DEATH by PowerPoint is illustrated by a slide portraying the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan. “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” the New York Times reported General Stanley McChrystal as saying, sparking laughter in the room.
The slide, which went viral last year, “looked more like a bowl of spaghetti,” the paper reported. It sparked a backlash, long simmering, against the presentation tool that first went on sale in April 1987 and dominated the market.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” one general was quoted by the New York Times. Another banned it from presentations, warning that “it can create the illusion of understanding and illusion of control.”
Walk into any business presentation today and you’d likely find yourself in corporate theater—a dimmed room with curtains drawn and a projector throwing an image of the ubiquitous PowerPoint slide on a board.
Budget proposals, project plans, sales figures, expense reports — all these are distilled into bullet points and slides of information. Speakers go to meetings with less trepidation, using PowerPoint slides as crutches. The software “converts public-speaking dread into moviemaking pleasure,” Ian Parker wrote in The New Yorker.
But while slideware like PowerPoint helps speakers outline their talks, it “can be punishing to both content and audience,” information design guru Edward Tufte said in an article in Wired titled “PowerPoint is Evil.”
Tufte hit what he described as the relentless linear presentation of PowerPoint “one damn slide after another.”
“When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side,” he said. For technical data, Tufte recommends written reports.
It’s hard to think out of the box when you’re hemmed in by the unrelenting linear progression of slide after slide after slide.
But there’s a way out of PowerPoint hell—it’s a web service called Prezi.com. The first time you see Prezi at work you’d most likely ask yourself, “how’s that being done?”
Prezi is an online presentation tool originally developed to show large architectural drawings. Instead of slides, Prezi uses a single canvas where you place text, images, video clips and various shapes, which you then navigate with a zooming interface.
To create a Prezi, just sign up for an account. Prezi.com offers three options: a free public account with 100mb of storage space (anything you create can be viewed by anyone); a $59 a year “Enjoy” account that comes with 500mb storage and the ability to designate the presentations as private; and a $159 a year Pro account that comes with 2gb of storage and the ability to create presentations offline.
The tool is intuitive and anyone who knows how to use a browser can start making Prezis after a few minutes of trying out menu items. If reading manuals and watching how-to videos is your thing, these are also available in the site. This column also has a multimedia version created with Prezi in my blog.
As a presentation and storytelling tool, Prezi is unmatched.
Instead of a collection of slides, a Prezenter has a mind map that he or she can zoom into and out off at anytime during the presentation.
Prezi allows non-linear presentations. Although you designate a path for the presentation (its version of the slides sequence in PowerPoint), you can stop it at anytime and focus on somewhere else in the canvass. When you do decide to resume, you just hit the play button and the presentation follows its designated path right at the point of the interruption.
When you’re ready to present, Prezi allows you to download your creation for offline playing. The files you download will allow you to present in any platform—Windows, Mac or Linux—without having to connect to the Internet.