Harvard analysis: which is better, PowerPoint or Prezi?

Harvard analysis: which is better, PowerPoint or Prezi? Colm is the editor of MarketingTech, with a mission to bring the most important developments in technology to both businesses and consumers.

Everyone knows PowerPoint. The presentation software is quite simply one of the most ubiquitous and well-known business tools in the world.

From school to tech conferences, the average person has likely sat through a staggering array of PowerPoint presentations in their life.

Is the reason behind this ubiquity the fact that the software is so well established and people don’t that any alternatives exist? Or, is it because PowerPoint is the best option?

Well, the big brains of Harvard’s Department of Psychology have announced the results of a double-blind study that looked at the effectiveness of different presentation techniques.

The study

The study looked at 3 different presentation styles: PowerPoint presentations, Prezi’s zooming user interface (ZUI – a graphical interface where users change the scale of the viewed area to show more detail) and oral presentation.

The researchers took a two-phase approach. Firstly, participants were randomly assigned to create a presentation in one of the three formats. The topic and context were provided by the researchers. These presentations were then given to an audience over Skype, who then judged the efficacy of the presentation.

There were 146 presenters and 153 audience members.

Secondly, the video versions of the presentations were presented to a 1069 strong online audience, who were then surveyed.

And the results are in…

So what presentation style was the winner?

In the words of the researchers:

“Participants evaluated Prezi presentations as more organized, engaging, persuasive, and effective than both PowerPoint and oral presentations.

“We therefore conclude that the observed effects are not biased, but instead reflect a true and specific benefit of Prezi over PowerPoint or, more generally, ZUIs over slideware.”

Prezi came out of the study as the clear winner. Principally, ZUI’s zooming and panning over a single surface is more engaging and enjoyable for the audience. The single plane is also a good way of helping people understand the linkages between concepts.

Conversely, PowerPoint presentations were judged to have ‘too little’ of engaging visual attributes such as images and animations.

Interestingly, presenters who used Prezi were judged to be more knowledgeable and professional then their PowerPoint-wielding peers.

Does this represent a changing of the presentation software guard? Or, were the results more representative of the fact that less people are aware of Prezi, so more likely to be impressed?

The researchers offer an answer: 

“We conclude that the observed effects of presentation format are not merely the result of novelty, bias, experimenter-, or software-specific characteristics, but instead reveal a communication preference for using the panning-and-zooming animations that characterize Prezi presentations.

Only 8% of participants claimed that they preferred Prezi because it was new or different, and there was no significant relationship between the audiences’ experience with Prezi and their ratings or rank-orderings. Thus, the most likely explanation is that individuals do, in fact, perceive Prezi presentations more favorably than PowerPoint or oral presentation.”

For Prezi the study is a clear indication of its products effectiveness.

“By increasing engagement, customers have reported over 30% increased close rates and audience satisfaction scores and now we have scientific research that supports it,” says Prezi’s CEO Peter Arvai.

“Prezi is the best choice for persuasive, effective, and engaging presenting. We’ve created a platform that helps individuals and businesses deepen their connection with their audiences in a way that is fun, immersive, and effective.” 

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