SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Thptpth!! to ppt’s, yee-haw to Prezis

Prezi HOTSHOT, by Hedwyg van Groenendaal (Packt Publishing, London, April 2014)

Prezi HOTSHOT, by Hedwyg van Groenendaal (Packt Publishing, London, April 2014)

Here’s a prezi for you – “Prezi HOTSHOT”, by Hedwyg van Groenendaal

Everyone who’s up-to-date with apps for business knows of Prezi, the cloud-based presentation software. (I can almost hear the howls of “No more death by PowerPoint!” in the background.) Prezi, which is short for “presentation” in Hungarian, is a giant forward leap in presentation technology: it allows users to display and navigate through information within a 2.5D or parallax 3D space on the Z-axis. There are no slides – there’s a “canvas”; no slide transitions, rather, zooming in, out and around. In short, what makes it radical also makes it tricky. You have to learn how to do it, same as most people did when they started using MicroSoft Office.

Some Technologically-Backward Bears, having just wandered out of their caves, might give it one horrified look and climb straight back to the comfort of PowerPoint. Others will be Brave Bears and get the hang of it and enjoy the good results, because, being so different, a prezi (referring to the presentation, not the program) has much more visual and emotional impact than traditional slides.

It’s been around since 2009, but lately, with better internet access and faster up-load ability, people who really care about how they come across are adding Prezi to their arsenal of presentation tools. Like all disruptive technologies, the main objective of the owners of Prezi would be to get past the early adopters and institutionalize the software as the “standard” to use. With some 40 million people using it now, it would be safe to say they’re getting there. But, like all newish apps, it has its ups and downs – the main one being that, like moving from a PC to a Mac, you need to make a massive mental shift to get into it. The buttons you’d want to click ain’t there. The stuff you want to type and pull in won’t work like you’re used to. The terminology is different.

Precision writing

Hedwyg van Groenendaal recognized the potential of Prezi early on. Back in 2010 the Dutch author and trainer published “Presenteren met Prezi” (Presenting with Prezi), the first book about Prezi. She also founded Prezi University in Amsterdam, and is the author of five books on Prezi, including the instructional manual Prezi HOTSHOT.

Hedwyg van Groenendaal

Hedwyg van Groenendaal

If you feel it’s painful learning software step-by-step, imagine how hard it is to write the teaching materials in the first place. It is tediously precise. Each command must be correct down to the last dot, forward slash and space. Each keystroke must be recorded. Each screen shot must shown. All the potential problems of the learners must be anticipated. Every word must be reviewed from different angles by a panel of reviewers as many times as it takes to get it absolutely correct.  It has to be in plain English, and follow the correct didactic process. And on top of all the technical details, it has to  – at the very least – pose challenges and offer inspiration.

The question is: Did Van Groenendaal manage all of the above in this book? Technically, yes. Follow the instructions and you will be able to create things like a prezumé (a résumé using Prezi) or a prezi in PechaKucha style (a sort of 20-second visual flurry).

R.T.F.M. – Really

But does she inspire the reader? After I got used to the limitations of both the technical language and the software itself, I have to say she does. She leads by example. Many prezis on the Prezi website are mediocre, to say the least. Having access to Prezi does not make a good designer or writer out of a bad one. Someone who can’t spell in PowerPoint will still have a prezi full of mistakes. Someone who is careless and uses mixed up styles and too many words will still have a prezi that looks like a wordy dog’s breakfast. A crazy idea stays a crazy idea, no matter how it gets dressed up.

She emphasizes that a good prezi begins with planning your ideas.You have to refine what you want to say, discard unnecessary text and images, and use the features of Prezi to emphasize the core idea. “Most presentations consist of slides full of bullets. Apparently people are afraid to forget something, so why not put everything you know or you might want to say in a long list[?]. The truth is, these lists add no value to your presentation…This is not the way to go!” (p.132). Her writing style is pitched at teenage and young adult users, so there are too many uses of “awesome”, “cool”, “fun”, “lots” and exclamation marks for my taste, but then I’m not in the target market.  What matters are the technical sections in which Van Groenendaal’s language is perfectly correct.

Teaching by example

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 2.34.43 PMCheck out Van Groenendaal’s prezi called IDENTITY that won the February 2013 worldwide TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Prezi contest. You might not agree with her politics or approach, but you’ll have to admit it is highly stylish and very eye-catching indeed. And it is a fine example of best Prezi practice.  So if you have to do the learning, learn from an expert. 

I am still in two minds whether a more aesthetic presentation can be developed using Keynote for Mac, or even iPhoto slideshow. However, using Prezi will certainly wake up your sleepy mind – and your sleepy audience as well.

 

PS:

Thptpth!! (in the header) is the sound Bill the Cat makes in the Bloom County cartoons by Berkeley Breathed. It means “nah”. He can also make the sound when he twangs on his own tongue like a guitar.

“R.T.F.M.” – Read The ****ing Manual.

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