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Legal Project Management: Thoughts, tips, and discoveries related to the management of legal projects.

Prezi, Project Management Training, and Presentation Risk Management

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On February 10th, I co-taught two lessons for the Organization of Legal Professional's (OLP) Project Management for Litigation Professionals course. I enjoyed the experience and the course went well, but I re-learned some valuable lessons about preparation and risk planning for remote presentations. Since so much of project management involves communication skills, which often includes making presentations of one form or another, I thought I would share my experiences and lessons learned from this event. 

Something Will Always Go Wrong With the Technology

Few things prove Murphy's law better than a power-point presentation. When you memorize a speech and deliver it without slides, you pretty much only have to worry about getting to the right location on time. Even if there were a complete power outage, you could deliver your presentation and it would probably be more interesting and memorable because of it.

Once you interject technology, the risk of something going wrong seems to increase exponentially with each piece of hardware or software involved. I often wonder if the technology adds enough value to the presentation to be worth the extra risk and hassle. Many of the most memorable presentations I've seen were made in Toastmasters meetings with nothing more than a podium and perhaps a note card or two. Even the most inexperienced speaker at a Toastmasters meeting tends to be more engaging than the slickest presenter talking from the shadows off to the side of a projector screen.

For this course, however, a visual presentation was required. So I set about to create as interesting and dynamic a presentation as I could, knowing full well that the gremlin hordes were stirring, preparing to take advantage of any opportunity to wreak havoc. Perhaps I sound overly pessimistic on presentation technology, but my pessimism is born from experience.

In law school, for example, after working many, many hours on a presentation for my Second Year Seminar, I went to the school in the morning with what I thought was an impressive power point on the WTO's dispute-resolution process. I decided to run through it one more time, only to realize that it had not copied over properly. In a panic, I rushed home and realized that I had made the presentation too large to save to any media I had available (I didn't have a laptop--and nobody had flash drives--at the time). All I could do in the time I had is make printouts to distribute. Murphy wasn't done with me yet, however, and while driving back to school I was rear ended. So I arrived late and did the best I could with a follow-along-with-the-printed-materials presentation. 

One value of law school school, I suppose, is to make those humiliating mistakes so you're less likely to make them in practice. That experience has made me paranoid and obsessive in my presentation preparations. 

Keep it Simple

Presentation software creates the temptation of trying to impress the audience with fancy graphics, transitions, and various other bells and whistles. It is easy to cut yourself on the bleeding edge and you are often better served focusing more on the content itself than on how the content is presented. If I had created a simple deck of bullet-point slides for my law school presentation--instead of a bloated monstrosity that I couldn't save to a disk--I would not have gotten myself into the predicament I did. 

...But Don't be Afraid to Try Something New

That said, simple decks of bullet-point slides are boring. They are not enjoyable to make nor to view. Not all project presentations are going to be enjoyable, but as far as you can, you should try to make the process something you enjoy. Your enthusiasm will come across in your delivery. 

Also, you should continually look for ways to improve your presentations and keep things fresh. This includes familiarizing yourself with new technology. Presentation and educational platforms, web-cast applications, video conferencing, projectors, and other presentation technologies keep evolving. These technologies can help make your presentations more effective, but only if you take the time to learn, test, and get experience using them.

Prezi - A New Presentation Media

For these two lectures, I decided to try Prezi to create the visuals, rather than PowerPoint. Prezi tries to take presentations beyond the slide model and is instead based on a zooming-presentation model where the presenter can pan around a field of images, text, and documents, zoom into and out of various objects, and nest objects in other objects.

Prezi will not displace PowerPoint for most of my presentations, but I find that it works well for educational presentations where you want to move fluidly from the "big picture" to specific details and back. I also like how easy it is to move around your presentation. It is much more elegant than trying to jump around slides in a PowerPoint deck and allows for less linear lecture styles. 

At the end of this post, I've embedded truncated versions of the two presentations I created with Prezi. I've removed most of the documents and much of the presentation path points, but you should get an idea of the presentation flow. If you are just clicking through, the motion might seem disorienting, but it is much less so during an actual presentation. Remember, each of these two presentations were an hour long. I obviously am not moving through these during the class as fast as you are casually clicking through them here. 


The OLP uses Wimba for its on-line courses. Wimba is an on-line, collaborative, education platform owned by Blackboard. It is commonly used in high schools and colleges. Both of the universities that my wife lectures at use flavors of Wimba. Wimba offers a lot of functionality and the learning curve is higher than the Webinar platforms I am used to using, such as WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Adobe Connect. Therefore, I made a point of sitting through an earlier lecture in the course and started testing the system a couple days before I was scheduled to present.

When Tools Collide--Prezi's Limitations in On-line Presentations

As feature rich as Wimba is, it still works best with a linear slide format. It does offer screen sharing, but my tests showed significant lag. The smooth transitions that make such an impact during a Prezi presentation is lost in a Web cast. I've also tested Prezi in GoToMeeting and have been similarly unimpressed. So, I will not be using Prezi for any on-line presentations. 

Always Have a Backup Plan

When preparing for a presentation, it is important to have a cascading set of back-up plans, especially when working with new technologies, and even more importantly when presenting remotely. Prezi has an option to save in a linear format as a PDF and I was able to use that to create a deck of slides for use in Wimba.  

It All Worked Out In the End

Although I could have saved some time and aggravation by using PowerPoint in the first place, on the day of the class I had the presentation loaded, tested, and ready to go. I had enjoyed the class and received positive feedback from the participants. Every presenter or lecturer should take the time test the equipment and prepare backup plans in case something should not work as expected. You safest expectation is that something will go wrong and to be prepared to work around the issue.

The truncated Prezi versions of my presentations follow.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on April 3, 2011 10:00 PM.

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