Microsoft PowerPoint is 30 this year. It’s the leading presentation software by a distance and is said by Microsoft to have been installed on over a billion computers worldwide. What began as a very basic piece of software, has become an incredibly powerful design tool for storytelling.
It has, however, also been an accessory to countless crimes against design. We’ve all sat through longwinded, tedious talks with slides packed full of text and presenters reciting exactly what’s on the screen. Indeed, ‘death by PowerPoint’ is such a well-known concept, the BBC wrote a guide on how to avoid subjecting people to it.
Thankfully, though, there may be a closing slide in sight. Technology is changing the way we present, providing new ways to engage audiences and interact with content. The presentations of the future could be unrecognisable to those we sit through today.
The technologies that could have perhaps the biggest impact on how we present are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The VR and AR market is expected to be worth $150 billion by 2020 and headsets are expected to become increasingly commonplace in presentation settings.
VR headsets will allow audiences to be transported beyond the screen and into presentations with the presenter. Imagine walking around a new development, being immersed in 360-degree videos or exploring interactive data visualisations.
AR viewers, meanwhile, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, allow digital content to be overlaid onto the real world. In a presentation scenario, AR headsets worn by audience members can allow the surrounding space to be used as one big canvas. In practice, this could see the walls of a room used to display information or a room digitally furnished to show what it will look like when it is complete.
Another new, engaging way of presenting information is by embedding 3D models. Such models have been used in industry for years, but are becoming popularised as 3D modelling becomes more accessible.
PowerPoint’s 3D functionality can allow presenters to, for example, present the engine model of a new car, with a 3D animation of the engine on-screen able to be rotated, spun and zoomed around to show it from any perspective.
Of course, good presentations are not all about the information that is being shown, but how it is being shown. When you present, maintaining a good rapport with your audience is key – from body language to eye contact – and technology shouldn’t detract from that.
Leap Motion controllers track the movement of hands and fingers, converting them into 3D inputs that can advance slides or zoom in and out on them. Devices such as the Myo armband, meanwhile, allow presenters to control transitions between slides, digital pointers and zooming on slides using muscle movements in their arm, meaning they’re not chained to a lectern.
For that matter, you’re not even chained to a room anymore. The emergence of pocket-sized projectors and miniature projectors integrated into smartphones means that you can present spontaneously on-the-go wherever there’s a surface to project on. The Akyumen Hawk smartphone, for example packs its own 35-lumen projector, while there are already a host of so-called “pico projectors” available to buy.
Elsewhere, we’re beginning to see multiple devices being used for displaying presentations. Having small iPads or other tablets distributed around a room or table can actually allow eye contact to be maintained, with people looking back-and-forth between device and presenter and interest maintained to a greater extent as a result of passing over some degree of control to audience members. In this way, conversation also becomes more natural.
Zeetings takes the multiple device approach to another level. Audience members can follow a presentation on computers, tablets or smartphones from in the room or remotely. They can watch and listen as the presenter scrolls through and narrates the slides, contribute to polls and live Q&As, discuss presentations amongst themselves in a live feed and take private notes.
In fact, you needn’t actually be in the room to deliver a presentation at all any more. There are a number of tools that allow presentations to be delivered remotely. PowerPoint itself offers this functionality when used in conjunction with Skype for Business, allowing presenters to scroll through their slide-deck with an audio connection for narration.
You can even be zapped into your presentations now. Personify Presenter allows users to remove the background from video feeds and overlay themselves onto presentation content as an on-screen presenter. It requires a bit of fancy tech, but can give a personal and different touch to what might otherwise be dry content. It also works with a variety of different conferencing tools, including GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom and Skype for Business.
Technology can, and will, go a long way to making presentations more engaging and, dare I say, even exciting. What it can’t do, of course, is make the content itself any more interesting. That, I’m afraid is still up to you!
This is a guest post from Lyndon Nicholson, the Chief Executive of Manchester-based presentation design agency Buffalo 7, clients of which include UEFA Champions League, Microsoft, Red Bull, Samsung and Swatch. He has written several articles about presentations and presenting, as well, of course, as having presented on the topics.