User Friendly Tools Help Boost Your Presentation

User-friendly Tools Help Boost Your Presentation

New worlds have opened up for those looking to technology to take their speaking skills to another level. As software applications continue their evolutionary march, Toastmasters have a host of new, user-friendly tools at their disposal to create more engaging presentation content and hone their delivery skills.

These new technologies can do things like create dynamic video infographics for use in PowerPoint presentations, enable far-flung colleagues to collaborate more easily when designing slide decks (groups of slides) and allow coaches to deliver detailed, time-coded video feedback to help speakers eliminate poor speech practices.

Video Takes Center Stage

Whether gauged by the proliferating traffic on video-based websites like YouTube, Vimeo and Vine, or by the growing use of video in corporate presentations, training courses or employee recruiting campaigns, video has clearly emerged as the medium of the moment.

A number of factors drive the trend. For one, presenters no longer have to pay big dollars for stand-alone video cameras, editing software or high-end production studios to create professional, high-definition video. Today, speakers can use the cameras built into their computers and mobile devices, as well as low-cost editing applications, to quickly create high-quality videos. Easy access to high-bandwidth networks also makes video more practical and appealing.

Video also has the power to teach, inform or communicate emotion in ways other mediums can’t match. When given the choice of how they prefer to learn or consume content, more people today—especially the younger generations—opt for short videos as their go-to medium.

To capitalize on video’s allure, more presenters are using the new tools available in PowerPoint’s 2010 and 2013 versions to convert standard slide presentations to video format for uploading to YouTube or corporate websites. Others are finding they can use little-known functions in PowerPoint as a low-cost alternative to editing video that they import into the software program.

New software also has emerged for creating “video infographics, which are designed to be more engaging and dynamic versions of static infographics, to communicate complex information or data by combining visually appealing graphics, charts and text.

One such tool for creating motion infographics is GoAnimate. Through the ability to create dynamic charts and graphs, narration, sound effects and music, GoAnimate’s CEO Gary Lipkowitz explains that video infographics can be used as a stand-alone communication tool or inserted into presentations as an alternative to PowerPoint. The software also is used to create marketing videos, training content and product demos. These user-friendly supplements can be added to dense presentations like annual reports.

The good news for Toastmasters is that many of these new software tools are easy to learn. And many providers offer tiered payment plans that make use of the platforms more affordable for those on tight budgets.

“It’s no more complicated than learning and using PowerPoint,” says Lipkowitz, speaking of GoAnimate. “Everything is controlled by point-and-click and drag-and-drop tools and menus. And, like PowerPoint, you can create a quality product by using the standard toolset. But you also have the option of adding more sophisticated video infographic features with advanced functions.”

Enhancing Collaboration and Slide Organization

Anyone familiar with PowerPoint knows one of the biggest challenges comes when collaborating with others on the design or editing of the slide decks. Reviewing teammates’ comments and feedback on working drafts of slides can create headaches, as can ensuring which version of a frequently edited slide deck is the latest or “final” version.

PowerPoint users know how frustrating it is to spend an afternoon editing a presentation only to find they’ve worked on the wrong version. While PowerPoint allows users to leave comments on teammates’ slide drafts, the software doesn’t contain the same kind of robust Track Changes feature as its sister application, Microsoft Word.

Another challenge comes in storing and organizing Power-Point slides. Organizations create slides for sales, training or other presentations, but it’s often difficult to determine where any specific slide is stored, whether it is on a server or laptop, smartphone, tablet or USB drive. Given that the best slides are usually recycled or customized for different needs, it’s important to be able to quickly locate the slide when needed.

New products have emerged to solve these collaboration and organization quandaries. One is SlideSource. a cloud-based platform designed for faster, easier and more efficient collaboration on PowerPoint presentations, as well as efficiency in the storage and retrieval process of slides.

Robert Befus, vice president of operations for Research Presentation Strategies (RPS), says that SlideSource, developed by RPS in North Carolina, was originally built with the needs of the pharmaceutical industry in mind. It has since evolved to address the needs of multiple industries.

When a pharmaceutical company prepares for a high-stakes presentation, such as a regulatory meeting with the Federal Drug Administration (a United States Department of Health and

Human Services agency), teams of 20 or more (in some cases up to 100) typically collaborate on presentations that can include thousands of PowerPoint slides and data from decades-long clinical trials.

One of the biggest challenges in such scenarios, even with smaller design teams and presentation projects, is version control. Presentations are typically shared, through email, for review by multiple team members. And although individuals can control their own email lists, they can’t be sure email recipients in turn will or will not pass files along to others. Therefore, it’s not always clear which version of a slide deck is the latest, or if all comments have been incorporated, or even viewed or approved.

SlideSource addresses version control by enabling teams to upload, view and edit slides from a central, shared online library which can be accessed from anywhere. It ensures everyone sees the latest version of a slide deck. The tool also allows users to leave comments on colleagues’ slides while in draft stages. Users can identify the most recent comments, and approve of any changes made, too.

The product also tackles the slide storage and organization issue by breaking PowerPoint slide decks into individual slides that can be stored, tracked and edited as single entities. Take, for example, four presenters who collaborate on a team presentation. A folder for each presenter can be created on SlideSource. Each presenter can upload and edit his or her own slides in that folder, and the composite presentation could be constructed from all slides.

“As people edit their individual slides,” Befus says, “the presentation constantly updates and reflects the status of those slides because there is a dynamic link between the slides and the whole presentation.”

When one slide in a SlideSource library is edited by a team member in Shanghai, Sao Paulo or San Diego, all presentations containing that slide are automatically updated. That feature allows team leaders or others to review a presentation’s most current version.

If a team member wants to download and edit a presentation offline, SlideSource can adjust for that too, since it recognizes the slides have moved offline. The tool then updates the version history when offline slides are re-uploaded to an online library.

Creating Engaging Online Presentations

New technologies have also been created to aid speakers looking to spice up their online PowerPoint presentations with interactive tools, or rich media, as well as get more feedback on their presenting skills.

Microsoft’s Office Mix software turns PowerPoint slide decks into interactive online presentations. Presenters can record video and audio of themselves delivering slide-based presentations.

The software also allows users to add quizzes and polls to their content. The goal is to keep audiences focused and engaged when they aren’t watching a live, in-person presentation. Office Mix also lets presenters write on their slides like they would a whiteboard.

Isaac Harris, a senior program manager for Microsoft, says, “A touch-screen PC gives you the ability to write on your slides as you’re presenting, whether the slide is pre-built or simply a blank canvas.”

Once a presentation is recorded, it can be embedded on any website or blog for sharing and playback through web browsers. A newly-added pause button enables speakers to stop and catch their breath while recording, says Harris. Microsoft also gives users the ability to erase annotation on slides, if needed.

Another popular feature of Office Mix is its analytics function. Presenters can see the time audiences spend viewing each slide in their presentation, for example, as well as review their participation level in quizzes or polls.

Harris raises the question, “Are viewers skipping certain slides or polls, or playing the recording back at a slower speed at times?” He says, “The analytics provide detailed feedback to help people answer those questions and improve their presentations in the future.”

The software can be used for informational, persuasive or educational purposes. One growing use is in a “flipped” classroom teaching model, where trainees in corporate classes or students in universities are asked to view Office Mix presentations at home. They then save their “homework” for the classroom where they can receive personalized guidance from instructors.

You can see an example of an Office Mix presentation on the gallery of the product’s website, where Microsoft founder Bill Gates uses the tool for a presentation titled “Are Poor Countries Doomed to Stay Poor?”

Receiving Time-coded Speech Feedback

Speakers who work with presentation skills coaches are accustomed to having their speeches recorded on video and later critiqued by the coach. Now, however, new tools enable speakers to see their recorded speeches online with an expert’s time-coded text feedback embedded right alongside the presentation.

If you use body language that’s considered distracting, or supporting evidence that’s considered dubious, you’ll be able to see, as recorded in a reviewer’s text comments, at what specific point in your speech the reviewer believes you committed those offenses.

Products such as GoReact enable coaches, instructors and peers to review live or recorded video of a presentation, and then leave time-synched comments throughout the speech. An “end comments” section allows graders to leave longer, final comments to summarize their reviews.

The product requires a computer or tablet, a webcam and an Internet connection for recording video and using the speech evaluation tool. GoReact eliminates the need to carry around, send or store DVDs for review, because all videos are stored in a secure cloud-based service so speakers or reviewers can access them, on demand, from anywhere.

Whether it’s creating engaging presentation videos, enabling colleagues to collaborate more effectively on slide design or delivering more actionable performance feedback, today’s technologies offer a host of benefits to Toastmasters in their pursuit of becoming better speakers. 

A version of this article appeared in the March 2015 issue of the Toastmaster magazine.

About the Author

Dave Zielinski

is a freelance business journalist based in Minneapolis and a frequent contributor to Toastmaster magazine.