Over this past summer, I’ve been leading a team of archaeologists from the Campus Archaeology Program in a massive archaeological survey across Michigan State University’s campus. The goal of the project was to check the area for artifacts and historical features in the landscape prior to construction. At the end of the project we were left with a huge number of artifacts, photos and data about this area. In order to present this information to the public we write it up in a site report and blog about it. While the reports are straightforward and informative, they can be a little dry and not very visual. In order to create a more dynamic summary of our work we decided to make a presentation we could put online. We decided to use Prezi, an alternative slideshow program which is more dynamic than Powerpoint or Keynote, and allows for more flexibility in design.

Prezi is lauded as the presentation software which connects linear and non-linear data through its zoomable user interface. Text, images and other media are placed onto a large canvas, much like creating a poster. From there, the user creates a map by which viewers can zoom into specific areas of the canvas to get a closer look at specific media and text. This allows for a more dynamic experience of the material. The base level of this web-based software is free, and you can get a slightly upgraded version using your .edu email address. For a good example of using Prezi in the classroom, check out Shawn Graham’s Adventures in Gamification.

After spending an intense week dealing with the Prezi (screenshot from one portion pictured above), here are what I see as the advantages and disadvantages to this alternative:


1. Flexibility: Unlike Powerpoint where you are given templates and restricted to a box, Prezi is a blank slate where you can exercise complete freedom on what will be included and how it will be displayed. You have complete creative control over where your items will go and how they are formatted. While you also have this to some extent in Powerpoint, in Prezi it is more open and freeform, which is an advantage for people who want this.

2. Unique: Since you begin with a blank slate, it is unlikely that your presentation will look like anyone else’s. Also, since the program isn’t widely used, it may grab attention better than those which are outdated and overseen.

3. Web based: Prezi is located on the web, so you don’t have to worry about uploading your presentation to a jumpdrive or having compatibility issues with different computers. It also means that you can collaborate on the presentation live with other people. During our project we had three people working on different sections from different locations, so having a web based software was important.

3. Works well for some projects: The dynamism and non-linear structure can work really well for certain presentations. For our archaeology project we have a large map with all of our survey work labeled on it. We are able to show the entire map, zoom into a specific portion of the dig, show the artifacts found, and then zoom back out to the big map in order to refocus on a new area. Having this function is nice for an archaeology presentation since location and context are so important.


1. Can be overwhelming: Given all the available functions and ways of setting up the presentation, it can be a little overwhelming to some. Having a blank slate isn’t always great and I found myself often falling back into my powerpoint design patterns.

2. Easily distracting to viewers: One needs to be a little careful on using the zooming user interface. While all the zooming and spinning functions are great and can be incredibly useful, they can also be nauseating and distracting. Overuse of these functions can leave viewers with a bad impression of the presentation, even if the content was good.

2. Sometimes not intuitive: Throughout this project, I made the same series of mistakes repeatedly.  Prezi doesn’t have the ‘standard’ functions of powerpoint and other Microsoft products that we have been trained to use. I especially had difficulty using the Path function. Since you set up how users will jump around your canvas, you need to set the pathways which can be a little difficult to figure out, and the program sometimes doesn’t like to cooperate with your wishes.

4. Not necessarily always the appropriate method: While Prezi worked great for the map and timeline portions of the presentation, where zooming and spinning were helpful, it wasn’t always the best for straight up text. In some sections a more traditional Powerpoint format would have been helpful.

Overall, I think Prezi was a good choice for the archaeology presentation. Zooming into the map to show artifacts and where they were found, and jumping along a timeline, were great visual effects in Prezi. However, I’m not going to switch completely over; for most presentations I’ll likely use Powerpoint instead.

For more on the Prezi debate, check out the ProfHacker articles by Ethan Watrall (Challenging the Presentation Paradigm) and Ana Salter (Revisiting Prezi).

Which do you prefer? Do you also find that they are topic specific or have you completely gone with one over the other?

[Image by Ethan Watrall (Challenging the Presentation Paradigm) and screenshot by Katy Meyers]


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