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 they’ve all been lacking in comparison 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 typically you can interact with your slides in one of two ways – with just your voice or with your voice and a separate head and shoulder video. Both of these ways of interacting 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. Up until now, this level of interaction for online presentations has been missing, except by utilising 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 can present 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

The first thing you’ll need is a motion sensing camera, the software supports two cameras at the moment, the Asus Xtion Pro Live or the Kinect for Windows. You can find both on Amazon, from £120 – £200 depending on the seller. I opted for the Kinect. The reason? I was really keen to play with the system, and I could get the Kinect camera delivered next-day!

You’ll also need a fairly good computer, for best performance it should have at least 4GB Ram, an Intel Core i5 processor (or equivalent/greater), and ideally a separate graphics card.

My laptop doesn’t have a separate graphics card – so although the setup worked, I think a little more graphical power wouldn’t go a miss. A good setup will keep the frame rate high especially when recording.

For the operating system, it all runs on Windows Vista 7 or 8 and for Mac users it’s MacOS 10.7 or 10.8.

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.  In terms of the subscription pricing, Personify are offering a 30 days free trial at the moment, although it’s usually $19.99 a month or $199 a year.

Both of these subscriptions mean you’ll have to buy a camera yourself. Personify do have a camera bundle, which means you can get a motion camera direct through them along with a 3 month subscription to the service for $199.

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.

The setup process tells you when to plug the camera in and so on. It’s pretty fool proof stuff. However, there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to camera placement.

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. (I’ve a plain white-ish wall behind me).

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 and the Kinect camera twinkling at me, 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 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 (on Kinect, manual adjustments on the Asus camera),
  • toggle the background behind you on and off (you’ll most likely want it off the majority of the time),
  • choose which microphone records the audio,
  • toggle the lighting and position hints on and off,
  • toggle whether Google hangout captures transparent video or not (I haven’t tried video in Google hangouts yet).

Effects – brings up the effects menu, allowing you to active gesture control and see-through mode.

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

HD Stream – bring up the Personify HD streaming menu, allowing you to run a live meeting with your video image overlaid.

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

Once you are happy with the size and angle of your image on screen you can reposition your image by simply clicking and dragging/dropping your image. You can then move yourself over to the left or right (or wherever) 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.

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 no lag in what you do to 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.

You can also navigate the slides using the gesture controls, but I found this a little clunky as you have to raise your arms and then swipe, whereas with a remote you can move slides on really easily. However it would be cool to see more gesture controls and see what they can come up with.

So let’s run through recording a quick video (I’ll present some slides, of course). 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 (slide notes) on the other. Now when you are 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 – clicking through the slides as you go.

Once you are 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, delete the entire video. Once you are 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 and dirty 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 (Doh!)

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 we’ll have our ideal approach nailed – I feel another article coming…

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.

Evaluation

Now it’s time to give my opinion (although you may have an idea by now). 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 are 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, but they sit separately. Having them as separate components of a presentation is 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 can 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.)

You can get similar results to Personify if you set up a green screen system or if you engaged with a specialist studio – the cool thing with Personify is the fact 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!

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It is, quite simply, the best deck we have. I did a nice presentation with it yesterday and would like to do the same next week... I am sure it will get a lot of use. The visual impact and flow are compelling!

Peter Francis Janssen