Prezi wants to make you the Rachel Maddow of your office

Take two.
Take two.
Image: Courtesy Prezi
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Prezi, the software company known for its artful presentation templates, now wants to help you make compelling live video presentations, by keeping your face in the picture.

The firm’s original product became the anti-PowerPoint when Prezi first appeared, in 2009. It allows users to embed data anywhere on a themed canvas, like an open highway, or a world map, and zoom in and out of pertinent sections in a non-linear fashion, rather than click through individual slides.

The new video tool, introduced in November, emphasizes relativity and continuity in a different way: it enables the host of a webinar or remote meeting to stay visible on screen while calling up graphics to illustrate the conversation.

Prezi co-founder and chief executive officer Peter Arvai calls it “holding your idea in your hands.” In a conversation with Quartz, he basically promised that the tool will make you Rachel Maddow, but without any need for a team of graphic artists.

To be sure, the visuals also don’t look as professional as a major network’s, but the effects are impressive.

See a sample template in this tutorial:

Prezi, like many companies, has a distributed workforce, with employees in San Francisco, Budapest, and Riga, so Arvai has seen how remote meetings can become snoozers when someone runs through a presentation as a disembodied voice. Maybe a manager begins talking on screen then suddenly disappears or shrinks to the size of a postage stamp. Viewers miss the human connection, making it even more likely that they will check out after a few minutes.

Given that people are naturally drawn to human faces and all the silent, emotion-filled information we can glean from them, the feature certainly should help a person keep their audience’s attention. But in a recent interview with Arvai, a Bloomberg reporter suggested that asking employees and managers to literally appear next to their data should also put subtle pressure on them to take accountability for the information, too. Perhaps?

As Quartz’s presentations producer and master of the form Dasia Moore notes, the new format should at least offer a bit of relief for those who don’t appreciate being the sole focus of attention during video meetings. Having a third object to focus on, without losing the option to make virtual eye contact, can make conversations more comfortable.

Just take the time to practice before you go live. Prezi videos can also be recorded and shared publicly; in some of the examples available online, the speakers are half hidden by floating photographs or appear preoccupied with where their graphic creations are landing. You can’t become a Maddow overnight.