I am not a handyman. I'm not good with mechanical tools. Hand tools, power tools...scissors. I am afraid of most power tools. I use hand tools when I must-when my father-in-law isn't available to help me. And I, well, I stink at using them. I rarely pound a nail in without bending it.
I am good with technology tools. Give me Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office and I can make something...something good. Give me Web 2.0 tools and I will create. I will create something good, useful, educational, fun...
Presentation software applications are tools. If you know how to use them, you can do great things! But knowing how to use them doesn't just mean you understand what all the tools do. Knowing how to use them means you know the best practices for creating a presentation.
I don't know the best practices for building anything out of wood. So anything I build from wood is ridiculously embarrassing to me. For many people, the same is true of building presentations (only they aren't always embarrassed by their work because they don't know any better). It's not their fault. There is more to it than just knowing how to use the software; you must also know how to design a presentation.
So the "Big 2" seem to be Prezi and PowerPoint (or Keynote for Mac users). They are all good tools. I'll write briefly about them and best practices for presentation design. Keep in mind that entire books have been written on this subject, so this is a brief summary.
Prezi: Presentation Software with a Twist
Most of us have created computer presentations, usually in the form of a linear slideshow with software such as PowerPoint. Prezi adds something special to your presentations with panning, zooming, and rotating “slides”. Don’t get me wrong; PowerPoint is a perfectly fine presentation application when it is used properly. It's like the old GIGO adage: garbage in...garbage out! You've probably heard some of the PowerPoint haters' claims of "death by PowerPoint" and "PowerPoint is evil." PowerPoint is not evil. PowerPoint doesn't kill presentations; people do.
And Prezi is no different in that regard. When used properly, it can “wow” your audience with visuals that will help them remember what they are learning. If overused, some of the Prezi features can literally give your audience motion sickness. In any presentation software, the best practices of good visual design are a necessity. We have all seen the typical “bullet list PowerPoint”, and perhaps even worse, we have had a presenter read the bullet lists to us. And perhaps even worse, we have been guilty of such a malicious act. PowerPoint's major fail is the bullet list template which they provide. It is the go-to template for most PowerPoint Probies. But guess what? Prezi also provides a bullet list option! The same mistake can be made with Prezi: too much text and not enough graphics. Presentations are meant to be visual, not textual; not verbose. This is true whether you are presenting in person or creating a self-running presentation. We can make great presentations with PowerPoint. We can make great presentations with Prezi. We can also make lousy ones with both applications. They are only tools.
When creating a PowerPoint to be used with a presenter, make use of the notes section! The slide should include an appropriate, meaningful graphic and little text. Just put the main points on the slide. The notes section serves as the speaker's script or a general outline of what will be said. When presenting, the speaker should use a dual monitor setup with only the slides showing on the projector and the notes version showing on her computer. The speaker can also memorize the points to make, but speaker notes should still be added to the presentation. After the presentation, the speaker can hand out printed copies of the notes slides, which show both the slide and the speaker notes. Do this after presenting so the audience isn't distracted by reading ahead, and so that they have the material you presented to take with them.
But how can speaker notes be used in a self-running PowerPoint? Easy! Record the narration for each slide! If your presentation is online, provide a download of the notes slides, perhaps in PDF format.
So how is Prezi different? Prezi consists of a huge “canvas” where you, the designer, can place elements such as text, images, videos, and more. You can place them anywhere on the canvas and then create a path from one element to the next and the next, and so on (thus, the panning effect). Prezi acts like a camera which is moving around on the canvas zooming in on the elements individually (thus, the zooming effect). When a canvas element is zoomed, it fills the screen. If elements are rotated slightly, the “camera” will zoom to them, turning the element so it is no longer rotated (thus, the rotating effect—the one that can make your viewers seasick if overused).
Prezi doesn't have a speaker notes option. But the presentation can be saved as a PDF and handed out. However, additional speaker notes should be provided, which creates an extra step in the process using a separate software application. For a self-running Prezi, narration can be added.
What’s Wrong with PowerPoint? Why do I need Prezi?
Nothing is wrong with PowerPoint. Prezi just has a different take on creating presentations. In a PowerPoint slideshow the viewer sees one slide at a time. A Prezi can begin with the entire canvas visible and all the elements arranged on it in a creative, inventive, attractive design that could represent the theme of the Prezi. For instance, in a Prezi about clouds, the elements could be arranged on the canvas in the shape of a cloud. The viewer will see the cloud shape, but not all the elements will necessarily be visible. The viewer will see some elements clearly; these could contain visible main ideas. Others may appear as a tiny shape or speck, and still others may be so small the viewer won’t see them at all on the opening canvas. Then, let the zooming begin! Remember, when Prezi zooms to an element it fills the screen, so those tiny specs or invisible elements can suddenly appear from nowhere!
Let's just all remember one thing: PowerPoint and Prezi are tools. Are you handy enough to use them?