Friday, 14 August 2009

Death by....Prezi?

I have a pet hate for death by powerpoint. I have sat through many an agonising lecture, wishing only to fine a new and original way to combine the lecturer with the intricate and highly electrical components. Lecturing is a difficult thing to master, and I have seen those whose presentations have ranged from excellent to appalling. My pet hate is to be read to, from overwordy slides. I had one truly awful experience. An hour and a half of a very technical presentation on Data Protection Act 1998. The projected image was tiny, and the lecturer had decided that the best colours were black background and purple writing. Small writing.

I did not learn a great deal, and my teeth are noticeably less efficient.

Faced then with the unenviable task of creating a detailed presentation on the content of my dissertation research, I racked my brains as to how to create something that did not befall many of the traps. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I have always had some skill at creating presentations that are not too onerous, and the laid back conversational style in which present has been commented on positively by several lecturers. However, the complex nature and depth of my dissertation topic is far beyond anything I have had to create before.

I am a fan of Pecha Kucha as an idea. I think the skill in which these presentations are delivered is admirable, and teaches some of the best qualities when designing presentations. Having been forced to create a plethora of presentations, I have tried to adhere to this format as closely as I can. I would actually relish if this kind of skill were taught as part of undergraduate basic skills, as an ability to present is important in all walks of life. It teaches the ability to condense information orally, which is often sorely lacking from undergraduate seminars - but more on that another time. Unfortunately, the presentation I must give is for a much greater period of time and need be in much more depth than would allow me to use this format.

How then am I to present a complex piece of research?

As a fan of all things techy, I accidentally stumbled across Prezi some while ago.This website is a free zooming presentation creator and viewer, and even allows the option of downloading the website as a flash file. Rather than the one-slide-at-a-time principle with which many will be familiar, Prezi allows much greater freedom. Imagine if you will, a format more akin to a mind map which you can zoom in and out at will, create a non-linear path of focal points and embed video, images and various other files. Having played for just a few minutes it became clear that this was the answer to my problem. The presentation I have created is by far the best I have ever buckled together. It does take more time than sticking a few bullets on a powerpoint, and is sometimes fiddly to get right. There are many tools frustratingly lacking that would enhance the creator more, and some presentations are perhaps not so suited to the format.

However, for something free it is fantastic. Even the wordy series of interrelated topics I have to cover can be given some sense of overall structure in this format. The non-linear zoomable structure is brilliant. So simple, yet so appealing. Of course, if one were to think of Prezi as just powerpoint in flash, then Death by Prezi would certainly be possible. It requires that people do that most difficult of things; think outside the box and years of using powerpoint.

Prezi has another convert. If anyone has checked out the excellent post over on Law Actually titled The Open Source Lawyer and is looking for more weapons in the open source armoury, then I would recommend this one highly.

Death by powerpoint may have met it's end.


  1. My Dear Oddy,

    I will admit to the fact that all of this tecchie stuff is WELL over my head; in fact I am something of a LUDDITE in embracing the new and the alternative and am stuck FIRMLY in the realm of powerpoint when it comes to matters relating to the Thesis Monster!!

    In the right hands, PP is, I think a wonderful tool; in the wrong hands, well, I think I'd prefer to gnaw my own leg off than be sujbect to its use by a crashing bore. Unfortunately this was the case on my version of the BVC; the temptation to put some salt on my right leg was, at times, overwhelming.......

  2. You have given the most amusing image in my head Minx! Imagine inf you will, yours truely turning up to lectures with a small pot of seasoning, and should death by powerpoint begin, gently pouring a dash over my thigh at the back of the room (to much snickering of those in the know).

    I am always aware my delves into tech world probably alienates many! I once sent a friendly email to a lecturer of mine who was trying to send me a file. His response was awesome:

    "I understood the first line. After that I was wading through Luddite treacle".

  3. My Dear Oddy,

    I think I am with your lecturer on the Luddite Treacle front!

    Think of this post whenever you are faced with death by powerpoint ( which is an unfortunate possibility on the BVC, or BPTC, or whatever its called these days) - people sitting around you will wonder what you're smiling about, and whether or not you have some GNOSTIC insight into the presentation that they dont, thereby ramping up your reputatation as all round course clever dickie!
    Its a win win situation!! :)