When To Prezi

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This blog was originally posted on October 29th, 2013.

In his post last week, Barclay Barrios asked whether “To Prezi or Not to Prezi." Coincidentally, the day before Barclay’s post was published, one of my colleagues on Facebook also questioned using Prezi, and the response was rather negative. It appears that my friends just aren’t crazy about using Prezi.

When Prezi launched, I wasn’t crazy about it either. The cloud-based tool was often described as an alternative to PowerPoint, so I mentally added it to the list of tools like Keynote and Presentation in Google Docs. When I ultimately looked at the Prezi site, I realized that it was nothing like those other tools.

Where a PowerPoint presentation is moving through a stack of index cards in chronological order, a Prezi tosses those index cards into the air and asks the reader to run around the room, zooming in on the content as she comes to each card. I understand reader-driven, choose-your-own-adventure style organizations, but for most of the Prezis I looked at, I couldn’t find a reason for all the zooming around the text.

I put Prezi on my list of things to explore later, and it stayed there until July when I was working on an assignment for the Making Learning Connected MOOC. As I read through the Prezi documentation to make a presentation myself, I realized why all that zooming around hadn’t made sense to me. The Getting Started video on the site explains that Prezi’s templates “help you express your ideas as a visual metaphor.” If the writer chooses the wrong template then, the underlying metaphor will be obscured or irrelevant. In such a case, the zooming around is a gimmick rather than a rhetorical strategy.

The secret of when to Prezi, then, is to consider the rhetorical relevance of the underlying template and the zooming movement. If the background image and layout match the topic, Prezi can be a great choice. When a presentation will focus on the relationship among ideas, for instance, a Prezi can zoom out to show the connections and then zoom in on specific ideas. A map might serve as the background, and then the difference ideas can be plotted on that map, showing the geographical relationship among the ideas. A discussion of an organizational chart for a company might start with an overview of the full chart and then zoom through the different levels of the chart. The options can be more metaphorical, of course. In one of my Prezis, I used a template with footsteps on a path to illustrate my journey in learning more about a topic.

So when to Prezi? Whenever I can lay the ideas out on a background that adds rhetorically to the presentation, I go with a Prezi. If all I gain from using a Prezi is cool zooming around, Prezi isn’t the right choice. That’s how I decide anyway. What’s your stance on Prezis? Please leave a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+ and let me know how you feel about zooming around in presentations.

[Photo: prezi in spotlight by nyuhuhuu, on Flickr]

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.