by Michael Shapiro | April 12, 2013

There is no denying the convenience of webinars as a way to share and discuss ideas and information, and that convenience is no doubt responsible for their ubiquity in modern business. I regularly log on via webinar platforms for press conferences and technology demos, and the medium is particularly effective when it comes to the latter. I relish the opportunity to see new applications in action, and to be able to ask questions about them as I'm watching.
It was in one such recent demo that I was able to see Personify Live in action, a new technology that has the potential to infuse web meetings with a whole new level of engagement. And the best part about it is that it doesn't detract from the convenience of the platforms we're already using for webinars -- it just adds another element. The webinar attendees (as opposed to the host) needn't download or add anything new -- they simply log on to a webinar on GoToMeeting, WebEx, Adobe Connect or Microsoft Lync the same way they always have.
The web host, however, can change the whole dynamic of the meeting by putting him or himself onscreen via webcam. Personify Live, at least in the demo I saw, very effectively removes the distracting background so that the host appears in front of the presentation itself. Think weatherman-style, but without the need for a green screen. The host, who sees the same image on his or her own screen, can interact with the presentation, pointing out specific points as he speaks.
It sounds simple enough, but the effect is surprisingly engaging. It adds the personal touch of videoconferencing, but without the need for any added software or hardware on the attendee's part. The host, in addition to using one of the aforementioned web-conferencing platforms to share his or her screen, need only to acquire a 3-D (depth-sensing) webcam and subscribe to Personify Live. Compatible cameras include the Microsoft Kinect (about $110) and the Asus Xtion Pro Live (about $180), and more are on the way. Personify Live charges $20 per month, per user (or $199 annually).
The webinar host must be using a PC with Windows Vista, 7 or 8, although a Mac version is planned for a summer 2013 release. And a free app turns your Apple or Android smartphone into a remote presentation control, making it possible to more inconspicuously advance slides.
Among big-name clients already using the technology are SAP, Oracle, the University of Illinois and LinkedIn, according to Personify CEO Sanjay Patel. New features in the works include support for multiple speakers and useful video effects, which should debut in the next six to 12 months. In terms of mobile support, attendees can view any web-conferencing platform that works with their mobile devices; Personify Live doesn’t change any compatibility. The Personify team is working on a version that will allow the meeting host to broadcast from a mobile device -- but that’s a ways off. First the mobile devices themselves must begin offering depth-sensing webcams.
Personify offers a free 30-day trial of the technology, so you can check it out and see whether the effects are as smooth and natural as what I saw in the demo. Feel free to post here or contact me to share your experience.