The Latest Technology to Make Your Presentations Pop

An Interview with 3 Geeks and A Law Blog’s Greg Lambert  

Many of us have had occasion to deliver a presentation to our firm’s attorneys, or have helped assemble a persuasive pitch targeting a prospective client. For many years, PowerPoint has been law firms’ go-to application for these purposes. 

PowerPoint has been around since the 1980s, pre-dating the World Wide Web. But, like many rock stars from the ‘80s, it has not aged all that well.  The very mention of PowerPoint and slide decks brings to mind the classic Dilbert strip in which Dilbert’s hapless coworkers succumb to “PowerPoint Poisoning.” 

Chris Atherton, a cognitive psychologist who has scientifically studied bullet points, has written, “Bullets don't kill, bullet points do.”

Despite its many flaws, PowerPoint faces relatively little competition. It is still the most heavily used software for creating and delivering presentations. Fortunately for us, several PowerPoint alternatives have emerged in recent years.

Prezi

Among the best known options is Prezi, a cloud-based tool that allows users to create presentations that are more interactive, and as a result more informative and interesting. Both free and premium versions are available.

Unlike PowerPoint, Prezi doesn’t advance through a series of slides. It can be thought of as one giant slide, containing all content on a single canvas. Prezi zooms in on sections of the canvas as the presentation progresses. Prezi’s software is also different, as well, in that the presentations it produces aren’t in the form of bullet points.

The power of Prezi lies in its capacity to structure content into a visual schematic. It allows you to embed videos and other elements directly into the presentation, so there’s no need to disrupt the presentation flow. And it lives in the cloud. (A Windows desktop version is also available.)

A couple of caveats, however:

  • The novelty of the zooming and panning could get old pretty quickly. This is particularly true in the litigation context. For instance, Prezi might work well for opening statements or closing arguments, but not for examining witnesses. See, e.g., Jeff Benion, Switching From PowerPoint to Prezi For Trial Presentation, (Above the Law, July 1, 2014).
  • Prezi’s free version is public and searchable, which may not be ideal for law firm use.

Focusky

In many respects, Focusky is comparable to Prezi. It too is a web-based presentation tool, with zoom in/zoom out and pan features. 

Similar to Prezi, Focusky offers both a free version and premium options that include the ability to make presentations private. The free version features 100GB of cloud storage (vs. 500 MB on Prezi), easy importing of PowerPoint slides, and the ability to create and present online. For $48 annually, Focusky provides unlimited cloud storage (vs. $159 on Prezi).

So Many Choices…

In addition to Prezi and Focusky, several new free and/or low-cost presentation tools have recently entered the market.

Deciding which presentation tool(s) to use can be a bit overwhelming. So we invited Greg Lambert, co-founder of the ABA award-winning blog 3 Geeks and A Law Blog and a legal tech enthusiast, to weigh in on the merits of the various options.

What do you think of some of the newer alternatives now competing with Prezi? (e.g., Haiku Deck, Emaze, Poll Everywhere, or China’s Focusky).

Greg Lambert:  I’ve used Poll Everywhere, which I have found to be another good attention-grabber from the audience, and a fun way to break up the presentation (and wake people up.) I don’t know that it is something that could stand by itself, but I guess that would depend upon what your goals are for the presentation. Some of the other presentations, like Haiku Deck, to me seem more personal in presentation type, rather than professional.

We have used a video presentation tool called Video Scribe  to present complex ideas to the audience in a nice video whiteboard method. It takes a lot more up front time and resources to create, but when you can add visual and audio cues to the presentation, you are more likely to have the message you’re presenting sink in.

What are some examples of ways in which you see law firms benefiting from using Prezi [or similar tools] instead of PowerPoint for internal and/or external presentations?

Greg Lambert: The key benefit of Prezi vs PPT is the novelty of Prezi. Both products can be used to present dynamic information, Prezi is probably a little easier to do that right out of the gate. As a presenter, it may also be easier to convey the information because you are compartmentalizing it as you are building it.

It seems as though Prezi has received a lot of praise in the corporate world. But, unlike corporations, law firms often seem highly resistant to embracing new technologies and tools.  What are some compelling reason(s) you might put forth if you were trying to convince your firm’s management committee they should give Prezi a try?

Greg Lambert: We’ve all be saturated with PPT presentations for nearly 20 years. So, we are both used to it, and tired of it at the same time.

Prezi, at a minimum, gives the audience a different method of presenting the information. Any time you can get the audience to take notice of what you’re doing, even if it is a different delivery method, which gives you an opportunity to help them pay attention and get your message across to them.

Some users who analyzed the relative strengths and weaknesses of Prezi vs. PowerPoint say that one downside to Prezi is that your presentations are publicly accessible.  Is this particularly problematic for law firms?  Or, the fact it may be more reliable to have your presentation on a USB stick?

Greg Lambert: The fact that the information is in the cloud and outside the control of the firm’s network is going to be troublesome for many IT security folks. I think this has eased up a bit over the years, since firms are putting things on YouTube and Facebook, etc.

I’ve used the Prezi on a USB stick before, and it worked very well, you just have to make sure you can run it on the laptop you’re accessing. Of course, PPT is a safe choice, and there are risks with Prezi.

However, to me, there are also some rewards available via Prezi in attention grabbing that PPT just doesn’t have any longer. So, you’d have to weigh the risks vs. rewards.

Microsoft seems to know that people are tired of its product (see, e.g., Julie Bort, Even Microsoft is Sick of PowerPoint, (Slate, Nov. 18, 2014).  Late last year Microsoft introduced Sway. Do you think that Microsoft can give Prezi a run for their money?

Greg Lambert:  Microsoft can always give companies like Prezi a run for their money, when it comes to the business community. Not necessarily because they produce a better product, but because they are already integrated into the business structure and it is easier for IT to accept a Microsoft product that sits on the desktop (or at least behind a firewall) than it will a startup that sits in the cloud.

Any other comments/observations you’d like to add?

Greg Lambert: The only thing I haven’t mentioned that is an issue with Prezi that you normally don’t have with PPT is the sea sickness issues as you move from text to text. That’s a general complaint that you hear from Prezi audiences.

With PPT, the usual complaint is “the presenter just read me the slides.” 

Parting Thoughts

  • Ask permission. Before venturing into new territory, you may wish to consult your firm’s IT department, to address any potential security- or network-related issues.
  • Start small. It may make sense to test a new presentation method on an internal presentation rather than, for instance, a high-stakes client pitch delivered at a remote site.

 By Louis C. Abramovitz, MSLS, MBA, Wilkinson Barker Knauer Library Manager, for the July/August 2015 issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter.

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