Prezi gives us the flexibility to arrange our topics visually as we like. There are graphical compositions that require exactly this kind of freedom. But unfortunately, sometimes these dynamic layouts can lead to some unintended side effects.
The danger: Losing our audience! Why does it matter where I place my topics, and how can I counteract any side effects? Let us zoom into this topic and take a closer look!
Left to right and top to bottom
Which direction are your eyes currently scanning this text? Left to right, and top to bottom! This is the reading behaviour in our western culture. It isn’t a universal law, but something that developed over time. And it also has an impact on the impression of visual progression. A movement from left to right usually implies going forward in time, and from right to left backwards.
In presentations, the most common way to transition from one slide to the next is a hard cut. We click, and the next slide appears. The transition itself does not tell us whether the new slide is actually the slide prior to or after the current slide. There are many transition effects that can help us to give our audience visual guidance. In PowerPoint, we can set a transition effect for each slide individually. A push from the right transition imitates a virtual camera moving to the right.
The great thing is that when we go back to a slide it does the same push effect, just in the opposite direction. In Prezi, on the other hand, we cannot define a unique transition between slides. It creates a transition automatically based on the position of our topics. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
You have lost me
Prezi lets us place our subtopics at any position on the slide. By default, when you move into a subtopic, Prezi zooms roughly at its location. Click, and the virtual camera moves from the current spot to one of the next subtopics. The movement is based on the direction and distance between the subtopics on their parent slide. Okay, that was a bit complicated!
Let’s try it this way: You have two papers lying around on your desk. One is left of your keyboard and mouse and one on the right. (These are your subtopics on the parent slide, which is your desk.) Now you move your head (the Prezi camera) so close to the left paper that it fills out your entire view. What do you have to do to now fill your view with the right paper? Right, you move your head from the left paper all across the keyboard and mouse to position it on top of the right paper. This is exactly what Prezi does.
Let’s take a look at a practical example:
In this Prezi demo, I placed some topics on the indices of a watch. Even though the camera transitions change directions after 2 pm, it still gives the impression of a forward progression. The context of moving on top of a watch face gives the audience visual guidance.
With a recent update, Prezi got a feature called path settings. By default, Prezi now zooms out to the main topic before going into the next subtopic. This setting was added to give the audience more orientation throughout the presentation. Whether you let the virtual camera directly zoom to the next subtopic is up to you. When you do not want this additional click in between your slides, you might adjust the settings to fit your need. Just make sure your audience does not get lost on your journey.
In order for our audience to reject their traditional understanding of visual progression, we need to give them context. Like in the watch example, it has to be clear why suddenly we move left to the next slide instead of right. Zoom out from time to time and show the overview once again. Give your audience visual context, especially when significant turning points click in. It isn’t a universal law to just have your camera move from left to right and top to bottom. You can do things differently, but you should be aware of the potential danger of losing your audience.