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Harvard chimes in on Prezi

Today we’re zooming in on the science of a Prezi presentation.

One of the world's foremost educational institutions has taken a closer look at the correlation between the medium and presentation, and the impact that presentation has on an audience. Well… the results are in, and it isn’t great news for PowerPoint.


Harvard's Department of Psychology’s recently completed a study titled: “Does A Presentation’s Medium Affect Its Message?”. The report fairly conclusively found that Prezi is the best medium to use. So, which aspect of presentation software affects the persuasiveness and impact of a presentation, and why is Prezi being touted as the best? Well, because Science, duh! Just kidding, we’ll elaborate.

The Science behind Presentations

To answer the question “How can presenters communicate most effectively?”, the researchers at Harvard looked at three different communication styles: PowerPoint, Prezi, and oral presentation. The study was divided into two phases. Phase 1 required 146 participants to create a presentation in one of the suggested mediums and then to actually present a topic provided by the researchers. The participants presented their presentation to a large audience over Skype. Phase 2 recorded the original presentations and then shared them with a much larger audience.  

Each phase required audience members to assess each presentation. The results show Prezi as the clear winner. According to the researchers, the audience perceived Prezi as “more organized, engaging, persuasive, and effective than both PowerPoint and oral presentations”.

Zoomable User Interface

So what did we really learn from this study? In the end it all comes down to the Zoomable User Interface (or ZUI); a content transition mechanism on which Prezi is based. For reference, traditional presentation software such as PowerPoint is commonly referred to as slideware. A ZUI platform enables you to create presentations on an open canvas. Imagining a world map is often the easiest way to explain. Think of a ZUI map. If you would want to present about a topic happening in India, as the presenter you could simply click on India. The software would then navigate and zoom into that location and reveal any possible additional content placed there. You could then continue to zoom in and out of other content all over the map.

Prezi encourages an audience to process information spaciously, meaning we could use our natural Ventral (visual) and Dorsal (navigation) instincts to relate and place ourselves among the content rather than having to absorb it through a linear 2D format.

To read the full research article published on PLOS, click here.

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