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Reinventing the PowerPoint

New tech tools to liven your tired old PowerPoint presentations--and give your online marketing efforts a boost.
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Pop quiz time. Which doesn't belong on the following list of business tools: mimeograph; overhead projector; flip chart; PowerPoint? Actually, it's a trick question. None of the items belong--not in today's sensory-straining world of technology-based marketing.

It's a ubiquitous piece of business software, but let's face it: Microsoft PowerPoint, now 17 years old, is dull. Bullet points, cheesy graphics, and bland templates can't compete with Flash animation, streaming video, and the bells and whistles used to add excitement to business presentations and sales pitches. Who hasn't nodded off during a PowerPoint pie-chart parade?

But don't scrap your PowerPoint just yet. A slew of software products now hitting the market lets entrepreneurs jazz up their PowerPoint pitches with audio and video in just a few minutes. Best of all, these new eye-catching presentations can be shown in person, stored on your website, or e-mailed to sales prospects, generating a far bigger bang than static slides ever could.

Steve Solari knows. Last year, the marketing director of edocs, based in Natick, Mass., launched a major electronic marketing campaign. Using e-mails based on edocs' standard PowerPoint presentation, Solari sent tens of thousands of messages hawking the company's electronic bill-paying software. The response rates weren't bad--between 1% and 3%. But Solari was convinced he could do better. So last December, he began sending a slick, self-running PowerPoint presentation with a three- to five-minute audio track explaining the finer points of edocs' product. Response rates hit a consistent 3% or higher, and potential customers seem more engaged when edocs sales reps call on them. "It's that much more compelling," Solari says.

The upgrades were easy. Solari took his basic PowerPoint slides and overlaid recorded narrations, using presentation software from developer Brainshark, based in Burlington, Mass. When he was done, Solari e-mailed the audio-enhanced versions to sales prospects and linked them to edocs' website as downloadable webinars.

Brainshark is not the only company wading into the so-called "media-enhancement software" market. Others include San Francisco-based Macromedia and Anystream, based in Sterling, Va. All of the applications allow you to take ordinary PowerPoint slide presentation and, using a microphone--or, if the particular software supports it, a Web camera or digital-video recorder--add sound and/or images. Once recorded, the program syncs the audio and video with the slides and creates a searchable index, allowing viewers to skip ahead or replay a segment. The souped-up presentation can then be e-mailed or copied to a hard drive or CD.

Your new presentation won't just be prettier. It'll be smarter, too. Brainshark and Macromedia, for example, offer Web-based features that allow you to monitor exactly how much time your target audience spends on your presentation--knowledge that can help you hone future pitches. "Before, there was no way of demonstrating the effectiveness" of a presentation, says Arthur Fox, vice president of Change Architect, a 25-person management-consulting company in Montclair, Va., who recently began souping up his presentations with Macromedia's Breeze software. Sure, the flashy graphics are great. But Fox is even more excited about the new reporting capabilities. "We can now provide clients with reports that demonstrate who has read the material," he says.

In most cases, presentations are hosted on the publishers' servers and accessed via the Web; clients are charged based on usage. Take Anystream's new presentation product, Apreso Online. For $29.95 to $49.95 a month, you can upload presentations; if the presentation is viewed more than 50 times in a month, you'll be charged extra. Brainshark charges businesses with 50 or fewer employees $8,500 for annual access to its hosted service, plus about $1.50 per view. And Macromedia, whose Breeze presentation software is popular among larger companies, typically charges some $20,000 a year, though it is developing a pricing model for smaller businesses.

For some companies, that's too much money. But for others, such new software will be a small amount to pay to ensure that PowerPoint no longer puts your clients to sleep.




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