Interview: Can Prezi really kill Microsoft PowerPoint?

Adam Somlai-Fischer, co-founder and principal artist at Prezi talks AR, global expansion and beating PowerPoint

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The table at Roast restaurant in London’s Borough Market is festooned with a red checked table cloth. The waiting staff are loitering with an extensive afternoon tea menu. Initially, at least, it seems an odd setting for a chat about presentation software.

I’m meeting Adam Somlai-Fischer, co-founder and principal artist, at PowerPoint challenger Prezi. Launched in 2009 it currently boasts 85 million users acquired predominantly through organic growth. It has now released a business version [YouTube video] – based on HTML5 instead of Flash – which hopes to bring in an even bigger audience.

The hook of Prezi is that it is nothing like PowerPoint. Instead of boring linear presentations it wants to facilitate “conversational presenting”. Initial viral growth came out of conferences and educational establishments (“parents saw their kids use it at school and brought it back to the workplace”) and now the company is putting its heft into building a salesforce, improving the product and diversifying its user base.

But can it ever really beat workplace staple Microsoft PowerPoint? “The challenge with PowerPoint is it comes pre-installed,” says Somlai-Fischer. Many people don’t even know if they use it, he adds, but the real difficulty for Microsoft tools is that they hold a massive market share and so they try to do something for everyone.

Prezi, on the other hand, looks to target people who really care about presenting. The company doesn’t share data on exactly who is using the product, but Somlai-Fischer tells me that the people who use it tend to fall into one of two categories. They are either people who naturally scribble, and so this solution resonates with the way they think. Or are people who really want to stand out from the competition with unusual, creative presentations.

As there are no specific user stats available, it is hard to corroborate, but Somlai-Fischer confirms that even the most dry and conservative businesses are prepared to adopt this style of presenting. “We always have challenges with grown-ups,” he adds.

The Prezi site does include blogs like “The Power of B2B Visual Storytelling” while the staff picks of presentations shows some innovative ways to present challenging information – like this more human view of freight logistics.

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