Jim Szafranski MBA ’98 and Prezi have been waiting for this

Nov. 11, 2020, 10:15 p.m.

This year, Prezi software is meeting the moment with technology that takes a new approach to live streaming and video with augmented reality (AR). The free education software has become a staple of many classrooms that require diagrams and illustrations with instruction.

Chief Executive Officer Jim Szafranski MBA ’98 and his colleagues at Prezi had been working on a new technology for the business since 2017. What started as just “hacking around” with AR and “trying to see what we could do” gave rise to Prezi Video, which is a new video tool that incorporates live presentation with virtual graphics.

“This is key for online learning as you can maintain a human connection with your class without losing important context and visual aids,” according to Prezi’s “Teacher in Residence” Paul Teske. As of April, the new software has spread to 175 countries, allowing speakers on video conferences to transpose newscaster-style, interactive presentations onto their camera feeds.

With over 100 million users today, Prezi is known for its canvas presentations that allow for visual effects different from a standard slideshow. Stanford students who have used Prezi said that the software has some advantages to other modes of presentation.

Vivian Shay ’24 said the Prezi format can be “a bit dizzying the way it moves around,” although she likes that “it’s an interesting interface and feels different than most slide presentations.” Elle Krolicki ’24 said that she used Prezi in middle school for book reports: “I liked that at the beginning it shows the whole web of what you are going to be talking about.”

Prezi Video went live in November 2019, although it went through multiple iterations before reaching its published form. At first, Szafranski anticipated that users would be slow to try out Prezi Video, but as daily life became increasingly virtual for more people, “usage just shot up.”

The company is expected to launch gesture recognition in the future, a feature that’s currently in a pilot phase, that will allow users to advance slides and enlarge images by moving their hands instead of using a keyboard, a shift that Szafraanksi hopes will enhance business meetings, trainings and other applications like schooling.

“It should be an empowering statement” for students that, although “these times are tough,” what students are developing “is actually the future,” Szafranski said.

Prezi Video comes at a time when digital technologies have been essential for education at all levels.

At the onset of the pandemic, teachers didn’t have the tools to deal with the transition to remote learning, according to Szafranski. However, he said that teachers are “expert communicators” who creatively adapted to online teaching, taking steps like moving whiteboards into their video frame, holding a book up to the camera and using props. “Leadership of the education space is going to now really change technology,” Szafranski said. 

Teachers who are changing the way they teach and extending their reach, he said, will result in a new population of students who will bring novel problem-solving skills and technology into the workforce, redefining the standards for how companies are set up.

Contact Matthew Turk at mjturk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Matthew Turk ’24 served as the Chief Technology Officer for Vols. 262 and 263, as well as a Grind Managing Editor, Data Director and Desk Editor in News, among other roles for The Stanford Daily. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in mathematics.

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