“Prezi is not a replacement for PowerPoint.”

That’s what I was told in the workshop, at least. Having been a user for roughly four years now, I’m tempted to disagree, although with a caveat. If you’ve got a decent sense of visual communication, and reasonable graphical skills, then Prezi certainly can be a replacement for PowerPoint, and if it encourages you into a different mode of presentation that’s probably a good thing too.

But hold on a moment – what is Prezi?

It’s a presentation tool, first and foremost. I also sometimes use it as an organisational tool for laying out ideas that I’m never intending to present, but that’s a bonus rather than the point. The key way it’s different from PowerPoint (as the blurb happily states) is that it’s “non-linear”.

In PowerPoint, you make a slide, fill it with a few bullet points (if you’re unwise, too many bullet points, a purple wavy title and some kind of ghastly transition effect), whereas with Prezi you have more of a mind-map thing going on. It’s based principly around an online editor, which presents you with a blank canvas across which you can pan and zoom. Even before you put information on this canvas the movement suggests some kind of idea clustering, hopping from idea to idea, focusing, pulling back etc. etc. and this is very much the case.

Having had some architectural education I’m not a bad hand with Photoshop, which I’ve found tremendously useful for making things to put on my canvases, but this is not a prerequisite. The first thing you’ll notice when you fire up the editor is that Prezi suggests any of a range of attractive looking templates. These comprise a background image and various brackets and arrows in which the user has only to click for a textbox and then jot down whatever idea they fancy.

The movement of the camera is important, and should always be in your mind when you’re making a Prezi. That’s one of the main reasons I like it: it enables you to be a “director” for your ideas, starting out with a simple one that gets the attention of the audience, moving to the side a little or zooming out a bit to expand on it, following branches of ideas in succession to create trains of thought, finishing with an overview to show how things are linked… I could go on. It’s simple to use, provides more information, and can be very pretty in the right hands.

There are one or two things to point out though…

“How do I present my new masterpiece?” you may wonder. Well, there are two options. Either you can download the presentation, which will give you  a zipped folder that you unzip, in which you’ll find a file you can “play” with Adobe Flash Player. Once it’s open you just click with directional buttons or a slide-advancer like any other presentation and the camera will slide smoothly from one spot on your canvas to the next. According to the FAQs this should work fine with a Mac, but I’ve personally run into issues here, although I’ve never once had a problem with a Windows machine. As for Linux… um… I honestly don’t know.

To download your work you’ll need the right sort of account. Prezi offers a free educational account to folks with with academic email addresses (.ac.uk for example), but if you haven’t got one of those you’ll have to stump up for the premium account, or…

Go online and log in to Prezi. You can play your presentations in the same way from the website, but be warned, if you find yourself in a venue with poor internet connection you’d better be good at painting an image verbally.

The second thing to be aware of is one you may have heard about before in connection with Prezi: the dreaded motion sickness. There’s a simple rule here. Don’t make the camera move large distances at a single click or it’ll whizz across masses of bright colours, text and images in one stomach-voiding leap. Similarly, don’t build in rotations. You can do it, but a after few whole-image 180°  flips I guarantee your audience won’t be able to keep down their doughy little flapjacks and pots of yoghurt.

But with a bit of care and attention, some practice, a few run-throughs of the finished article, perhaps you’ll agree with me that Prezi offers a more sophisticated and attractive alternative for anyone ready to make the investment. Of course, if you’re reading this on the train with twenty minutes left in order to cobble together some semblance of a presentation before you arrive at your event, I’d suggest sticking with PowerPoint.