Speak Easy

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With technology playing such an integral role in everything we do, it’s no surprise that even one of the oldest sales tools has been affected. Steve Dinneen reports on how new technology is transforming the art of giving presentations.

Remember the bit in Star Wars where Princess Leia sends a hologram of herself to Obi-Wan Kanobi? Well, that technology is no longer science fiction. Imagine a holographic representation of yourself beamed to every major city in the world for that big presentation you have been planning. It certainly beats a couple of Power Point slides and a laser pen. Technology is revolutionising the way public speakers can interact with their audiences and overhauling the way information and ideas are communicated. Where once live presentations were the privilege of a minority, “webinars” mean anyone with a broadband connection can interact with experts across the globe.

The insanely popular TED lectures (ted.com) have set a high bar for the integration of technology and presenting, not only placing renowned speakers into the hands of anyone with a smartphone, but also pioneering slick new ways of displaying data. Anyone can download powerful – sometimes free – tools for creating beautiful data visualisations. People such as David McCandless, data journalist and author of ‘Information is Beautiful’, have shown how data and art can be combined in striking, Rube Goldberg-esque creations.

All of this is eroding the consensus, which peaked at the end of the last decade, that technology was a hindrance to the delivery of a good presentation – the dreaded “death by Power Point”. This led to a vogue for minimalist speeches with no slides and, latterly, no notes, with politicians such as Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband competing to see who could speak for the longest without breaking into tears.

Simon Bucknall, a Toastmasters Public Speaking Championship winner and founder of theartofconnection.co.uk, agrees that technology can help to lift a presentation – but only if used carefully. “The most exciting use of technology in presenting is its ability to connect speakers and audiences in new ways,” he says. “Rather than spending a fortune sending people around the world to seminars, you can get a great experience on a tablet. Why fly a speaker in when you can beam a live holographic image of them to your staff?”

He adds: “It is a mistake to think of Power Point as an autocue for what you’re going to say. If you use it, don’t fill it with bullet points – one slide should be one simple idea. Technology can be amazing when it is properly incorporated into your presentation, but it also gives people a tendency to over-complicate. You can’t beat the emotive power of the spoken word.”

Of course, technology has other drawbacks – run out of juice on your tablet and all of those beautiful graphics you have created may as well have never existed. Cloud storage is one solution, but this isn’t without its pitfalls – no Internet connection equals no presentation. So double check the Wi-Fi signal, and if you are presenting to a large group, make sure you have your own dedicated, password protected line, otherwise all of those eager people ready to tweet your every word will suck up all of the bandwidth and there will be nothing to report.

Get it right, and the results can change the world. It’s no coincidence that Steve Jobs insisted on making Apple’s presentations himself, even when battling illness – he understood the power of directly addressing his audience (and take  heart – even he got it wrong from time to time, as a quick search for “Apple keynote bloopers” on You Tube will testify). The gadgets here will help to make sure your presentation not only looks great, but can be enjoyed by the entire world. Now you just have to think of something interesting to say.

Musion Eyeliner

Rent from $63,000, buy from $348,000

musion.co.uk

UK company Musion’s mindbogglingly futuristic service allows you to beam a holographic projection of yourself (or someone more interesting) live to anywhere in the world. It requires a purpose-built studio space at the speaker’s end and special projectors at the audience’s end, and the price is astronomical, but the result is nothing short of spectacular. As the technology develops and prices come down, this could well be the future of presenting, saving the huge costs of flying public speakers around the globe. Until then, it will probably be more suited to beaming Rihanna concerts across the world (a hologram of Richard Burton was created for the War of the Worlds live show using similar technology) – but the rest of us can dream.

iPhone Smart Dot

$50

tangramdesignstore.com

The laser pen is dead, and not only because young hoodlums kept trying to use them to scare police horses and bring down helicopters. The new iPhone Smart Dot is an ingenious device that plugs into the headphone jack of your handset so you can use it to control your presentations. Functions range from basic scrolling to doubling up as a remote trackpad on your desktop, allowing you to open programmes without losing the flow of your talk. It also works as a “dot” that you can use to draw attention to pertinent parts of your slides.

Mighty Meeting

$19.99 a year or $4.99 a month

Apple App Store/Android

Marketplace

Forget video-conferencing – who wants to actually see the people they’re interacting with? That’s so 20th century. With Mighty Meeting you can host group presentations in real time, during which you will be able to sketch ideas on to your tablet and whizz them instantly across the ether to your entranced audience. The app will allow you to open emails, PDFs, Dropbox documents or web pages and instantly share them with other people on Mighty Meeting (who you can choose from your contacts list). If you want to go back to basics, you can even save the presentation and hook it up to a projector. The downside? If you lose your Internet connection, you can kiss goodbye to your talk.

Keynote

$22

Apple App Store

Once upon a time, you would have got the intern to put together your presentation. Now you can sit on a plane and pull it all together on your iPad. The tablet version of the software allows you to drag and drop text, images, video and animations into a package that looks far more polished than it has any right to. Of course, using the iPad version isn’t without its drawbacks – the gesture controls are impressive but they aren’t yet a match for a full keyboard, and importing images from the web can be a pain. If you have to create something at short notice, though, Keynote is an essential for all members of the cult of Apple.

BenQ GP2 Mini Projector

$600

store.apple.com/uk

The BenQ isn’t just small – it’s also designed to attach to your iPhone, so you don’t even need to lug a laptop around. If you need to display movies, photos, videos or that keynote presentation when you’re on the road, this is the perfect device. It even features a touchscreen display, making setting up your presentation a breeze. Connectors include HDMI, USB and an SD card reader. Its plug-and-play installation means you will be able to rustle up a killer presentation as soon as you take it out of the box.

Kinect

$316

microsoftstore.com

Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect is just for playing games, right? Not any more. If you want to really rock a presentation, you can use the motion sensing hardware to control your Power Point slides. To use the Kinect in this way, you will need to install Kinect for Windows SDK 1.0, a free program that allows you to use the Kinect with PC-based software such as Power Point. Once you have everything set up, you will be able to scroll through slides by simply moving your left or right arm to go forwards or backwards. The software is even able to tell when you are simply gesticulating and when you are ready for the next stage of your presentation. If you want to go more in-depth, you can also try adding voice commands. The software is still at an early stage, but this is definitely where the future lies. And, best of all, you can pretend you are Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Tableau

Desktop Personal Edition – $1,000
Professional Edition – $2,000

tableausoftware.com

Tableau is all about data visualisation, allowing you to drag and drop raw data files such as Excel spreadsheets or text files, and create intuitive graphical representations. It can analyse trends in multiple documents and create filters to find key patterns, which can be displayed as graphs or bar charts or in any number of other ways. It is also blisteringly quick when going through big databases (think millions of entries, rather than hundreds). The interface is a little “techy” for mainstream users (especially Mac users), and it is probably more suited to people who are used to wading through databases – but if you need to crunch data quickly, this is for you.

Roambi Analytics (Lite)

Free

Apple App Store

This publishing tool is all about breaking data down into easy-to-understand graphics, which you can sync with your iPhone or iPad and integrate into presentations. Creating images using your own data requires a PC and a registered Roambi account (free for the Lite version). Data can be uploaded from files including Excel, CSV, HTML and Google Docs, and turned into slick graphs that won’t put your audience to sleep. The graphics are then sent to your iPhone/iPad. The lack of ability to create data straight from your gadget is the software’s biggest failing, but it is easy to use and the finished product makes a great addition to a slide-based presentation

QTX portable PA (model QR15PA)

$387

djstore.com

If you’re presenting to a big crowd – especially outdoors – you might need a portable PA. The QTX Sound QR15 is an easy to use, all-in-one system on wheels, which you will be thankful for if you have to lug it very far. As a fully portable device, it comes with a rechargeable battery, although it is also mains compatible. The sound level isn’t going to burst any ear drums, but unless you are speaking to a stadium full of people, it should suffice (and if you are, you should ask yourself why you are dragging your own PA around with you). The mixer and amp are built into the rear of the unit. Two wireless mics are included, with two additional input slots if you need to do a group presentation.

Prezi

Free

prezi.com

Prezi is a cloud-based presentation programme that “helps you organise and share your ideas”, allowing you to construct presentations using a host of interactive templates. Adding images, video and text to a template is easy and intuitive. The idea is to use a single template for all of your slides, with the audience being led on a “journey” through your presentation – for example, one of the templates is a winding road, with the “camera” roaming down the road to explore different images and ideas. The drawback is the fairly limited repertoire of design customisations. If you have a Facebook account, you can sign up for Prezi using this, and it only takes about five seconds.