Focus on software.

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An integral part of preparing and carrying out a presentation has to do with the selection of the appropriate software. Most of us would tend to use what is readily available: the software that is installed on the computer we use. This fact, however, should not deter us from exploring other choices that are available. There are a number of criteria we can use in making a choice, i.e., personal preferences, expert knowledge, intended audience, content and use of the presentation, desired effect, etc.

There is one type of presentation software that is widely available and is considered the industry standard. What does this mean exactly? The term refers to “a practice, method, process or criteria adopted as convention by industry members either through formal agreement or through emulation of best practices established by industry leaders”. [i] One such program is PowerPoint by Microsoft. All PC users are aware of its existence, most have used it and/or have experienced a presentation that takes advantage of its environment and features. Why should we worry about adopting such an approach? There are three good reasons according to Microsoft[ii]: “Standards are tools to help promote efficiency, interoperability, and innovation”.

In particular[iii]:

  • Efficiency: Information workers today can create data and store it on one computer or in one software program, and export it for use in many other computers and programs.
  • Interoperability: This allows very different and often competing devices and services to speak to each other and to understand each other’s data.
  • Innovation: Once standards are introduced to the market, competing vendors can then focus on developing truly innovative experiences for users by either introducing next-generation technology or adding on complementary features.

Good standards are enablers [iv] since they make it possible to build better products, they provide a basis for new solutions and they operate invisibly.

Using industry standards helps you “to fine-tune your performance and manage the risks you face while operating in more efficient and sustainable ways; they allow you to demonstrate the quality of what you do and they help you to see how to embed best practice into your organization.” [v]

In other words, why reinvent the wheel every time you prepare a presentation? Using software that meets the industry standards criterion you can: Improve performance by promoting continual development; Find out more about improving performance reduce risk by identifying and minimizing them; become more sustainable by using your resources more efficiently; become more innovative by operating within a set of established rules and sharing best practices.

As a result, selection should be approached with caution. It should not be avoided or neglected. Remember that no set of standards is perfect. If it were, development would have stopped.

In what follows, we will compare and contrast PowerPoint, the proprietary commercial presentation program developed by Microsoft and launched in 1990, as a part of the Microsoft Office suite, and Prezi, the cloud-based presentation software and storytelling tool for exploring and sharing ideas on a virtual canvas.

One of the main differences between the two software presentation products is the metaphor they use: PowerPoint uses slides while Prezi uses a canvas.

Each approach has its advantages and its shortcomings. For instance, the former provides you with an inherent structure while the latter can be chaotic. The former dictates how the presentation will proceed whereas the latter allows for more flexibility. The former is considered static and linear while the latter allows for greater movement and zooming in and out possibilities.

This feature adds to Prezi’s WOW Factor (an intense reaction by observers during a presentation of an impressive functional design in technology products, e.g., software, hardware; a reaction to an outstanding feature or function that offers substantial productivity boost, ease of use, simplified, or streamlined elements[vi]). Prezi is not as widely known or used as PowerPoint, so it may be an obvious choice if impressing your audience is your main concern.

The second major difference between PowerPoint and Prezi is that the former is locally based, i.e., installed on your computer while the latter is web-based – you can get a desktop version at a price. Internet access may be a deciding factor when choosing which software you may want to work with.

The third difference is cost. PowerPoint is part of Microsoft Office suite which needs to be purchased whereas Prezi has a basic free subscription option (although other licensing subscription options are available).

Progression through your presentation is where the difference in approach between PowerPoint and Prezi become more distinct.The former dictates a linear approach, i.e., you move from slide 1 to slide 2 (although jumping between slides is also possible). There are numerous transition effects you can use but they are all optional. The latter allows the user to define the progression by flying from point to point and subsequently zooming in or out on a specific feature.

One effect associated with this feature is called the nausea factor[vii]: if not careful with this feature, you can induce seasickness to your audience. The same can be said for PowerPoint if the speaker is not careful with how many and what transition effects he incorporates in the presentation. The end result can become visually very impressive using the features of either software. However, abusing these features can have a negative impact on members of the audience who are keen on content rather than appearance.

Another feature of particular importance to the presenter is on-screen access to his notes. PowerPoint allows you to keep notes for each slide. Furthermore, recent versions allow the presenter to project the full slide on the screen while viewing the slide and his notes on the computer screen. This feature is not shared by Prezi which means that you may need additional material on hand when giving a presentation.

In terms of device compatibility, both PowerPoint and Prezi are iPad-friendly so there is one less worry if you or the members of your audience that you would like to share your presentation with are using this tablet.

Sharing your presentation is one point worth considering. This can be done by exchanging files between individual users or using a social or professional site where you upload your work. It also implies that the recipient of your work can readily access your work without having to install specialist software.

In the case of PowerPoint, you can send your file by email directly to any interested party and they can download the attachment and view it as long as they have the software installed. If you want to make it more private, you can save your presentation as a pdf file, send it as an attachment and the recipients can easily view it without access to any editing features. Furthermore, you can upload your presentation onto a specialist site, e.g., SLIDESHARE, in any of the file formats mentioned and it can be viewed through a web browser.

With Prezi it is a different story. Your presentation is public by default when you have the free subscription. You need the Education or paid subscription to make it private. However, you can invite people to view your presentation online through email, Facebook or Twitter by sending them a link that the Prezi site provides you with and/or you can embed it in a web page or blog for others to access. While in Edit mode, you can download a pdf version of your Prezi to share as you wish. Finally, you can download a portable Prezi to carry around and use on any computer but without any editing features.

Customising your presentation is a major issue. The possibilities offered by PowerPoint and Prezi are a deciding factor.

PowerPoint comes with a wide range of templates already installed with a range of additional ones available from the Microsoft site. It is also quite possible to start creating your own templates (or manipulate existing ones to suit your style and needs) so that your presentation really stands out. The same can be said about fonts and colours: just about everything under the sun. In contrast, Prezi offers a limited range of themes (about six) and a limited range of fonts (about twelve).

In terms of Drawing, PowerPoint offers a huge variety of options as opposed to the Line, Arrow, Box and Freehand options available in Prezi.

However, the possibility to import a PowerPoint presentation into Prezi means that you can take advantage of both worlds: prepare your work using the features available to the former, import it into the latter and go wild. You can create different paths, add degrees of zooming in or out, add details, etc. Even if you are giving the same presentation to a different audience you can still give them a different feeling by adding new dimensions to the old one. Imagine being able to revamp all your existing work at the press of a few keys.

There is a wide range of media and digital file types that are available out there. Most of them can be inserted into both programmes even using simple techniques like “Copy & Paste” – definitely true for PowerPoint, not so for Prezi.

On the other hand, Prezi responds better to pdf files when importing, something that PowerPoint does not take kindly to. Actually, Prezi offers a wide range of options in the Insert menu. It is definitely worth experimenting with each one.

Again a word of caution: exercise restraint. Do not overload your presentation simply because the options (and possibilities) are available.

Exporting a presentation will be used to refer to two main functions: Printing and Saving.

PowerPoint allows you to print your work in four different formats: slides, handouts, notes and outline view. For handouts and notes you can select the number of slides that can appear on each page.

Prezi allows you to print a presentation by saving it in pdf format with each number on your path becoming a printed screenshot – an independent picture. Subsequently, you can use the pdf Reader’s print features to manipulate the output.

This feature has a significant benefit: If all else fails you can still give a presentation using the pdf file.  PowerPoint offers the same option under the Save As option.

Both programmes allow you to save your work. Remember to check what additional files you need to copy into the same folder so that your presentation plays correctly, i.e., video or audio files. This is especially true if you are saving onto a portable device, i.e., an external drive or a memory stick.

In the case of Prezi, you can save your work onto a memory stick by clicking Download and exporting the resulting ZIP file onto the memory stick. This way you will not have to rely on an Internet connection to give your presentation and you can use a clicker to move along without having to stand next to the PC or the mouse.

In conclusion:

We need to be reminded of two key issues:

  1. Regardless of which presentation programme you use (final selection will depend on audience and situation) make certain to exercise caution but do not be overly conservative.
  2. Similarly, the technology is there to serve you, not the other way round. Just because something is new and available does not mean that we need to adopt it unquestionably.

[i] [Accessed March 6, 2013].

[ii] STANDARDS IN THE ICT INDUSTRY, OCTOBER 9, 2009, Microsoft Corporation.

[iii] STANDARDS IN THE ICT INDUSTRY, OCTOBER 9, 2009, Microsoft Corporation.

[iv] Industry Standards: Definitions, Uses and Benefits, Users Conference, San Francisco,  2006,  from [Accessed March 6, 2013].

[v] [Accessed March 6, 2013].

[vi] [Accessed March 12, 2013].

[vii] PowerPoint and Prezi Compared, Chris Clark, University of Notre Dame, 22 March 2011, from [Accessed March 12, 2013].