For some time now I’ve been interested in technology that helps presenters interact with slides in compelling ways when presenting online. There are various tools to help you do this, but nothing quite compares to the levels of interaction you can get when face to face with your audience. However, in Personify I think we might have found a solution.

When presenting online, you can interact with your slides in one of two ways – with just your voice or with your voice and a head and shoulder video. Both of these methods are pretty poor compared to what you can do when presenting face to face. In a face to face situation you can guide the audience through your content with large or small gestures – from pointing  to specific areas, to simply turning towards the slides to make the audience follow your gaze – check out our ultimate guide to presentation skills for more. Up until now this level of interaction wasn’t available for online presentations, unless you use expensive and inconvenient purpose-built studios. This is where Personify comes in.

Personify have a piece of software that overlays a video of you in front of your slides (or any digital content), in a way that’s easy and convenient, and preserves animation. Using the tool means you can present online to anyone, anywhere and interact with your slides just as you would if you were in the room with your audience.

So how do you do it?

Requirements

You’ll need a fairly good computer, Personify requires Intel 4th generation or higher (or the AMD equivalent) which supports the AVX instruction set and OpenCL 1.2.

For the operating system, it all runs on Windows 7, 8 or 10 and for Mac users it’s MacOS X 10.13 or later. Presenter works alongside common video conferencing software, like WebEx, Zoom, Skype for Business etc. Personify also supports all 2D and 3D webcams – though the quality of your video depends on the quality of your camera so you might want to invest in a decent one and Personify is designed to work with 3D cameras.

So that’s the boring stuff out the way, let’s set it up!

Setup

It’s a subscription service (up in the cloud) and therefore  you’ll need an internet connection to get through the process. Personify offer 30 days free trial, then it’s $199 a year.

The actual setup was surprisingly easy, and I was recording in less than 15 minutes. Sign up for a Personify account, and once you log in it’s a simple case of following the on-screen instructions to get everything up and running.

However, there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to camera placement if you’re using a plug in camera.

Do:

  • Place the camera above your screen, so you can look into the camera easily when presenting and also keep an eye on your screen as you present. (I’ve got a Joby grip for this, although I could just have a stack of books behind my screen and place the camera on top of that.)
  • Have the camera about 3 -6 feet away from you.
  • You’ll need to make sure you are well lit, so you can be seen nice and clearly.
  • Have a simple plain background behind you – like a white wall.

Don’t:

  • Have too much sunlight. The UV light can affect the camera’s depth quality causing inaccurate edges.
  • Have a window behind you. It will make it really hard for the camera to pick you out.
  • Wear clothes that are a similar colour to the background behind you. You’ll blend in, and bits of you will go missing!

The software has hints and tips when you are facing the camera, and will tell you if you are too close or if there is too much light behind you. It’s very clever at helping you solve any issues.

Use

With all systems go, I was ready to start. The functionality of the software covers all the things you’d expect. The control panel for the software hovers on screen (on top of everything, but it won’t be recorded).  The panels functions are as follows:

Show –brings your image on screen (Click again to hide)

Adjust – brings up the adjust menu, where  you can:

  • change the size of your image
  • adjust the angle of the camera
  • toggle the background on and off
  • choose which microphone records the audio
  • toggle the lighting and position hints on and off
  • toggle whether Google hangout captures transparent video or not

Effects – brings up the effects menu, allowing you to change the video to black and white, make it slightly transparent etc.

Help –   brings up the help menu, linking you to a selection of on-demand tutorial videos.

Record – brings up the record menu allowing you to record a video of your screen. You can also access your previous recordings.

Once you’re happy with the size and angle of your image on screen you can reposition it by simply dragging/dropping the image. You can then move yourself on your screen, so you aren’t obstructing the rest of your digital content.

To make it easier to present your slides, there’s a free Personify app available on iOS and Android that lets you move forward and back through your slides. You can use the app on your smartphone, a presentation clicker, or the mouse/keyboard to advance the slides. The app has a neat function that lets you swipe to hide or reveal your video image, so you can turn off the video and have your audience focus on your slide content.

Presenting online with Personify

When presenting I found it relatively easy to interact with the slides. Turning to look at the slides, pointing at certain areas, getting out of the way or getting in the way was straight forward enough. You can see yourself on screen, along with the content, and as there’s limited between what you do and what you see on screen, its very easy to present as you would in a face to face situation. You have to act a bit like a weather presenter, and it’ll take a little getting used to, but if you present a lot already you’ll get into the swing of things pretty quickly – minutes rather than hours.

So let’s run through recording a quick video. We can then see how the software  works and more importantly what the results look like!

With the software running and the video image in the right position, open the PowerPoint presentation you wish to present and start the slide deck in show mode – as you would normally. You can even run Presenter Mode using two screens. Have your slides on one screen and the presenter view (with slide notes) on the other. Now when you’re ready, open the record menu and click Start.

A countdown will begin and then the software will start recording. Now simply present your slides as you would normally – clicking through the slides as you go. Don’t forget to smile!

Once you’re finished just hit Stop and the video preview window will automatically open.

From here you can trim the start and end of the video, give it a name, or delete the entire video. Once you’re happy with the video, upload it to the Personify server to create and download an mp4 version (640p or 720p) or you can share the video straight from the Personify site – via a link, embed code or through email invitation only.

I created a couple of quick videos. Firstly one using my laptop:

You’ll notice I’m a little transparent, and I’m ever so slightly out of sync with the audio.

This next video I used a more powerful laptop:

I’m now nice and clear and also in sync with the audio perfectly, but there are more artefacts around me (especially my arms), this is because I was too close to the wall behind me.

You can see from these quick videos that you can get varying results depending on your set up and system. A little more tweaking here and there and I’ll have my ideal approach nailed.

Aside from creating video content to share on-demand, you can also use the tool in live online meetings (Webex, GoToMeeting, Fuze, etc). It’s very simple, just get your meeting running as normal and when you share your desktop with your online audience they’ll see your video image happily displayed over the top of your desktop. Your audience doesn’t need to do anything differently – they just join the meeting as they normally would. You’ll need to be sure that you and your audience can handle the bandwidth requirements otherwise, it could get a little too clunky in the delivery.

Personify review

Now it’s time to give my opinion. Overall I think the system is fantastic! It’s so easy to use, and you can great results really quickly.

The quality of the video is pretty good considering you’re filming in your home or office, there’s a little fuzziness around the edges, but it’s not too noticeable – and if you play around with your lighting and positioning you’ll get pretty professional looking recordings.

The ease of use is great, but the main draw is that you can present like you always do, no need to think too differently for online presentations – you can interact with the slides as you would in a face to face situation. Of course you’ll need to practice a bit to get used to looking/gesturing at things that aren’t there – but apart from a little practice (which is always a good idea when presenting), you don’t need to change anything for your online sessions.

On other video presentation platforms, such as 9Slides  you can have video content and slides for presenting online, but they sit separately. Having them as separate components is a huge distraction for the audience, as they won’t know what to focus on. Personify allows you to have the video and content together –  so they work as one.

Also on a typical webinar platform you have to change your content to suit the system, be that because it doesn’t support your content/animations or you have to add more interaction (through additional animations/slides) to keep people engaged. With Personify you can use the same slides face to face and online (although you should think about where you’ll be in the slide when creating presentation content so you don’t cover anything important.)

You could get similar results to Personify if you set up a green screen system or if you engage with a specialist studio. But the cool thing with Personify that you don’t have to do that! You can create engaging videos and have compelling online meetings from your office any time you like – it’s that simple!

So what’s the point? You’ve recorded yourself presenting and you’ve got a neat mp4 video – what next? Well now you can use this really compelling video content anywhere you like – host it on your website, share with prospects via an on-demand video platform, or create some really engaging training material.

If you decide to take the plunge into truly interactive online presentations – let us know, we’d love to hear how you get on!

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Written by

Karl Parry

Operations manager

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  1. Image of Simon Morton Simon Morton says:

    Nice one, chaps – thanks for sharing.

    For me, the big bonus over the more conventional greenscreen options is the ability to deliver it live at the (relative) drop of a hat. Am keen to see how this develops over time as it has the potential to change live online presentations, quickly and cheaply.

    Fingers crossed!

    • Image of Karl Parry Karl Parry says:

      Couldn’t agree more Simon! The speed and ease is great. We are thinking about live stuff too. As you say, it could change online presenting in a big way.

      Watch this space!

  2. Image of Gabriel Andrew Gabriel Andrew says:

    The presenter image is freezing. How do I correct this issue?

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