The “presentation-sphere” is bursting with talented people who specialize in translating concepts into compelling visuals. Presentation designers work hand-in-hand with presenters to visualize their ideas ahead of time, often creating storyboards, and taking time to refine the layout and design of each slide for maximum impact. On the other end of the spectrum you have Graphic Facilitators, who turn visual communication into a type of performance art, using critical listening skills to translate ideas into illustrations in real-time.

For a while now, some of us at Prezi and our graphic facilitator friends over at ImageThink were looking for opportunities to merge these two art forms. This opportunity finally emerged when Ajit Narayanan asked for help to design his presentation at TEDActive last year.

Ajit is the inventor of Avaz, an affordable, tablet-based communication device for people who are speech-impaired. He is also developing the FreeSpeech Engine, a visual way for kids to put words together and form sentences, helping them develop language. The Avaz UI has a hand-drawn quality to it, so we thought it would be fitting to capture his talk with ImageThink’s illustration style, and turn it into a Prezi that Ajit could walk the audience through, at his own pace. It seemed almost TOO perfect. The subject matter, the illustration style, and the delivery mechanism would all compliment each other, and the end result could truly become something greater than the sum of it’s parts.

The Process:

The first step was to jump on a 3-way conference call and have Ajit walk us through a dry run of the presentation itself. We practiced our critical listening skills and captured the talk in our own familiar ways. Virginia Lee Montgomery (ImageThink artist) started sketching out individual words and components, while I took notes and imagined how these components could fit together in a spatially meaningful arrangement.

After the dry-run, we compared our ideas and agreed on a direction. The overview would be in the shape of a brain, and all of the visual components would be placed in and around the brain to create something like a flow-chart that shows how language is processed by the brain.

We ended our call, and I set about creating a simple storyboard (in google docs, for ease of sharing and editing)…


…and a rough sketch of the overview, showing how all the components fit together.


 Using this as a reference, Virginia began illustrating all the individual assets with a stylus and tablet. In order to keep things as sharp as possible when zooming around in Prezi, Virginia illustrated each idea separately, and as large as possible. She sent over all of these assets in a single enormous Photoshop file… 

Virginia's Illustrations

… and from there, we exported each as a separate .png file, and inserted them into a prezi. Once inserted, I was able to move and resize them to match the layout we had discussed. Finally, I created invisible frames, so that the camera moves matched the order of events laid out in the storyboard. 


After a few minor tweaks, we handed it over to Ajit to practice over the weekend. He identified a few areas where we could simplify or enhance. Also, by seeing his words arranged as images like this, the tangents that didn’t support the main idea became visual protrusions, and stuck out very clearly. Ajit was able to see these asymmetries, and reorganize his thoughts into a much more streamlined presentation.

After only a few rounds of review, Ajit was off and ready to deliver what he calls his “best presentation so far.” As most things go when serendipity is at play, this project took on a life of it’s own, and was enormously satisfying. The method and the treatment were very appropriate for the content, and we all felt grateful to have contributed to such an inspiring cause.

More about FreeSpeech: