Prezi: Substance and Style

There’s been some discussion on a math listserv to which I belong about the merits of Prezi as a presentation tool. The concerns about Prezi expressed on the listserv are ones I’ve seen expressed many times elsewhere, that Prezis tend to be full of flashy zooms and rotations that don’t add anything to the substance of a presentation and sometimes make audience members dizzy. I took a few minutes to make a case for Prezi on the listserv, and I thought I would share what I wrote here on the blog.

I’ll concur that I’ve seen some Prezis that were way more style over substance. But the ability to arrange content on a canvas non-linearly is a big advantage over more linear slideware like PowerPoint.  Ian Beatty, a physics education researcher at UNC-Greensboro, uses Prezi’s non-linearity to great advantage in his presentations.  See, for instance, this one:

Some mathematics topics lend themselves nicely to Prezi, like fractals.  Here’s one by Hang Wang, a recent PhD from Vandy, for an undergraduate seminar talk she gave:

I recruited Hang to blog about her experiences using Prezi for math talks for our teaching center.  In her post, she points out a couple of more ways to use Prezi to convey mathematical ideas effectively.

In my own use of Prezi, I’ve try to keep a few principles in mind:

  1. Don’t pan or zoom too far too quickly. This can make people dizzy. If necessary, insert an intermediate point on your “path” so that you don’t go too far too quickly.
  2. Don’t use rotations without good cause.  Again, they can make people dizzy, so it’s best to use them only when there’s a conceptual reason to do.  For instance, if you want to contrast two different perspectives on a single idea, you might use small rotation.
  3. Use images to represent ideas.  That way, when you zoom out, your content (those images) is still visible.  This makes it easier to see connections between ideas.  If you use a lot of text, when you zoom out, you lose that ability to “see” that content.
  4. Finally, make sure the big picture (the fully zoomed-out view of your Prezi) uses spatial arrangements to convey meaning.  Content that’s connected conceptually should be clustered together visually, for instance.

That’s my pitch for Prezi! It takes more prep to use than PowerPoint, not because of the technology but because of the extra layer of conceptual work needed to use it well. However, in my opinion, it’s worth it.

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