Prezi vs. PowerPoint – What’s the Right Presentation Tool?

The right tool for the job. That’s what my father taught me. When I was growing up, he’d often ask me to bring him a screwdriver or a wrench from his toolbox. Invariably I’d grab the wrong thing—hey, a screwdriver is a screwdriver, and a wrench is a wrench, right? Apparently not.

There are slotted, Phillips, Pozidriv, Torx®, triangle recess, square recess, spanner, and who knows how many other kinds of screwdrivers. Wrenches come in open-ended, box-ended, combination, adjustable, Allen, socket, line, ratcheting, torque, alligator, drum key, spark plug, lug, plug, plumber’s, pipe, and even a fire hydrant wrench! In a pinch, you can probably get any screwdriver or wrench to work but it’s wiser to pick a tool that’s going to get the job done the right way, with the least amount of aggravation.

It’s the same thing when picking presentation software. What you choose depends on what you’re trying to accomplish—what kind of information are you conveying, and to what kind of audience. Some studies estimate that we absorb 75% of our knowledge visually, so presentation software should support, not overwhelm or distract from meaningful content.

Two of the most popular presentation tools on the market today are PowerPoint and Prezi. Both do a good job of incorporating images, sound, videos, text and charts, but there are some definite differences. I’ll break it down for you.

PowerPoint
Microsoft PowerPoint has been around since the 1990s and is considered the ‘standard’ presentation software, particularly for business presentations. It is simple to learn and is comes in Windows and Mac versions. PowerPoint is best for linear presentations—those that begin at one point, advance through a series of slides, and end with a concluding point. It’s the most commonly used tool for business presentations, ideal for reports, step-by-step processes, numbers and data, and is best appreciated by traditional audiences who are familiar and comfortable with this look and feel.

Pros

  • User friendly
  • Comes with pre-made slide layouts with powerful customization features that let you easily change fonts, graphics, templates, animation styles etc.
  • You can print handouts of your presentation as full slides, thumbnail slides with notes, and other options
  • Since most PowerPoint files are stored on your hard drive (vs. the cloud), you don’t have to worry about having your presentation interrupted by a dropped network connection.
  • You can seamlessly insert hyperlinks that can be clicked on to open up webpages.

Cons

  • You have to buy the software, either as a desktop package or as an online subscription.
  • Since content is moving slide-to-slide, your presentation is linear, which can be less interactive and make switching back and forth between slides disconcerting.
  • Images can only be inserted horizontally or vertically; there’s not much room for creativity.

Prezi

Prezi is often characterized as PowerPoint on steroids. It couldn’t be more different. For one thing, it’s a web-based, Flash-based program with a totally different user interface. Second, you begin creating your presentation with a single blank canvas instead of a group of slides.
Prezis are non-linear and work well for content that has a big-picture look and feel, a map-like layout, timelines, or whiteboard effects. This is the tool you’ll want to use when your audience includes cutting-edge creative types, students, and others who want something more exciting than a PowerPoint. Prezis are created, stored, and accessed on the Internet.

Pros

  • It’s free and web-based. You can work from any computer that has Flash software and an Internet connection.
  • Prezis are more like videos. You can dive/zoom in, zoom out, swirl all over the screen. When you zoom in, you can pan around that particular area to show more details.
  • Images can be inserted horizontally, vertically, or at any angle you want.
  • Prezis can easily be embedded into blogs and webpages.

Cons

  • Web-based presentations created with the free version of Prezi can be viewed by anyone; so I don’t recommend using the free version for proprietary or confidential content. To use Prezi offline (to have secure presentations that are not publicly accessible), you have to buy the program, which is more expensive than Microsoft Office.
  • If the internet/network connection goes down, your Prezi will be interrupted.
  • The learning curve can seem steep for some users and unlike PowerPoint, Prezi is not usually taught in schools or businesses.
  • Inexperienced users have a tendency to use too much zooming and animation, which can result in dizziness and discomfort for viewers.
  • You can’t print out slides (since there are no slides), so your audience won’t be able to have a copy of your presentation for reference or note taking.
  • The pre-made templates cannot be edited, as they can be with PowerPoint.

So how do you decide between PowerPoint and Prezi? Start with meaningful content; consider what look and feel you’re trying to convey, and think about your audience. It’s all about the right tool for the job!

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