We are always on the lookout for new presentation apps and technologies, anything that helps the presenter get their message across or helps the audience understand. So when I stumbled across 9Slides I was intrigued.

9Slides is a presentation platform that lets you share video and slides side by side, the most obvious example seems to be having the presenter in the video and then the accompanying slides alongside. I think the best way to demonstrate is to show you, which means I’ll have to present something! Here goes:

[Editors note – 9Slides closed in 2015. We’ve left this article up in case it’s of interest to anyone, but please note the service no longer exists. A warning for those considering using a start-up presentation platform for hosting critical content perhaps?]

The first thing you’ll notice (apart from my stunning good looks) is that the slides I’ve uploaded to 9Slides don’t animate. This is extremely frustrating for us here at BrightCarbon – as having slides that animate really help keep your audience engaged with your presentation. So straight off the bat, I’m not thrilled with this aspect of the 9Slides solution. However, there’s a bit more to 9Slides, so let’s take a look at how I created the video above and what other features there are before I come to any conclusions.

The slides I presented are from a masterclass we ran for BrightTALK and it is available to view here. [Note that BrightTALK doesn’t support animation either, so these slides were designed for a static platform.]

So if we start off in the position where we have our presentation slides and video content created, here’s how I put together the presentation above. (I used the desktop version, but you can create content in much the same way using the free iOS app.)

On logging into 9Slides you are presented with the following:

Login Page

Here you can open the upload page and upload your video and presentation files, the system will take PowerPoint files, PDFs and most common video files. On iPad you can transfer files in from lots of different cloud storage sites (dropbox, box, SlideShare & Google Drive). With the iPad version, you can only record video – so you better get it right in one hit!

Upload Page

After the upload is complete, you need to sync your video and presentation together – so the slides change in time with your video content. Hit the Start Sync button and as the video progresses, click Sync to change slides. There’s a Pause Sync button as well, if you need to stop for whatever reason.

Sync Screen

Once you’ve synced up your slides, they’ll change automatically depending on where the video is up to. Now you can add some details like presentation name, author etc. More importantly you can set the access to the presentation. Under the free account it’s fairly limited – so either everyone can view it, or only you can. If you opt for the paid service there are a few more options available.

Access Settings

With the paid version you can share your presentation with a URL and even restrict access with a password. Although I found if you have the presentation embedded on a website/blog it seems to bypass the password system. So the sharing securely only works if you are sharing the direct URL of your 9Slides presentation. Also under the subscription service you can restrict where the presentation can be embedded – allowing you to be quite selective about who can view your presentations.

Now you’ve created a presentation and set the access, you can then publish your work of art for the rest of the world to view. From the dashboard you can select your presentation and then grab the embed code you need.

Embed Info

With your presentation created and now embedded somewhere, the cool feature (for paying customers) is the ability to track usage.  Here’s the output for my sample talk:

Analytics from 9Slides

Not many views, but this was before it went live on this blog.

So what are my overall impressions of the tool? Well the actual process of uploading, syncing and publishing your content is a piece of cake. So in terms of usability on the desktop or iPad – it’s A+.

However, recording a video on your iPad or anything else is always going to involve a bit of work. The video I produced isn’t exactly professional, it’s just with a webcam on my laptop – but it still took a fair few takes and I had to learn the presentation before presenting – then edit the file to get it to where I was comfortable with it. If you want to put out slick video content – it’s always going to take time. If you take a look at some of the 9Slides presentation samples on their site – you see there isn’t a fantastic amount of quality video content. Recording good video is always a challenge – you need to practice your presentation (lots – you can’t just read a script), have a sparkling personality, have good lighting and camera set-ups and of course you need to have a wash and comb your hair.It takes a lot of time to get it looking right and working well, and sometimes you just don’t have the time and want to get content out there as soon as possible.

So whatever the video presentation platform, be it 9Slides or Knoodle, you’ve got to invest a lot in getting your video to look right before you get to the on-demand delivery tool. That said you’ve got to get your content right as well – your slides need to look just as sharp as your video.

Another problem with the video and slide combination, is it can be hard as an audience member to know where to look. If you were at a live presentation, the presenter can interact with the slides – they can (and should) touch the screen and direct attention to certain areas of the slide.  However if the video is separate to the presentation, the disconnect can be huge and the audience can easily become lost. If it’s a talking head (like my presentation), you’ll notice how it’s hard not to make eye contact with the presenter – as they are looking right into the camera. This can mean things are easily missed on the slides. I’d prefer to watch the presenter presenting the slides as one whole video – rather than having them separate. Indeed in some of the 9Slides videos I’ve seen, people have done this – uploading a video of the person presenting to a live audience. In these instances, it seems to make the slide portion of the 9Slides presentation redundant.

Finally, in terms of issues, the lack of slide animation is a big problem. Static slides are just dull to look at especially without someone interacting with them. Having animating slides allows you to hold back information from the audience, helping to keep the them engaged. A workaround to this would be to have lots of slides in your deck and then click through them to show the information appearing over time. However, as there are other on-demand tools available that allow full animation, it feels like too much of a compromise in 9Slides.

Some of the features of 9Slides that may make it worthwhile are within the paid version ($9.99 a month).  Having the ability to track views, and gather analytics of your viewing audience can be useful, and the ability to share content securely (i.e. with a password) makes it a level above the likes of YouTube for content distribution.

There are additions to the system that would be appreciated. If you could just add narration, and not bother with the video that would be useful for when you want to get content out quickly. (As you can simply read a script, and don’t need to worry about video production levels.) Having the ability to trim and edit video within the system, would make creating videos (especially on iPad) a lot easier and finally – and where we came in – having slides that animated would help in terms of audience engagement.

Overall I don’t think there’s a huge need for the side by side component within 9Slides. Yes, adding video can be engaging and adds emotion to the story – but you’ve got to think really hard about how the video and slide content will work together and of course you’ve got to make sure your content is great to ensure people take notice of it and watch the stuff. I’m certain there are people who’ve come up with ingenious ways of using the tool – but for the most part I feel it’s more of a gimmick than anything truly useful.

Please let me know if you’ve used 9Slides and what you made of it in the comments below.

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Karl Parry

Operations manager

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  1. Image of Mike Demko Mike Demko says:

    It seems like Brainshark is the only solution that allows for “slide by slide” audio recording. That seems to be a huge differentiator. Anyone that has tried to screencast on top of a PPT presentation knows how difficult it is to get the audio right, even with a script. (yep, I have) With Brainshark the ability to break the content up into chunks, means no editing is required… just a lot of audio retakes..

    Do you know of any solutions that offer slide by slide audio recording?

    Agree on comments regarding 9slides.. where should you look? no animations? .. not that useful.

  2. Image of Christy Tetterton Christy Tetterton says:

    Another free service that allows for side-by-side recording of audio or video is KnowledgeVision’s Knovio – http://www.knovio.com.

    For more advanced features like perserved animations, custom templates, live webpage slides and comprehensive analytics, http://www.knowledgevision.com

    • Image of Karl Parry Karl Parry says:

      Thanks Christy, I haven’t tried Knovio. I like the idea of keeping the animations, and analytics are always useful.

      I’m still not sold on the idea of side by side video and slides. They can make it hard to interact with the content as a presenter and also can be a little distracting for the audience – as they aren’t always sure where to look. However, I’m sure there are some great examples of these types of tools in use.

      I’d love to see some cool side by side videos. If anyone has one, please share in the comments!

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