Thinking about presentation software

Did you notice that a software alternative to MS PowerPoint and Apple Keynote emerged from this year’s student presentations? It’s called Prezi ( If you haven’t seen it, the idea is this: instead of thinking in terms of slides, imagine arranging all your presentation information on a large canvas as you might on a white board. Then instruct the software how to zoom in and out of various regions of that canvas in a way that complements the story you want to tell.

An illustrative example is on the Prezi website; another is James Geary’s 2009 T.E.D. presentation, though so far the best I’ve seen so far comes from our students. Prezi is web-based and free if your file size is 500MB or smaller (due to a special offer for students and teachers) and was recently reviewed in the NY Times and an blog.

What does Edward Tufte say about the cognitive style of Prezi? Is it indeed more intuitive? Is it a fad? How does one create a traditional slide deck for clients? I don’t know.


Speaking of presentation software, did you see that there are now apps to control PowerPoint and Keynote remotely from your iPhone? Even though I already use a USB remote control, I am experimenting with the iPhone Keynote Remote right now. All one needs is an iPhone and computer on the same wireless network. Hold the iPhone horizontally (in landscape orientation) and you’ll see the current and next slides side by side, though most text is too small to read. Hold the iPhone vertically and you’ll see the current slide and notes.  Swipe your finger to advance slides. My hope is that this $0.99 app will buy more eye contact with students and less looking over my shoulder.

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4 Responses to Thinking about presentation software

  1. Brian says:

    I have not seen the software. Does it help hinder or is neutral from your evaluation? From your experience is this something I should encourage or does it not help enough to justify the extra learning curve needed to familiarize oneself with the program?

  2. In my opinion, if this school really wanted to teach students to better communicate, they would not allow the use of presentation slides… I have seen so many students read their slides and I have yet to see a PowerPoint presentation in business that I thought was constructed as an inextricable improvement to the presentation. My 2 cents.

    Oh and when I say read their slides? I mean exactly, read their slides. Everything from individual sentences to long paragraphs in 12 point font on a slide. Oy.

  3. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    I can see how the prezi software would be very interesting for drawing attention to details in complex visuals. But when it comes to slideshows, such as the example on the prezi website (, there doesn’t seem to be an advantage of prezi over PowerPoint. Instead of going from slide to slide, the prezi example zooms in an out of material (that is not that well designed). The constant motion is dizzying.

    This being said, if you have a complex visual (say, for example, a long timeline with detailed information for specific points in time), the prezi software would perform better than PPT.

    Thanks for sharing this information.

  4. WMillhiser says:

    Brian: On the learning curve, I found it relatively easy to use: about 3 hours to create my first presentation, a 30-minute research talk for a conference. (If you are interested, you can see my presentation here: ).

    From the experience I noticed a few things. First, Prezi does not allow subscripts/superscripts or emphasis (e.g., italics, bold) — and inserting Greek characters is challenging — so it’s poor for mathematical information. The general consensus of my audience (many volunteered comments in subsequent private conversations) is that LaTeX/Beamer is still the preferred way to go in research talks in the mathematical sciences. But many of these same colleagues also expressed interest in trying out Prezi in classroom settings, intrigued by the notion of linking ideas by moving around a canvas.

    Elisabeth: I agree with your adjective “dizzying”. My first use of the software included too much motion. Even so, colleagues told me that they liked the way it complemented the story I was telling.

    “RevolutionaryRob”: I agree! That said, PPT has become the standard in certain industries for sharing information. For example, in many management consulting and financial services firms, a 50 to 100-page PPT deck is the preferred method of sharing information with executives and clients. (For this reason, I don’t think Prezi will replace PPT any time soon.)

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