Update, August 2011: a new, updated guide to Prezi, actually in Prezi itself, is available elsewhere on the blog.
The ten tips of the title are near the top of this post – it’s quite long, so don’t worry about reading the examples bit if you just want the nuts and bolts.
[Update: I've also created a slide-deck which acts as a simpler version of this post - you can read and view it here. It also includes a more advanced Prezi with screen-grabs detailing how it was made.]
I’ve created or had a hand in creating three Prezis that have made it into the public arena (plus some previous attempts that I’ve deleted). Prezi has its critics, but I like it a lot – it’s nice to engage people in a different way to what they’re used to. A lot of librarians seem fed up with it but remember, the people you are presenting to might not necessarily be blasé and weary Info Pros! I’ve seen people literally blown away by a good Prezi, particularly after Laura and I used one for our Echo Chamber presentation – if someone hasn’t seen one before, and you make a good one, chances are they’ll be interested in a way that PowerPoint simply couldn’t achieve. Good Prezis are arresting. In fact, in the same way that the whole ‘death by PowerPoint’ thing can actually obfuscate excellent content, you can put even average content into a nice Prezi and people will be still be excited to engage with it.
Incidentally, if this top 10 tips had to be just a top 1, it would be: a good Prezi is a balance between exploiting the capabilities of the medium, and ensuring these capabilities don’t become and end in themselves.
Ten Top Tips
- Create your structure first, fill in the details afterwards. Think of your presentation like a building – you need to create the foundations and the structure first, and you need to know the outline before you start building. Think about what your top-down canvas view will be like before you start – this is what people will see before your presentation begins (either in person or embedded online), so it is important for it to look striking and draw the viewer in, and for it to function in support of your subject matter. Don’t try and design it as you go along, like Ellen Paige in Inception…
- Make your sections bigger than you think you need to. Just trust me on this. You won’t believe how often you think you’ve made something massive, but ending up having to cram loads and loads of other stuff into the same space, and wishing you’d make it bigger in the first place. Remember, the Prezi canvas is to all intents and purposes unlimited in size – everything looks the same size when zoomed in on to fill the screen anyway. So don’t be afraid to make your title absolutely enormous if you’re fitting the structure of the presentation into the same width, as with Example Two, below. The first time I created that title it was about a fifth the size of what it ended up being.
- Choose your colour scheme well, and choose it early. Unlike almost all other software we’re used to using, Prezi does not allow an infinite range of possibilities in terms of fonts and colours. This is either a blessing or a curse depending on how creative you are. But as there are only a handful of options, there’s really no excuse for not choosing the one which best embodies the feel of what you are trying to say. The way the visuals work is, you use the same building blocks to create the presentation (so the shapes, the frames, the arrows, the text) and then change their style / colour scheme en masse. You can’t have, say, pink titles and black body text on a blue background, because that ‘theme’ doesn’t exist. So, choose from what they have – if it’s a serious presentation, don’t use the jaunty font one. Similarly if what you’re doing is quite colloquial, that weird sort of Soviet-chic theme probably isn’t for you. Or maybe it is! But do think about it properly.The reason I’ve said do this early is, different ‘title’ or ‘body’ texts are different sizes on the different themes. So for example if you have your titles nested inside circular shapes, like in Example Three below, then changing the theme after you’ve carefully arranged these into the circles will probably ruin it, by making the text stick out over the boundaries of the circles, or be too small. Decide on what you’re doing early on, and stick with it.
- Position your materials sympathetically to avoid motion-sickness. There’s no point in using Prezi if you’re just going to stick a load of paragraphs of text on the canvas at random, then plot a path between them. You may as well use PowerPoint as you’re not exploiting the platform at all, and it’ll probably leave the viewer slightly queasy.If you arrange your materials sympathetically, it’s better for everyone. So try and move progressively and consistently between items – from A to B to C, in a horizontal row or vertically or even in a circle, rather than from A – Y – D all over the place, wildly oscillating around the canvas. It’s nice that Prezi will tilt to read everything as though it’s horizontal – it’s fun to have a diagonal line of text and then a horizontal one, so that it zooms excitingly between them. But try and limit the number of these you have in a presentation – changes of direction should be a neat special effect to punctuate your presentation, not the norm.There is a reason people get motion-sick on trains / trams far less than they do in cars, and it’s to do with consistency of motion and the effect this has on the inner ear. Gradually accelerating train = fine, even if you’re facing backwards; lurchy stop-starty car on a country lane = sick inducing even if you’re in the front. So be consistent in your movements on your Prezi, and choose the path of least deviation as far as possible.
- Reign in your ambition! Most Prezis suffer from the giddy excitement that comes from exploring a new medium. Oooh look, I can do this! And OMG, THIS! But consider if you really need to have that bit where the whole thing turns upside down and then on its side – if it serves as some kind of visual metaphor then great, but if it doesn’t then keep things on an even keel.To return to the building analogy, let’s take a kitchen as an example. Most people’s kitchens are a compromise between the gadgets they’ve always wanted and the gadgets they can afford – so, like 99% of humans in the Western World, I have a cafe-style toasted sandwich maker hidden away in a cupboard somewhere (FTW). I would also love an ice-maker, a massive espresso-machine, maybe a nice stereo in there, probably not a TV but an ice-cream maker, maybe a soda-stream, a lovely bread maker, plus my wife has her eye on one of those massive pink SMEG fridges – but we can’t afford any of those things. If we won the lottery and I actually went out and bought all of those, and put them in our little kitchen, it would be terrible! It would look rubbish, be over crowded, I’d never use half of them, they’d lose their specialness and value among so many other gadgets, and ultimately the actual Kitchen itself would cease to function in the way I needed it to.That’s what Prezi is like. Just because you have the freedom to do lots of bonkers stuff, doesn’t mean you should – or that it’ll make the presentation better.
- …but still employ at least one extreme change of scale… Epic scale changes are ace. Prezi can go REALLY big and REALLY small, so it’s a nice thing to zoom in on something people won’t have guessed is there from the top-down view at the start. In Example Three, below, check out the zooming in on the dot of the eye to show my logo and my web address (thus getting across essential information without changing the top-down look of the Prezi), and in Example Two, look out for the angry, ill looking twitter bird that comes in the Examples of Failure section. W00t! It completely dwarfs the rest of the presentation, and is then itself dwarfed by some text (and this is a visual metaphor – I’m saying that the fact that twitter goes mad about library misconceptions but none of this anger is heard or understood outside the realm of the library, dwarfs much of our excellent efforts towards defending the profession). When Laura and I presented our echo-chamber ideas using this Prezi, we actually had to pause for a while and wait for the laughter at the blood-shot and drooling bird to subside…
- Achieve uniformity of style by using ‘duplicate’ then ‘edit’. Because of the way in which you can move the mouse to make items bigger or smaller, it’s actually quite hard to get two different sections of text or shapes to be the same size – it’s not like PowerPoint when you can pick a font size and stick to it. But in a lot of cases it does look better if your headings are the same size, so are you main body of text sections, etc. The easiest way to ensure uniformity is to get the first example of something to the size you want it, then ‘duplicate’ it – this will produce a second example exactly the same size, which you can then edit to say whatever you want. Then duplicate and edit that, and so on and so on.
- Use PDFs, not JPEGs – and remember every image will fill the screen. Prezi does not like Gifs or JPEGs – it prefers PDFs for whatever reason. Every single image on all the Prezi’s I’ve made has been a PDF because it looks so, so much crisper. This is a faff, but worthwhile – either use Photoshop if you have it to save images as PDFs, or use Zamzar online file conversion – it’s free.A lot of people complain that Prezi makes images look grainy or low-res (and indeed it does, with JPEGs, hence the use of PDFs) but there is a reason for this. Prezi is a zooming presentation platform; it literally zooms in and fills the screen with whatever you click on or tell it to look at. So if you’ve got a little 10px by 10px picture, it’s going to be shown far, far bigger than is ideal when Prezi zooms right in on it – hence it’ll look grainy. When, for example, taking a screen grab you want to feature as an image, don’t crop the screen-grab down to the bare-minimum – try and leave enough of an image so Prezi doesn’t have to focus in too close.This is hard to explain, do you get what I mean by this? Basically, anything smaller than what fills your screen in its original context, may look a bit shonky on Prezi when it is enlarged to fill your screen in a Prezi context – just like if you zoom in on any picture and start to see the pixels, or just shove your face really close to a newspaper. This issue is exacerbated when your presentation fills a big-screen at a conference venue. So, no tiny pics, okay?
- Specifics: Moving a bunch of stuff at once with the Shift key, creating proper hyperlinks by duplicating, using frames, and embedding youtube vids. Often you can spend ages assembling a little cluster of materials, only to find they need to be moved – and if you select one you can move it, but then you have to go back and move all the rest, and this is annoying and takes ages. I did this for months, then Laura pointed out that if I’d read the manual I’d've known you just have to press and hold then Shift key on your keyboard, then use the mouse to draw a box round the group of items you want to move collectively. This saves ages of time.For reasons I don’t understand, hyperlinks don’t appear most times you type a URL into Prezi. It just remains as www.whatever.com rather than www.don’tactuallyclickthis.com. However, if you ‘duplicate’ the relevant section, the new version will have hyperlinked URLs. I don’t know why this is, but it’s an acceptable work-around for an annoying problem – just delete the original, and move the duplicate into the right position.Using frames well is important to a decent Prezi. As the name suggests, Frames just frame a section of the Prezi to be zoomed in on and fill the screen – they can be visible frames, or invisible. Invisible is often better. If you have a picture, some title text and some body text in a cluster, if you just click on one of them when plotting the ‘path’ of the Prezi it’ll zoom right in on that at the expense of the others. If you frame all three objects together, it’ll zoom in on the framed trio collectively.Finally, embedding videos – you can embed a few formats of video by uploading them as files, but much easier is to just add a youtube URL as free text. This will automatically embed the video, and you can press play on them when the Prezi path ‘arrives’ at that bit.
- Make sure you are the dog, and Prezi is the tail… Should be self-explanatory this one – always make sure Prezi is working for you, not the other way around. You chose Prezi because it serves a function for you – if it doesn’t serve that function in practice, or using it drives you mad with frustration, then ditch it! Don’t let the tail wag the dog – pick materials that suit this presentation platform, but don’t let the medium dictate to you what you’re doing.
In addition to all that, I’d add: if you keep a blog, link back from the Prezi to a post which gives a bit more information, and bit of context. Prezis make people want to know more.
Example one is the first one I ever did – for this blog post on tomorrow’s information professionals. It’s had loads of views because it struck a chord with people (plus Prezi.com made it a staff-pick) – the content is good, but actually the presentation is pretty poor. (All of these are best in full-screen mode, but not on automatic)
This is a bit of classic first prezi with all the naivety they tend to bring, and I was very tempted recently to clean it up and make it nicer – people continue to look at it a lot as it is embedded in the most tweeted blog post I’ve ever written. But actually I’ve decided to leave it, for now at least – learning processes are important, and not something we should be ashamed of. Some freaky people do appear to arrive fully-formed and able to do things brilliantly straight-away, but for the rest of us the journey can be quite enjoyable!
So what’s bad about this? The top-down canvas view of the whole thing isn’t particularly interesting, there isn’t much use of anything other than plain text, the big frame thing is quite ugly (you can have invisible frames that achieve the same thing), the massive URL for my website at the end is a little crass and not hyperlinked, and most of all the content is arranged too haphazardly and this makes it too lurchy. The lurching is, I think, the biggest objection people have with Prezi. It IS possible to mitigate this and prevent motion-sickness in your audience, but I did not achieve that here. The snippets of text aren’t really arranged with enough care. More on that sort of thing above.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t a presentation that I’ve ever delivered live. I just used Prezi because I thought I had something interesting to say, and I wanted to say it in a way which would capture people’s imagination a bit more (and allow them to embed it into their own blogs etc). People see a lot of text on blogs, so it’s nice to give them something else once in a while. And it worked, too – the blog post in which the above Prezi is embedded is the second most viewed of all time on this site.
Example two is mine and Laura’s Echolib effort – this had a long gestation period so was actually created in part before and in part after example three. This means I’d learned stuff as I was going along, which made it better.
The different sections of our talk are arranged into a nominal ‘chamber’ shape, with the examples of successful escapes listed outside the walls for a little visual metaphor thing going on… [UPDATE: the presentation did used to be in a nominal chamber shape, but the one you see below is the latest version which has changed.] As we each took a section it was really easy to collaborate when putting this together – we could basically assemble our own nodes (e.g I went away and thought about examples of Failure, then designed that section) and see the other person’s contributions gradually assembling elsewhere.
There is the extreme scale change mentioned above to look out for here, as well as embedded youtube vids. Another thing to note is all the contributions from the room which we added in real-time during the presentation, and the contributions from Twitter, which we added afterwards (having live-tweeted our presentation). Prezi is really easy to edit on the fly, and this particular one will serve as a living archive of useful stuff, perpetually updated as we do this presentation on future occasions.