Prezi vs Powerpoint

Best way to give a spectacular presentation?

This was the first post I wrote about Prezi and it has remained popular. I’ve also written a post asking for suggestions using the tool, which you can find here. If you want to see some example Prezis I have embedded them into these posts: creativity, planning, any ideas?

Flavour of the month (well, year) in terms of presentations, has been Prezi – an online presentation tool being held up as a being something that you can use to end the infamous “Death by Powerpoint”. I’ve seen loads of them online, and a few around the college where I work – so I thought I ought to give it a go – my attempts are here on this blog (last three entries). Having had a go, I thought I ought to add my (now slightly better-informed) thoughts to the debate.

Text or Graphics?

I think that the key thing to remember is that these are very much different tools, and they have different strengths and weaknesses. Prezi certainly has a big visual impact when you first use it, and each time I’ve used it, someone has asked me about it wanting to try it out. That’s fine, but I reckon some of the novelty is going to wear off after the first few times. My theory with Prezi is that actually during a presentation with a presenter at the front and participants who have come to a session on the basis of the title or abstract of the session it’s not going to be that different to powerpoint – just a bit swirlier, most presentations are essentially linear. Powerpoint is probably more flexible for that purpose – you can do a lot more with it. The cliché that always gets dragged out about complex software applications is that 80% of people use 20% of the functions and 20% use 80% of the functions – the numbers might be out, but I’m sure that the principle applies to Powerpoint – I just happen to be in the first group, so I don’t really know how good you can make them. It is probably fair to say that Prezi has a greater emphasis on the visual, while PowerPoint gives more clout to written content – but the reality is that you could create a really visual PowerPoint and a really texty Prezi.

Non-linear approaches

So, the biggest difference is probably the much-hailed non-linear nature of Prezi against the linear structure of Powerpoint. As I hinted above, I think that most talks, lectures, etc are pretty linear, so I suppose we need to think how Prezi’s non-linearity could be harnessed.

  • One possible approach is would be build up a great big bank of resources/links around a topic (almost like a text/reference book) and then set a different path through this ‘forest of knowledge’ for each presentation depending on the audience or the time allowed etc. This could then be made available online for people to explore at a later date and get deeper into the topic (I’ve tried to do this here). Being easy to tailor for different audiences makes this resource very recyclable – just keep adding new bits to your prezi over time.
  • Try a completely non-linear presenting/teaching approach – have a very detailed prezi, and take cues from your audience as to which bits they want to look at; after the talk learners/participants can access the Prezi online to look at the bits that they didn’t seen in the presentation.
  • You could just not have a traditional presentation in the first place – just present your learners or audience with a Prezi to look around, you can add in your own content, learners work through and take notes/use the content that they find most useful. Again, as with the above approach – these resources would be very easy to re-use in future, you might just need to add bits or emphasise different sections.
  • Give learners a ready-made Prezi and get them to present it. Learners would plan what information is relevant to their audience and realistic in their allocated time and can set a path through the presentation.
  • Learners can use Prezi to create a mind-map around their chosen topic. It is then simple for them to choose the relevant sections in order to plan a spoken presentation. I’ve found when introducing learners to Powerpoint, they find it difficult to plan the presentation, and tend to end up writing an essay on each slide. Prezi is much simpler from the point of view of planning, because you can just get everything down on the page and then work out which bits are suitable for presenting.

Over to you….

Those are the ideas that I’ve been thinking about… but I’d love to hear your ideas – please comment below on your (positive or negative) experiences with Prezi…

Further Reading

Here are some links to read and think about.

How to Guides – Prezi Tips & Tricks

Example Prezis


41 thoughts on “Prezi vs Powerpoint

  1. I think the idea of giving the students a ready-made prezi is a very good one, taking advantage of the inherent nature of the prezi (bit unpredictable/whirly/ spinning). The speaker will then have to adapt and react to unpredictability, which can illustrate the unpredictability of interactions and language itself. To reduce the stress that can emerge from this, some preparation time can be given too.

  2. Interesting post, Phil. Particularly like the comparison you’ve made looking at text vs images and the idea of linearity.

    Can’t really comment on the difference in using them from a presenter/teacher perspective myself, as the one time I tried to use Prezi the website failed to save anything I did!

    I’m easily impressed sometimes, so for certain things the swirly whirly-ness of Prezi is great (I’m thinking of Karenne’s presentation of the lessons for the EFL carnival a while back). Visually stunning. But perhaps it is possible to do something similarly impressive with Powerpoint. I fall into the 80% using 20% of the features category of person, so I don’t know.

    Not sure exactly how I’d use Prezi in the class either. I suppose the open access nature of it would lend Prezi to something like self-study after the lesson, say a review of the content or something similar.

    I’m tempted to give Prezi another shot. I’ll get back to you on that…

    1. Prezi does have a strong visual impact, but I worry that this could end up like those infamous OTT powerpoints, where things whizz in and out all over the place accompanied by racing car noises and explosions….. I’d always felt that as I didn’t really use Powerpoint much, then I’d probably hardly ever use Prezi, but I think it’s worth exploring the more fundamental differences and thinking how they could be exploited.

      You mentioned problems that you’d had with Prezi – I think there are quite a few posts around that take the opinion that it doesn’t quite seem finished yet – I’d agree with that, there are a number of features that I would have thought would be fairly easy to implement (being able to edit colour schemes for example) that it doesn’t have – even it seems in the paid versions; I’d have thought that a good business model would be to have all these features in the paid for model, but hey… I’m no expert. You have to use the colour schemes provided by Prezi, I also think it could deal better with embedding other files, but these are small-ish gripes, overall I’ve found it a useful tool so far…..

  3. Hi Phil,

    I agree with pretty much all you’ve said here, and I also fall into the 80% of the people using 20% of the functions of PowerPoint. Am going to try and ‘upskill’ a bit to that end over the coming weeks, however I really feel that, while it’s great to present with as much clout as possible, the focus on content is always going to be more important. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Don’t get me wrong, the aesthetics of a presentation are a consideration, but I have found that too fancy a presentation can actually detract from content, rather than enhance it. Plus if things go wrong in a potentially very slick and sophisticated presentation, somehow it’s even more embarrassing, and gives more kudos to the ‘never trust technology’ argument.

    …It’s funny, because I gave up on my Prezi the other day as I was unable to embed a voki (animated avatar with voice) without it repeating throughout the entire presentation. In fact, when I connected my laptop to the uni system where I was presenting, it didn’t work in Powerpoint either! What’s a girl to do??!!

    I definitely think that Prezi is in its infancy and will be more user-friendly in the coming months. That said, it didn’t take too long for me to get my head round it (although this did make me feel slightly nauseated). Like you, I was also surprised by the fact you couldn’t manipulate the colour schemes.

    I don’t reckon Prezi alone is really in any direct competition with our old friend Mr. P, and will probably just be a flash in the pan. It has, however, got people thinking about alternative presentation tools, and perhaps the washback effect of this will be a whole load of similarly gimmicky tools for us all to try and get to grips with. The problem here is that we could be in danger of becoming ‘jack of all presentation tools and master of none’…

    …I think your creative suggestions for Prezi to be used more in terms of self-access and exploration are the answer for now.

    Best, Callie🙂

    (p.s. next time I comment, I will try to fit in a bit more idiomatic expression…hehehe…)

    1. …Of course, it’s not the “presentation file” (what is the word for that that isn’t ‘Powerpoint’?) – a good presentation shouldn’t need gimmicky or flashy graphics. It’s funny that the buzz around Prezi has gone from “right, that’s it, I can delete Powerpoint now” to “hmm… interesting, but it’s still making me seasick and isn’t it just the same but swirlier” – There’s a great post here from Ian James –

    3. it discusses this…

      It will be interesting to see what people think about in terms of developing tools in the future….

  4. I think prezi is a good concept and also agree that it’s in infancy before getting more user friendly. I disagree the free version publish the presentations on the net, but can understand that is a reason why to pay for the paid version.

    Anyway, I’ll continue using PowerPoint in the meantime, until it gets quite robust and modern. If you are doing the same, I usually use a site that offer powerpoint themes for free, it’s

    1. Thanks for the comment, I’ll check out that link… if you can get the free educational licensed version of Prezi, that allows you to make Prezis private. I didn’t really discuss the fat that by default they are shared with everyone – that may be a positive thing or a negative one…

  5. I used Prezi for the first time a few weeks ago while preparing a micro-teach for an Advanced Practitioner post. I found it in turns infuriating and inspiring.

    It certainly has bugs and after my first attempt developed a glitch I gave up and went back to SmartBoard…which I immediately found very ‘flat’ and gave Prezi another go. My second (less ambitious) attempt worked and impressed the panel (I got the post!). But it was harder than I thought to use – not technically, but conceptually. I hadn’t realised how much of a mind-shift I’d need to be able to organise my thoughts in different layers in the same space.

    I disagree that Prezi is all looks and flash – I find the way that concepts can be expressed by visually representing their relationships in terms of size and spatial relationship very interesting (something we traditionally do with headings, bold/ italic, bullet points etc.) I also found it very good at reviewing items, eg. lesson objectives, without having to go back to previous slides.

    I’d like to use it in the classroom, but as with all technology it will ultimately depend on how long it takes me to prepare (because my first one took ages!).

    1. Glad yours worked… I had an interview recently, though about using Prezi – but thought it was too much of a risk… and put a Powerpoint together. To be honest I hardly ever use Powerpoint as we have Smartboards in most of the classrooms I teach in, so I tend to develop resources for that. Trying Prezi on a Smartboard might be interesting – the controls should be fairly intuitive.

  6. I like Prezi but I suspect that in the end, most people use it exactly the same way as they use powerpoint. It just happens to be more visually appealing. One thing that I appreciate about Prezi, is that it isn’t structured to have a lot of text in any one place in the presentation (in powerpoint slides can be loaded with text). This could keep the presentation moving more nicely or lead students through a story or learning more naturally.

    1. Thanks for your comment… I suppose that is where they differ – Ppt has a text-bias (not that you have to… it just kind of lends itself) while Prezi has more of a visual-bias.

  7. I thought I’d add a thought or two on this topic:

    Firstly, Prezi is of course only linear if you make it so by adding paths. Sometimes it’s appropriate to have a path running through a talk, at other times paths can be restrictive – and when a presenter uses Prezi in the way they are accustomed to using linear only PowerPoint, Prezi can be downright motion sickness inducing.

    In my opinion the categorisation of PowerPoint = better for text vs. Prezi = better at visuals is a false one. I imagine that we tend to think of PPTs as a ‘good at text’ tool because PPT slides are flat like note paper; advancing to the next slide is the equivalent of turning the page in a notebook. We have all witnessed enough presenters who use PPTs as note paper from which to read notes. It naturally lends itself to that kind of practice. Prezi, by contrast, feels more like an intricate mural – a bigger picture that contains an infinite number of smaller details to discover and explore.

    Both tools can create effective presentations. The key is to think about the nature of the talk/activity and then choose the tool to suit.

    The more I use Prezi, the more I come to think of it as a table top full of goodies: the platform enables us to randomly pick up individual items that catch our eye, examine them, put them back down again and move on to the next item that draws our attention. PowerPoint (and similar presentation software) does not allow for that kind of approach, and as Charlotte Assomo rightly points out in her comment, no other presentation tool allows us to represent spatial relationships as effortlessly and conveniently as Prezi does.

    We mustn’t forget that PowerPoint has been around for over 23 years: that’s a lot of time to become familiar with something and find specific uses for it. Being a relatively new tool, we have perhaps not had enough time to define a specific best (ab)use for Prezi yet. It’ll be interesting to see how Prezi will be used in 22 years from now.

    1. Yeah… paths are linear – having a spread is non-linear, I think we need to think about what a presentation “is” to fully exploit that non-linearity – generally they are pretty linear (which came first, the linear presenation or the powerpoint? – I’ll leave that to the philosophers).

      As to the text/image divide – I agree that it’s completely superficial… it’s just it’s psychological – give a learner Powerpoint and 9 times out of 10 they try to cram an essay on to each slide.. give them prezi and I suspect they’ll make something visual. That idea of a notebook vs a mural sounds about right. I suspect Prezi is probably quite good for training people to make ‘better’ powerpoints.

      I’m not sure that Prezi will be around in 23 years… but it will be interesting to see if alternative presentation software genuinely takes hold – and how it develops…

  8. Hi Phil,
    as always your comments are helpful and I’ll be taking them on board with my training activities. Thanks again

  9. I’m a college teacher, and have begun using Prezi during my lectures. Using my laptop and a projected image, I start with two or three of the “big ideas” of the lecture, and type the rest in as I talk/discuss. It’s a bit like writing on the whiteboards of yesteryear, except that I can save them and embed them to a Google site I’ve created for the course. The interface makes creating a prezi as you go and resizing text for emphasis very easy. I’m not terribly worried about the polish or gee-wiz gadgetry of the final presentation.

  10. i’m the founder of a service that converts powerpoints to prezi’s. ( see )

    the size/distance issue is not unique to prezi. you can do the same thing in powerpoint.

    for a more complete description of the value of prezi over powerpoint, see

    or just read the following:

    “Prezi is superior for only a handful of things: (1) zooming in, which should only be used in conjunction with a deeper or hidden level of analysis; (2) zooming out, to show a myopic handicap or the ‘big picture’; (3) reframing, based on angles or clever word juxtapositions; (4) gradual slight zooming, in which text is gradually revealed or hidden in order to illustrate connections revealed or criticisms neutralized; and (5) helping to guide the audience’s eyes via (say) carefully placed arrows and accompanying canvas shifts. These presentation devices (6) altogether help to ensure that the audience is collectively sharing the same intended message.

    “I may be missing a few others, but roughly speaking, that’s about it. While Powerpoint can certainly do a subset of these, Prezi’s unbounded singular canvas defines the remaining freedom–and difference.

    “Of course, there are ways to overdo a Prezi presentation. It can be really easy to design a Prezi in a way that completely dizzies the audience… especially when the presenter overuses graphics, applies the text to accommodate the graphics, and yanks the audience around. And let’s face it: In the end, it is still the presenter’s burden to make sure that his or her spoken word choice complements the Prezi. The Prezi shouldn’t be used to substitute for oral presentation ability.”

    -s hsieh

  11. “give them prezi and I suspect they’ll make something visual.”

    I’ve haven’t found that while looking at the presentations on the Prezi website. They tend to have slightly fewer words per “slide”, but not more pictures. The visual aspect in most of them is pretty weak. Most have few, if any, pictures and are mostly text. Other than the flying from one place to another, I really don’t see much of a difference from powerpoint. Although the pan and zoom looks neat, it gets old pretty quick and becomes just as annoying as the overused, distracting, meaningless animations and slide transitions in powerpoint. I can imagine that something really neat could be done with Prezi, but I’ve been pretty disappointed by the examples so far.

  12. For what it’s worth.
    My wife’s school just had a lesson on Prezi, as I came by for a visit. They were giddy with the “new” capabilites. I had to bite my tongue. PLEASE – everyone here – from a long-time professional IT trainer and MOS Master, don’t just run with the herd. Read Nacy Duarte’s books, Resonance and Slideology. You’ll realize that teaching presentations can be become almost superhuman and you DON’T have to know 67 different programs to make it dynamic!!! Power Point is extremely capable and Prezi offers nothing sunbstatial.

    1. For what it’s worth.
      Steve, I can understand your first impression, but it’s quite obvious that your wife’s school’s presenters had no idea how to use Prezi.

      Besides what I already said a few posts ago (above yours), Prezi also allows seamless movement between levels of a presentation hierarchy (i.e. zooming in and out of *frames* of a presentation during the presentation itself, *ASIDE* from the pre-designed path). No matter how one tried, no matter what add-ons are added, Powerpoint can hardly do that.

      Guiding the audience’s *ATTENTION* is key to Prezi’s advantage. While there are add-ons available in PPT to help do this, again, actually designing the slides becomes really painful (i.e. wiping or darkening previous bullets as you proceed through PPT via animation).

      If you watched a Prezi presentation and got dizzy or felt yanked around unnecessarily or felt that Powerpoint could do everything just as easily, then that’s the presenter’s fault, not the software’s.

      I’m a college professor who’s teaching kids who (unfortunately?) were brought up in the age of Flash and Java.

  13. For what it’s worth.
    My wife’s school just had a lesson on Prezi, as I came by for a visit. They were giddy with the “new” capabilites. I had to bite my tongue. PLEASE – everyone here – from a long-time professional IT trainer and MOS Master, don’t just run with the herd. Read Nancy Duarte’s books, Resonance and Slideology. You’ll realize that teaching presentations can be become almost superhuman and you DON’T have to know 67 different programs to make it dynamic!!! PowerPoint is extremely capable and Prezi offers nothing sunbstantial.

  14. haha – that was a good way of getting people back to an interesting old post🙂
    I haven’t read all the comments but for me the outstanding advantage of Prezi has always been its “mind mapping” potential – get the points down and then organise them – which probably suits a certain character type.

    1. Sssh! Someone might notice… never quite worked out why this post gets so many more hits than the others…. not complaining – I’m glad people like it….

      I think you’ve got a good point about the mind-mapping aspect – I think there’s an interesting area to explore around the process of creating Prezis, perhaps getting learners to use them as mindmaps as you suggest.

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