably best to leave it at that.

      Reply
    • Russell Anderson-Williams

      Thanks for your kind words John. Glad you liked the YouTube of me speaking at Prezi day. I think we have to be realistic and say that some people (as in Scott’s case) just won’t like Prezi for whatever reason. I normally find though that they haven’t really given it a chance, and simply clicked through other peoples Prezis online in 30 seconds or less and then complained of motion sickness!

      I’m glad not everyone understands the power of Prezi just yet because those in the know will no doubt make greater impact when presenting amongst a see of others using tired old Ppt slides.

      I still agree with Scott though. Any tool in the wrong hands can destroy a presentation.

      Scott I’d love to catch up with you some time.

      Reply
  11. Andy Ebsworth

    lee strahan wrote

    March 29, 2014 at 1:27 am

    “I have just used Prezi for only the second time at a Rotary Conference in Australia”
    Well he would, wouldn’t he?

    Reply
  12. Russell Anderson-Williams

    I agree with most of your points here. A great speaker will be great regardless of what tool they use. However I think it’s a little unfair to title this post with the word ‘hate’ when referring to Prezi. Especially as what your post is really saying here is that you hate people missusing presentation tools. After all its not PowerPoint’s fault there are bad slide decks, and definitely not Prezis fault there is a lot of Death by Prezi out there. It’s really all down to that fact that you make really well above. People need to focus on their story and words first before even touching any presentation software.

    Reply
  13. Daniel Engelberg

    This is starting to sound like a religious argument. I really like Scott’s position that the presentation is about the presenter and the content. It’s about telling a story. Stories are linear for a reason. If you’ve ever tried telling a non-linear story, you probably lost your audience. I’ve watched non-linear movies and I can appreciate the art but I think enjoyment would be overstating it.

    But I do see the value for presenting concept maps and maybe for zooming in more dynamically on different topics.

    Btw in Powerpoint you can just add a concept map slide after each section to show where you’ve been and where you’re going. I do that often. You can even put dynamic links on the concept map. I never use transitions.

    Having said this, I’m curious to try Prezi and see what all the fuss is about.

    Reply
  14. Benji

    Prezi is like a good suit. You might have a world changing business idea, but no one probably listens to you if you go in your PJs. That is the world we live in. How you present your ideas will complement your content.

    Reply
  15. Geoff

    I can’t believe this post still gets comments – mission accomplished Scott.

    Everyone well knows that the quality of a presentation has almost nothing to do with the tool one selects to throw bits up on the wall behind you. We have all experienced wonderful presentations with horrible slides, with wonderful slides, and with no slides at all. Whether PowerPoint or Prezi or Keynote or Google Slides or dry-erase marker on an overhead projector – it matters little.

    What is interesting to me is what I’m seeing first hand as a parent – kids in high school and junior high are almost always turning to Prezi as their first tool for presentations followed distantly by Google Slides.

    Anyway, great trolling Scott. Two years on and it’s still working. Attaboy!

    Reply
  16. Albert Vlug

    For a while I loved to use Prezi, but since they automatically charge me for over 100 euro after a free trial period, I hate Prezi.

    Reply
  17. Wazza

    Speech note cards on Android
    Confident speech presentation with interactive note cards on your Android phone. I hate prezi and I used Powerpoint and controled the slides from this app as I used the note cards!

    http://goo.gl/dKvjrG

    Reply
  18. Matt

    I think the review and many of the comments are unfair. I’m in physics, and I generally take pride in content over fluff, and I never gave a darn about transitions. I was reluctant to use prezi for the reason that it struck me as flash-bang and a distraction from content. But, I decided to give it a try and I changed my mind. I liked that I was able to make nested slides and switch between scales. Thinking hierarchically and and non-linearly, seeing my talk in a larger space, had an impact in how I organized content. The program made me view my talk more cinematically, which might sound superficial, but took a complicated idea and turned it into a clearly told story. The cool transitions came *without* wasting time – they’re automatic. And, being able to show relative scales was a great pedagogical tool. In short, I feel that making a prezi talk made me think about my content differently, and in a way that was substantively better. Content followed form.

    Reply
  19. Beepbooboobeep

    I have to stand up for prezi! This guy just sounds bitter, maybe he couldnt firgure out how to use it with any finesse. Prezi (espcially if you combine it with adobe) can make information more exciting. Every little detail matters ,

    Reply

Pingbacks

  1. […] Actually, much of Prezi can be considered gimmicky. It runs Flash software, so it’s automatically leaning toward the all-form-no-function side of information technologies. Those early adopters who binned PowerPoint in favour of Prezi most probably impressed their audiences with their shiny new Flash-based presentations, but the sceptics of the education world quickly deemed Prezi pretty but pretentious, and it has since received mixed reviews. It seems that Prezi’s Flash focus on the zooming, transitioning and moving aspects of visuals in presentations even has some educators stating that they hate it. […]

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