Monthly Archives: June 2009

Prezi, an antidote to boredom

You know the feeling. Another PowerPoint. Another on screen treatise/eye test. Too many words. Too few pictures. What’s for lunch?

Launched two months ago, Prezi is a Hungarian made tool that helps prevent you, the presenter, from falling into the PowerPoint, glazed eyeballs rut. Last week at a seminar to government and financial services types, I used it for the first time in public instead of PowerPoint.

Getting used to how you create a presentation was a little bit of a challenge for someone like me who has been building decks of slides for a couple of decades. Things like drag and drop from the desktop just aren’t there. It is a hosted service. Behaviours and functions you expect in a desktop application don’t work.

To build a presentation, imagine a large canvas you want to stick objects to – pictures, words or movies to support your talk. You lay all your objects on the canvas then create a path to go from one object to another – your presentation. Though it can be a little distracting, the presenter guides you from object to object by zooming out and in. By zooming out all the way, you see the entire presentation’s content on one slide. That is how the presentation begins and ends. The audience gets an overview about what is to be presented and, at the end a reminder of what has been presented. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.

During editing, there are some oddities. Prezi carries the zooming paradigm a little far by presenting commands and editing modes as a series of circles (the “Bubble Menu”). Another very odd wheel (the “Transformation Zebra”) allows you to move, rotate and size an object. You must remember my brain is wired to doing things differently, and I am sure a child would grasp Prezi very easily. “Frames” allows you to group objects so you can view multiple objects in the same way you might see them on a slide.

Now for the parts that would trip up a six year old. To insert a graph, you first have to convert it to an image file and then import it. I ended up using PowerPoint as an editor, creating the image and adding it to that canvas. Right off the bat, that was extra work.

Because you can zoom, the tendency is to overdo things, creating too many transitions that could distract an audience. This is especially true of text. A normal text slide has a title and bullets you see in their entirety. Its build transitions are usually minor. With Prezi, the temptation is to zoom on a phrase or word, then into another phrase, and so on. People could get dizzy and turned off by gimmickry.

To be able to play the presentation offline, Prezi creates an executable for you. Sharing that file afterwards has its pluses and minuses. You assign rights to individuals or make it public on the Prezi site – which can be impractical for many inhouse corporate uses. The obvious step would be for Prezi to make an on premises version.

The main lesson I learnt was to keep the presentation simple. Because the tool is so new, your presentation will stand out anyway and that project might get more support. The extra effort in creating that Prezi file could well be worthwhile.


Filed under Virtual Teams

Elastic Communications in a Crisis

In an earthquake, well designed buildings in Japan absorb shocks by separating the building from the base, by using deformable building materials or with internal counter balances.  Buildings are more elastic.  Communications in a crisis also need to be elastic, to absorb shockwaves. In a crisis, services, technology, people and resources you take for granted may not be available where they are needed.  Computer networks, email systems, phones and power – any of these may be degraded or lost through a crisis, or they may be the cause of a crisis.  Obtaining intelligent awareness of a situation, working collaboratively towards decisions, conveying instructions and obtaining feedback depend on timely, accurate and digestible communications.  A crisis that limits usual communications choices necessitates resourcefulness.  It demands elasticity in the way individuals, teams and organisations think and act.  It demands elasticity in our infrastructures, our processes and policies.  Elasticity buys time and rigidity spends it.

Elastic thinking is the ability to recognize new priorities quickly, to broaden peripheral vision, to make fast decisions and to act appropriately.  If appropriate, security gives way to expediency, best guess becomes good enough,  quick and dirty wins over detailed and thorough.   Elastic communications is the ability to switch media to minimize the loss of your normal media choices.  If your corporate email is down, can you easily switch to a public mail system such as Google Mail? If it is necessary to communicate two way rapidly with employees and their loved ones over public instant messaging or SMS, can that be easily done in a Starbucks? Do you even have those instant messaging addresses on your laptop?  Are they a facebook or LinkedIn group? If your continuity plans are held on internal servers, are they also on third party servers “in the cloud” or on usb sticks, or handhelds?  How would you use Twitter to broadly disseminate information and solicit rapid feedback in a crisis? 

Elasticity is the least expensive path to build resilience.  It is provides a higher return on investment than building infrastructure.  Bespoke infrastructure contingencies are expensive.  Using multiple, off the shelf, public services are cheaper.  Elasticity builds agility. An elastic organization is a more open one, one that listens to customers better, responds more quickly and works more collaboratively with suppliers.   The benefits of elasticity go far beyond those of organizational resilience and the ability to withstand large seismic shocks.

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Filed under Business Continuity, Coordination, Presence, Resilience, Security, Social Networking, Virtual Teams