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My Friend Flickr
If you've seen me give a presentation in the last couple of years, you've probably seen me use Prezi, the "zooming presentation tool," for the visual component of the presentation. Here's a Prezi I used for a short talk on teaching with classroom response systems back in April:
You can click on the forward arrow to move through the Prezi along the path I've laid out. Or you can use your mouse to pan and zoom freely across the canvas.
Prezi sometimes gets a bad rap for being nothing more than PowerPoint with fancier transitions, or for inducing audience nausea with its zooming motions. I find, however, that Prezi is an incredibly useful tool for communicating ideas visually, as long as you keep a few key principles in mind. Here are four that I first shared in a post back in November 2011:
- Don’t pan or zoom too far too quickly. This can make people dizzy. If necessary, insert an intermediate point on your “path” so that you don’t go too far too quickly.
- Don’t use rotations without good cause. Again, they can make people dizzy, so it’s best to use them only when there’s a conceptual reason to do. For instance, if you want to contrast two different perspectives on a single idea, you might use small rotation.
- Use images to represent ideas. That way, when you zoom out, your content (those images) is still visible. This makes it easier to see connections between ideas. If you use a lot of text, when you zoom out, you lose that ability to “see” that content.
- Finally, make sure the big picture (the fully zoomed-out view of your Prezi) uses spatial arrangements to convey meaning. Content that’s connected conceptually should be clustered together visually, for instance.
Right now, I would like to drill down on principle #3 on this list and say a few words about how I find and use images in my presentations.
A couple of years ago, Garr Reynolds' book Presentation Zen opened my eyes to how effective PowerPoint presentations could be. Instead of filling slide after slide with bullet-pointed text, Reynolds argues for simplicity and elegance. Select one high-quality photo that represents (concretely or metaphorically) a single idea you want to express, and fill your slide with that image. Include a word or two connected to that idea if you like, but no more than that. You don't want the words on the screen to compete for your audience's attention (and cognitive processing capacity) with the words coming from your mouth. Since our brains process verbal and visual inputs in parallel, an image doesn't compete and, in fact, can complement your words by helping your audience understand and remember your point.
How do I go about finding those high-quality photos? That's where Flickr comes in.
There are over 7 billion photos on Flickr, and, more importantly, many of them are (a) pretty good photos and (b) licensed under Creative Commons. The latter is important because in the United States when you take a photo, you get the copyright to that photo. That means if you want to use a photo you find online somewhere (perhaps using a Google image search), you need to contact the person who took that photo and get permission... unless that person has released the photo under Creative Commons, in which case you can use it without asking! You'll probably still need to attribute the photo to its creator, but that's just about giving credit where credit is due. (There are a few other CC stipulations to be aware of, but they're pretty straightforward.)
When I want to find an image for a presentation (whether I'm using Prezi or PowerPoint), I head to Compfight, which is a third-party site that makes it quick and easy to search Flickr. Type in a search term or two (like "elephants") and you'll see a page full of thumbnails of Flickr photos. (You'll also see some photos from a stock photo site at the top of the page. These photos cost a little money to use. Sometimes that's worth it, but Flickr usually has a photo that works.) Be sure to check the Compfight settings on the left side of the screen. Make sure "Creative Commons" is highlighted, and toggle between "Tags only" and "All text" to help narrow or broaden your search.
When you find a photo you like, click on it, and you'll be taken to that photo's page on Flickr. Find the "Actions" menu near the top, and click on "View all sizes." You'll see a larger version of the photo... that's the one to save and use in your presentation. Please don't use a tiny version of the photo and blow it up in your presentation software--it will look awful. Grab a version that's 1,024 pixels on the long side if you can.
Don't forget to include an attribution for any CC-licensed photo you use! In Prezi, I add a line in small print just under the photo that includes the photographer's name (or Flickr handle) and the title of the photo. In PowerPoint, I'll either include that info on the slide itself or in a credits slide at the end of the presentation (if I have a lot of photos, which I usually do).
Technical details of these steps will depend on what computer you're using, but those are the basics of finding and using photos from Flickr in your presentations.
There's a conceptual layer that I've skipped over, of course. It's not always obvious what kind of image represents a particular concept or idea. It's often helpful to think metaphorically instead of literally, and sometimes you have to search on a few different terms before a good metaphor comes to you. See these two posts for some examples. I can share more thoughts on this conceptual piece later if you're interested.
What about your presentations? Do you use photos to help convey ideas? If so, care to share an example or two?Image: "It's All Done with Mirrors," Derek Bruff, Flickr (CC)
Also, apologies for this post's title. I couldn't help myself.