Are We Asking Too Much Of Video Presenters?

Take a quick look at the video below. If it doesn’t play in your feed reader, you can find it on YouTube at https://youtu.be/1oh9fkwDCGg. The video is only 55 seconds long:

Pretty cool, isn’t it? It really is… I’m not being sarcastic or derisive. At least not yet. This is a teaser announcement from Prezi showing a concept feature enhancement that would allow presenters to use hand gestures to control display, orientation, and placement of graphic objects on the screen along with the presenter’s live webcam video.

The YouTube date associated with this video is October of 2020. As far as I can tell, the feature never made it into public beta, much less into general availability. In my research, I found a much earlier article from August of 2013 looking at a similar capability using the third-party Leap gesture controller.

I like looking at these kinds of cool tech applications. But I remain cynical about their use in practical business scenarios.

Zoom and Prezi have both built some rather nice features for integrating webcam video with presentation graphics. Zoom lets you appear on top of a slideshow, effectively using the slides as a sequence of virtual background images.

Prezi lets you embed your video as a live component integrated with your slide graphics. Rich Mulholland blew my mind in a presentation where he demonstrated this in a fun and engaging manner. You really should register and watch the replay. The carefully thought out design of graphics and smooth integration of live video is a marvel.

Advanced presenters who do this kind of work on a daily basis can use these technologies to really stand out. It’s great that the tools exist and offer the additional freedom and flexibility to create exciting next-gen presentation effects.

BUT… Now I need to play devil’s advocate for a bit. The sad reality of business presentations is that most of them are terrible. That’s why there’s an entire industry of presentation trainers, consultants, and designers.

We still can’t get people to put enough light on their faces to keep them from looking like members of the witness protection program. We see laptop webcams shooting up from desks into the presenter’s nostrils. We see slides thrown together as last minute obligations, written like white papers with text sentences spelled out in bullet point lists. Graphics get stretched out of proper aspect ratio. Presentations are completed an hour before presentation time, without a single run-through of the content.

I’ve written in the past how this is more the fault of management than of the presenters. There is not enough incentive and reward for making a quality presentation to warrant the extra investment in time and labor by employees.

Now imagine asking these same overworked, time-constrained business professionals to plan out graphic layouts and designs that feature their webcam image as an integral part of the visual presentation. White space for where their head will be. Component graphics that will move in and out of the presentation to highlight carefully plotted and rehearsed movements. Monitors, lighting, camera position, controllers all placed to allow presenters to look like they are interacting with the audience while they actually are tracking their own video and content placements at the same time they are delivering the actual message.

It CAN be done! Look again at Richard’s presentation. Done well like this, it will blow your audience away. But WILL it be done by more than a handful of people? Are YOU willing to put in the planning, the careful construction, the technical setup, and the rehearsal necessary to pull it off so the technology is a value-add rather than a distraction that makes you look unprofessional?

Perhaps that’s why Prezi gesture control never made it into production. While it was technically possible, the pragmatics of actual use were too daunting for the public to employ it. We need to make it as easy as possible for video presenters to achieve basic professional-looking results as part of a solid, effective presentation before we start asking them to add bells and whistles that cause even more task-related overload.

I’m glad tech companies are testing new features. But if you are a business presenter, never forget that bells and whistles don’t create a great presentation. YOU create a great presentation. With or without tech. Take care of the basics. Don’t let software manufacturers sway you into thinking that their latest bright ‘n shiny new feature is necessary or even beneficial. Think about what makes you most comfortable and effective. You can always add fancy stuff later.