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A stunning PowerPoint alternative -- in 3D

(MoneyWatch) It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when PowerPoint was an innovative presentation tool -- back when the traditional alternative was overhead transparencies. These days, the sequential slide deck popularized by PowerPoint is so mundane that it's considered the bane of the business world.

Thank goodness there is at least one stunningly innovative alternative.

I've told you about Prezi before. It's a Web-based presentation tool that operates on a completely different premise than PowerPoint. Instead of creating a series of sequential slides, Prezi gives you a huge canvas to work with, on which you can add images, text, and graphics. By setting a motion path for your "camera," you can fly around the screen, zooming, twisting, turning, and panning to show your visuals in any sequence you like. 

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You can also zoom way in or way out to reveal information in unexpected and downright cinematic ways. And if all that sounds complicated or difficult to do, fear not -- you can learn how to make a compelling Prezi presentation in minutes -- no graphics skills needed.

The cool part -- and the reason I'm telling you about Prezi again -- is that there have been some significant updates since I last covered this product. First and foremost are the new 3D backgrounds.

3D backgrounds make your presentation seem like you've put in way more effort than you actually did. When you pan or zoom around the presentation to display various text and images, the background image moves in concert, exhibiting "parallax" motion (the effect you see when distant objects seem to move less than nearby ones). It is subtle, but it adds a sense of depth to your presentation. Check it out in action:

And like the rest of Prezi, it's all pretty straightforward. Just choose the 3D theme and add your own photo; everything else happens automatically.

You can use Prezi for free, but there are some significant limitations to that kind of account, including that anything you create will be visible to the entire world on the Prezi site. Serious business users will want one of the paid subscriptions, which start at about $5 per month.

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