Jonah Sterling is building a suite for interactive presentations that just might transform the way we see the conference room.
Sterling, a creative director at Seattle software application development firm IdentityMine (www.identitymine.com), is building a paperless meeting space for a Fortune 100 client that incorporates touch and gesture-enabled interactive whiteboards, interactive video conferencing, and touchscreen tablets. Now, they just need to add popcorn to make users fully engaged.
"I think there has been a fundamental shift in the last couple of years that's starting to show some payoff," says Sterling, explaining that users are becoming more savvy with technology and there is a greater need for more interactive and engaging presentations.
Unfortunately, most boardroom presentations follow a familiar routine: someone talking while PowerPoint slides click by on a big screen, says Mike Fisher, a convergence and new technologies consultant for Futuresource Consulting (www. futuresource-consulting.com), a technology research firm.
IdentityMine's work is a vanguard for any corporation. Experts argue that businesses must be ready to shift how they view presentations and incorporate collaboration if they want to keep pace with competitors. The introduction of touch tablets, large flat panels, an increased demand for touch technology and the expectation of interactivity by users will change the way even small businesses handle sales pitches, brainstorming sessions, and employee training.
The presentation tool landscape
While not widely embraced, there are several high-tech tools available, and they are not reach for most small businesses. Fisher notes that interactivity, collaboration and viewer impact are key areas to consider as you consider how to liven up a presentation. Among the options on the market today:
-- Interactive whiteboards
The use of these boards, connected to computers and projectors, is exploding in educational settings, and the boards have been around in high-level boardrooms for a while. However, their capabilities are expanding.
For instance, on whiteboards made by Promothean (www.prometheanworld.com), four people might work simultaneously, clicking anywhere on the board. You can edit on the fly, rendering presentations organic and ever-changing as ideas evolve.
SMART Technologies (www.smarttech.com) and Promethean are the big players. Price range depends on board size. Expect to pay from $2,000 to $4,500, which is not out of line with traditional conference room projector setups.
If you're uncertain about making an investment in an interactive whiteboard as presentation technology changes, consider leasing, advises John Byrne, a managing partner with interactive whiteboard seller New Age Learning.
"This industry technically is moving very fast," Byrne says. "Small businesses should be careful to work with resellers that will stay in touch and keep them abreast of updates and keep those systems maintained properly."
-- Interactive projectors
Projectors from Epson (www.epson.com) and Texas Instruments (www.ti.com) eliminate the need for the whiteboard altogether, notes Fisher. These projectors work on any surface using an interactive pen. This provides some flexibility in screen size, and the open architecture allows interaction with all sorts of software and digital media. Expect to pay around $2,000 for an interactive projector.
-- Apple iPad
You can use iPad, Keynote for iPad and a VGA connector to put together presentations. Sterling recently used his iPad as he toured the office space where the futuristic presentation dashboard will be installed. As he toured, he used an Eye-Fi wireless memory card to load photos from his camera to his iPad. He used an iPad application called Sketchbook Pro to make 'doodles' of the office space, and he made annotations on copies of the floor plan. He swiftly assembled a presentation that offered hand-drawn and realistic visuals, and he also had the capability of editing it on the iPad as he presented.
Sterling thinks the iPad is a tool that will work well in concert with a more traditional presentation.
"I would probably still be doing the laptop and the projector for the core presentation," he says. "But you'd be able to hand around your iPad with information on it, [such as] sales brochures, during a meeting to involve people."
-- Canson PAPERSHOW
Want to dabble a toe in the creative presentation pool? Check out PAPERSHOW by Canson for $249 (www.showpapershow.com). This 2010 Best of Show winner at Macworld Expo uses an interactive pen and special paper. You project an image such as a pie chart onto the screen, and your annotations using the paper and pen show up on the chart. You can save the annotations.
Louise Sattler, owner of a small Maryland business called Signing Families (www.signingfamilies.com), uses it in workshops as she teaches American Sign Language. "It is easy, and I figured it out for myself in under an hour," she says. "I like that it's affordable. I love that it's portable."
Sattler finds her students engage more when she uses PAPERSHOW. No matter the business size, keeping your audience or your participants involved is critical. You don't want surreptitious, under-the-table smartphone use.
"The key thing is, how do you get people to talk more effectively together?" asks Fisher. "And in terms of presenting, how do you get the most impact you can?"
In the end, the answer is in moving away from stale PowerPoint slides and adding interactivity, gesture control on the iPad, touchscreens and HD displays, and more digital media.