Bloomberg: Prezi CEO Is Betting Remote Meetings Will Be Better Than In-Person


The message “Do you have any weekend plans?” moves across the screen image in oversized lettering, appearing in undulating waves over the head of Jim Szafranski , the chief executive officer of Prezi Inc.

Such attention-grabbing screen text — in this case at the start of my virtual interview with Szafranski — is just one of the features of Prezi Video, a tool launched in 2019 and now used by over 200,000 companies and other organizations. The internet-based presentation software — an alternative to Microsoft’s Power Point product — allows virtual meeting participants to share feedback, answer questions and edit charts in a more interactive way than screen sharing.

“The screen is a place to get work done,” Szafranski says. “We're trying to make remote meetings better than in person so that this movement can continue.” Work Shift talked to Szafranski about the office of the future, the risk that tech tools become too complex, and how long it will be before artificial intelligence can make those time-consuming presentation slides for you. (Questions and responses have been edited and condensed.)

Are return-to-office mandates slowly killing virtual meetings?

The majority of work is hybrid and people have a virtual meeting at least once a week. Even if the policy is “everyone, back in the office,” most companies will still have some remote people. And those coming into the office, rather than do a hybrid meeting with remote colleagues, are just doing virtual meetings. People used to turn to Prezi Video once or twice a month. Now it’s a couple of times a week.

The on-screen office — the evolution of content on the screen during video meetings — is here to stay. We’re going to need to work better over video. Icebreakers, giving feedback, allowing participants to bring stuff on the screen alongside the presenter, the small things that normally get done face-to-face, you have to facilitate them online.

Who is already working in the “on-screen office” environment?

It’s roles where you want to hold people’s attention: training, sales and marketing for customer conversations, CEOs and other executives briefing customers. That bleeds into things like all-hands-on-deck meetings. In terms of industries, consulting is a big area for us, and so are technology and financial services.

It also tends to be less about your job function and more about the type of person you are. Are you investing in your ability to do good meetings, are you someone who wants to work remote, and you're trying to continue to support that policy in your company? Then you’ll do your best to perform well in virtual meetings.

Who is going to be harder to convince?

Presidents, product managers, CEOs, high achievers love this kind of stuff. The worry for me is we can't lower the barrier to adoption for broader usage. It’s not so hard, but it is intimidating. Generative AI and recommendation engines can help us with that. We have versions of Prezi out now that are building the presentation for you based on your prompting. We help you with “you're going to talk about the marketing plan, here’s a good flow for the topic, make sure you talk about these four areas.” And you have a little chatbot that can answer questions. We provide you with spaces that you can fill in with your content. It's getting you over that design hurdle. That first hour of making a presentation turns into three-four minutes.

How do you see the tensions between remote workers and office-loving managers evolving?

If you go back 10 years, businesses did not want you using your smartphone for work. And employees were saying: “I'm not trying to steal the information of the company, I’m trying to work while I'm at waiting at my doctor's office.” Just like with phones, businesses need to accept remote working is not a theft device — it’s a productivity device.

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