Presentations that zoom are better, says Harvard study

Are you worried that your next work presentation will send the whole boardroom to sleep? There is a way of livening them up a bit, according to “Does a Presentation’s Medium Affect Its Message? Powerpoint, Prezi and Oral Presentations, a study that the Harvard University Department of Psychology released yesterday.

Presentations that zoom are better, says Harvard study

The study found that viewers enjoyed Prezi presentations more than those made in PowerPoint. The standout reason for its success is Prezi’s zooming user interface (ZUI), as opposed to PowerPoint’s slides moving strictly from left to right. Viewers also reported that PowerPoint presentations didn’t include enough graphs or animations, unlike Prezi.

To test the platforms’ engagement, Harvard conducted a double-blind experiment replicating a real-life scenario in which business professionals present to a corporate board. More than 140 individuals “with sufficient experience” in spoken, PowerPoint and Prezi formats were given instructions and randomly assigned one of the three formats to create a presentation. They then presented it live via Skype for about 150 people, who were the “corporate executives” in the experiment. The presentations were also recorded and shown to people digitally, and around 1,000 people watched the presentations in total.

Viewers rated each presentation on a scale from one to five in four categories: organised, engaging, persuasive and effective. Presentations made in Prezi ranked the highest in all of them. PowerPoint edged the closest to Prezi in the “organised” category, though: the ZUI format was only rated 12.5% higher than the slideware format.

The study’s most worthwhile finding is that using the ZUI format affects more than just viewers’ pleasure: it makes them perceive the presenters who use the ZUI format more positively than those who use formats similar to PowerPoint. It could also affect viewers’ perception of the business decisions presented in the presentation, based simply on the way the content moves across the screen.

So, if you want to get your latest work idea approved – promotion, maybe? – make sure your presentation format knows how to zoom.

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