In 2009, the founders of Prezi asked TED curator Chris Anderson for 18 minutes—the maximum length of a TED presentation—to convince him to invest in the collaborative presentation platform. He did, and Prezi became the first company to raise money from TED Conferences (as part of a $1.5 million fundraising round that also included Sunstone Capital).
If you attended this year’s TED conference, or even if you watched some of the presentations online, you may have noticed that about a quarter of the talks were presented with an assist from Prezi. This isn’t because TED forces participants to use the platform—it’s just a natural fit, according to Peter Arvai, Prezi’s CEO.
What’s unique about Prezi, he says, is that it works in the same way as the human brain. If I asked you to name all the appliances in your kitchen, how would you go about doing it? If you’re like most people, you zoom in on your kitchen and survey the landscape, rattling off the appliances as you see them. Similarly, Prezi lets users zoom in on details and zoom out to see the big picture—in contrast to slide shows that simply list images and text. "It’s a visual journey," says Arvai. "We don’t build a list of words, because the brain isn’t good at that kind of information processing."
You can see Prezi in action in this video, a 2013 TED talk from two teenagers, Miranda Wang and Jenny Yao, who came up with a method for breaking down toxic phthalates in plastic with soil bacteria while still in high school (the pair are in college now). The most exciting part: two of the bacteria that Yao and Wang used weren’t previously associated with phthalate degradation.
"We wanted to create a bacteria powder and put onto solid plastic," says Yao. "If we could achieve that one day, we would create more space in landfills and eliminate contamination problems."
The pair had previously used Prezi in high school, but the TED presentation took it to the next level—largely because Yao and Wang had help from Prezi designers. "It was a great collaborating experience," says Wang.
Prezi is not, of course, limited to TED speakers—the platform has 25 million users. But you have to admit: it does fit well into the TED aesthetic.