The Evolution of the Illustrated Prezis

Jun 23, 2012 by

Many people have asked about how we do the illustrations for the Prezi presentations I build, so I thought I’d write a little about the process we go through. I say “we” because the presentations are mine, but I couldn’t do them without the help of an incredibly talented illustrator, Mat Moore.

We’ve worked together on illustrating books and presentations for three years now, and I’m pretty sure that Mat can now read my mind. Our process now goes something like this.

I call Mat and say “I need a new illustration, as detailed as possible (translation: I’m paying top dollar – make it awesome!), on the Future of Working. Because a lot of what I’m talking about will be related to digital and virtual work, it would be cool if the illustration was a corporate office park, but built entirely out of computer chips – remember we started doing an illustration like that once? Well, let’s really go all out this time.” Mat: “Okay.”

First (Rough) Draft of "Future of Working" Click on Image to Enlarge.

At some point a few days later, I get a draft. It is a ROUGH of what the sketch might look like. Just like with software design, it’s really better to make changes here, before the really hard work of illustration is done. This is the point where you have to tell the illustrator if you hate it, want specific details, etc. Sometimes I know that I want some very specific elements in the presentation (for example, in past presentations, I’ve asked for a money tree, a person straddling the “Internet” pipes holding a laptop, etc.). This is the time to tell your illustrator about anything specific that you really NEED to be in that illustration. It will be much harder to add it later.

At this point in our working relationship, Mat knows that he needs to leave me blank spaces, roughly rectangular in shape, to add the presentation elements. We didn’t know this when we first started doing these presentations, it has been a feature that has evolved over time. If you look carefully, you’ll see that every illustration has space specifically left for this purpose now. When I get next version of the illustration from Mat, there is still a little back and forth between us as we tweak the illustration.

Once I’m on the final version, I have to produce a SWF file for the illustration (the PDF versions are usually too big to be processed by Prezi). Then I look for the blank canvases that Mat has left me in the illustration. Here are a few examples of places where I will drop the “slides” in this presentation.

Nice rectangular spaces on this computer chip. Perfect for a sequence of slides on the same topic. Click on image to enlarge.

Here's an example of some less structured space that was left blank for me to add presentation elements. You can see the "before" and "after" in the comparison. Click on the image to enlarge.

Here you can see the same illustrated space without and then with the presentation elements. Click on image to enlarge.

In the final version, the presentation elements are so integrated with the image, that it can actually be difficult to spot them. The only real indicators are because the presentation elements introduce an element of color to the black & white canvas.

Final "Future of Working" Prezi. Click on image to enlarge.

You can view the final version of this particular illustration here: Future of Working or click through the embedded version below.

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Hate PowerPoint? Here are 5 REAL Alternatives

Nov 28, 2010 by

This post “Hate PowerPoint? Here are 5 Alternatives” from Read/Write Web has been floating around the web this weekend.  With the exception of Prezi (which I will list here as well), this post lists four other programs that are basically PowerPoint clones.  Here’s an alternative set:

1. Prezi – I use Prezi quite a bit, but not all the time.  It is right for presentations that still need a linear flow overall (that’s what the path is … a linear flow).  It is also right when there is a “big picture” that will help you make sense of the information being presented.  But it is not always the right thing to use.  Most of my Prezis took at least 20 hours to build – these are not “throw it together at the last minute” affairs.  A poorly-designed Prezi is just as bad as a poorly-designed slide deck, so don’t use it unless you have a good design in mind.

Image of Playing to Learn Prezi

2. Mindmaps – I give a LOT of presentations off of mindmaps.  I find the flow of the presentation can more easily morph to the needs of the audience this way.  As

the participants ask questions, I can easily guide us to different parts of the mindmap to answer the questions and explore new resources.  I have about ten active mindmaps, but here are some of my favorites for presentations:

Image of Mindmap

3. Google Sites – If you want participants to be able to explore resources during the presentation, how about a quickie website?  Google Sites is great for this.  I’ve built a couple websites that were built for presentation purposes

4. Crowd-built alternative (Google Doc, Mindmaps, Chat Rooms) – If you have a room full of people and they all have access to computers, harness the power of the crowd to create the resource.  It goes something

like this … “We’re going to learn about _____ and if you find any links, insights, or tips helpful, then please add them to the [mindmap/google doc/chat room].  At the end of the talk/workshop, you’ll be able to take this resource with you.”  Here are two examples from past presentations.

Image of Google Doc for Wolfram Alpha Workshop

5. Animoto – I gave a Travelogue about my trip to India last year that was built entirely of Animoto videos with music of India and

photos/videos from the trip.

My husband and I narrated over the videos.  My students and I have been experimenting with teaching through Animoto videos.  Any time you need to share a lot of images and short video clips, Animoto could be a great option.

Image of Animoto video (women in India)

I’ll offer up one more alternative. Just learn how to create a well-designed slide deck. If you do it well, it shouldn’t matter which slide-deck program you use.  If you create bad PowerPoints you’re perfectly capable of creating bad Keynote presentations too.  I found that reading books like Presentation Zen and Slide:eology laid a great foundation for learning how to build better slide decks.

Finally, ask yourself, Why do you hate PowerPoint?  Is it because you actually hate PowerPoint, the software?  Or is it possibly because most presenters that use PowerPoint put less than 1 hour of thought into designing their presentation.  A good presentation takes considerable thought to form, design, flow, audience, and venue.  I’ve seen bad presentations in Keynote, bad presentations in Prezi, and bad presentations from presenters that “in an effort to avoid PowerPoint” used no visual resources whatsoever.  The quality of the presentation usually boils down to one thing:  How much time and thought did the presenter put into creating a learning experience for the audience?

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Mindmaps for Learning

Aug 25, 2009 by

I’ve been using a web-app called Mindomo for about two years now. With it I am able to map out ideas and create interactive sets of resources in a non-linear fashion. You may have seen some of my resources or been in a presentation where I used one of these maps:


I think that using these interactive maps gives three main advantages:

  1. If you present with a map, you are no longer forced into a linear presentation and can easily respond and adapt to audience questions.
  2. The audience can play along during the presentation, wandering off to explore the areas of the map that interest them most.  This is the same idea behind Edward Tufte’s “supergraphic” – a data-rich resource that the audience becomes engaged with, each person in their own context.
  3. The process of creating a mindmap helps to organize resources and ideas, think of applications to ideas, fosters thinking about comparisons and contrasts, and helps you to see the holes where information or resources are missing, all in a very visual manner.

It is this third item that has me particularly intrigued.  When I begin building a new presentation, I now find it helpful to organize a mindmap as one of the first activities I do.  The process of building the map teaches me more than I would ever learn on my own.

This year I’m planning to put this idea to the student test and have each student in my MET class (Math for Elementary Teachers) create a Mindomo mindmap for one of the units as one of their four Learning Projects.  The Mindomo accounts are free (for up to 6 maps) as long as you are willing to live with a 1-inch wide strip of advertising on the right-hand side.

I had been stressing over the need to create a tutorial video, but one of our workshop participants (Rose Jenkins of Teching Up) has created a fabulous video on getting started with Mindomo (click here for her tutorial).  I’m planning on just sending my students right to Rose’s video for their introductory tutorial on using Mindomo.mindomo2

Rose has also got an interesting idea for pushing out a partially-created mindmap to her statistics students, and then asking them to add the appropriate resources and annotations to the map (Read her post, Mapping Out Math).  It was a little tricky to figure out HOW to create a map and then share it to students in a way that makes each copy their own, but Rose made a tutorial about THAT too! (click here for the tutorial about sharing maps)

Kudos to Rose for taking charge of a set of tutorials that really needed to be made!

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Designing a Digital Presentation

Dec 10, 2008 by

For the AMATYC presentation on Cognitive Assessments for Math, I began from scratch (no prior slides to pull from). For me, an hour-long presentation will have something like 100-150 slides and it’s way too much to think about in a linear fashion.


You might find this odd, but when I go to design a new digital presentation, I start on paper. I began this presentation with about a hundred quarter-sheets of paper, each with a key phrase, main idea, supporting idea, or statement. I first try to organize these into some kind of cohesive structure – here’s what my first attempt looked like:

After some more playing with the structure of the presentation, I settled into three “groupings” that made up the meat of the presentation. You can see remnants of these groupings in the menu-structures of the final presentation.

At the initial organization seems right, I think about where I’d like to insert images that might enhance the ideas in the presentation, specific examples that make points, and other minutia. For each of these I make another placeholder sheet and insert it in the proper stack.


This is the point of the narration where I admit how horribly I procrastinated on this presentation. All of this on-paper organization took place prior to leaving the house. I got about 30 slides built at my house, and then the other 75 were built in the car (as a passenger), at the airport, on a plane, or in my hotel room.


Once all the slides were built, I went back through the whole presentation and built the two navigation menus (see below) and icons that link back to those menus.

The final slide in every presentation is typically the Questions slide, and on this slide I make it easy to get quickly back to other slides in the presentation by making simple links to the other two menus.

You can view the final presentation below (and all the menus should work in this, so play all you want.

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by wyandersen

Start to finish, I’d say that building this particular presentation (and just the presentation) took about 20 hours.


Is it finished? No, there are things I would alter before running the presentation again. I wish I’d had time to put in more “zooms” of the assessments I show towards the end. By that point I’d just run out of time and didn’t have time to do multi-slide zooms. I’ve had a couple requests for printed slides – so I may go back through and make a handout with selected slide material on it. In a complicated presentation like this one, there are slides that basically just repeat the previous slide with one more animation included (they run better on the Internet that way).


If you’re interested in learning more about effective digital presentations, I highly recommend the book Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. If you’d like to build an interactive menu-driven PowerPoint presentation of your own, check out this older post on that topic, An Experiment with Action Buttons.



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Want to give better presentations? Start here.

Apr 18, 2008 by

I’ve been following the Presentation Zen blog for a few weeks now, and I particularly like the idea of using minimal text and an image to provide something for the eyes to rest on while you listen to the presentation. If you have never heard of Presentation Zen, you might want to just watch Garr Reynolds’ Authors@Google presentation for a 45-minute summary about how to do effective PowerPoint. Or read the book, Presentation Zen.

Let’s just say that I’m going to be revising a few of the PowerPoint presentations that I have to make them a little less distracting.

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How to Run a PowerPoint NOT in full screen

Oct 24, 2007 by

Sometimes, you don’t want to run a PowerPoint presentation in “full-screen” mode. For example, when I record Camtasia videos, I want the animations to run on the PowerPoint, so I have to “run” the presentation, but I want to be able to easily pull other resources into the Camtasia video (web browsers, TI-SmartView, SnagIt, etc.). You may have thought (as I did) that your only solution was to “escape” the presentation and go to the other resource, then rerun the presentation and go to the correct slide (repeating this process over and over).

But there is another way. Go into the PowerPoint Slide Show Set Up (see below).

Once in Set Up Show, make these two changes…

  • Browse by an individual (window)
  • Advance Slides Manually

Now when you run the presentation, it will run in a resizable window instead of full screen. NOTE: Mouse clicks will no longer advance the slides when you are running the show in a window, you must use Page Up and Page Down keys on your keyboard instead.

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