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 fonts than 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 budget just on costumes. It’s backwards and broken.

Because of how Powerpoint, and Keynote, are constructed, common habits for creating presentations are often poor. The tools are slide centric, not presentation centric, and people instinctively follow the metaphor built in to their tools. While I do believe you can make a good presentation with any tool, and a bad one too, the emphasis of the tool influences choices.

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 to the talk instead of doing something else more fun?
  • 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!” 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.

[Updated Note 2-3-15]: here is an excellent post on the problems with misusing transitions in Prezi and how to fix them. I still don’t recommend the tool, but this may help those who choose to use it anyway]

[Minor edits 1-12-2016]

148 Responses to “Why I hate Prezi”

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. Lorie

    It’s not the presentation tool, it’s the presenter…just about always.

    Reply
  8. LG

    I completely agree with Berkun. I have yet to see a Prezi that made any sense to me. I noticed that the examples they display on their site (that they are proud of and believe we “have to see”), are dizzying to watch and they break the rules of good presenting. It explains why the top presentation design firms don’t use Prezi!

    Reply
  9. Andrew Kelly

    A quote from the second paragraph that I absolutely agree with: “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.”

    Scott then spends the next six paragraphs demonstrating an inability to make this philosophy work for him. The above sentiment cancels out the rest of the article, whatever the specific pros and cons of Prezi might be.

    Reply
    1. Scott Berkun

      The key word in that quote is mostly, not entirely. Some tools are highly specialized and hard to use for more general purposes. I mean, I could try to take down an oak tree with a swiss army knife, but that would be about as silly as trying to make a simple presentation slide deck with a tool centered on making complex transition-centric ones.

      Reply
  10. Mueses

    At the end of the day a tool is only as good as the user. Remember, Prezi, PowerPoint, …, Visme are all tools. Not everyone can grab a brush and paint a Picasso. At the end of the day if you collect informatión on the best practices for a presentatión you can apply them all in any tool (minding the limitations).

    Note: Common sense is the least common of all the senses.

    Reply
  11. Ryan

    I started using preferring prezi over power point after I was presenting cases that had way too much information. I was able to place all my data on a timeline I could slowly transition through while smoothly and noticeable zooming out to see part of the larger timeline before going back in to the next important detail. It shows perspective and it keeps the audience’s attention since they can see and understand the larger picture or topic you are presenting. Regular powerpoint only show a small moment in time “one slide” before moving on to the next. Powerpoint’s or Keynote are linear processes that can only go back and forward. You should focus on minimizing awkward transitions in Prezi since this is NOT the point of the program. Prezi brings up a lot of discussion at least regarding my topics. It is easy to zoom out and go to a different area of the project to prove a point or to reflect without distracting as long as you as the speaker are guiding the project and not the project guiding the speaker. If you are always too zoomed into the project you will make your audience and the presenter nauseated so be mindful. I disagree with the initial complaint about Prezi since I have had great success in my post-graduate program since the tools they offer are much easier to use and present for the visuospatial mind.

    Reply
  12. Carole Alalouf

    Hi there, I read with fascination your post and the slew of comments that followed. How can anyone say that either Prezi or PowerPoint is always terrible or always the best choice?

    It entirely depends on the story you are trying to tell. The medium must support the message.

    As much as Prezi is often misused, I believe it can also be used very effectively. I’ve written my own post on the subject and would really love to know what you think: https://www.exaltus.ca/blog/presentation-stars-6-moments-of-greatness-for-prezi/

    Thank you,
    Carole

    Reply
  13. Evelyne Thomas

    Don’t use it. Unreliable. PowerPoint is much better. There are some major glitches in the program. I had a black screen error which made me unable to edit it the presentation. It wasn’t an immediate problem (of course, it started when I was almost finished with it). It destroyed the presentation formatting too when I shared it. They wouldn’t give me a refund. I actually got 3 hours of sleep one night because of these errors. I had to stay up and make a PowerPoint instead. 80 slides. And then go to work for 12 hours the next day. Thanks Prezi! Incidentally, PowerPoint is much more user friendly and has many more options for animation. I spent 2 weeks learning to use it but that was a waste of time unfortunately

    Reply
  14. Timothy Driscoll

    Damn there are a lot of NPCs in this world

    Reply

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