April 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio April 2002 Current Issue
April 2002 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:


BY Bob Walters

How to enhance a successful presentation and bring it to the desktop

Have you ever attended a session and thought the information would be valuable for your staff? You ask the presenter for a copy of his PowerPoint presentation, bring it back to the office and, lo and behold, your staff just doesn’t get the point. Or you buy the audiotape, and it just doesn’t have the same impact.

If you’ve experienced this, so have your attendees. How can we enhance the take-home value of presentations so they can be shared and attendees can get more value from sessions?

One option is to hire a production firm to synchronize the PowerPoint presentation with the recording and provide the file as either a download from your Web site or on CD. This involves either a speech-editing tool to insert commands that will allow users to advance the slides, or conversion of the speech to text for insertion into the PowerPoint presentation using audio controls.

Another option is a technology that exists on PCs running Windows 95 or above. Some might remember “Clippie,” the animated paper clip that brought you helpful tips about how to use Microsoft products, or “Bob,” the doomed personal operating system Microsoft tried targeting to the home audience.

These use a Microsoft technology called Agents. A growing number of developers have created a range of Agents and tools for using them to enhance Web sites, PowerPoint presentations, books and training materials.

Based on a set of animations and commands, Agents like Merlin the Magician, Robbie the Robot or Genie add speech to your presentations. To use the technology, download and activate the Agents from the Internet. They’re available in several different places; the most informative is Microsoft Agent Ring (www.msagentring.org). Here you’ll find a number of Agents and tools to help you bring your presentations to life.

Another helpful tool is Vox Proxy (www.voxproxy.com), which has a utility specifically for PowerPoint. To experience how this technology can bring your presentations to life, download the free 30-day evaluation of Vox Proxy, which includes several characters, help files, utilities and very informative tutorials.

Once installed, you will see that the Agents option has been added to the PowerPoint main menu. Go through the tutorials to see how the product can be used, and then set up a few of your own presentations. The full version of Vox Proxy is priced between $199 for a single license and $1,270 for a 10-user license.

For more on working with Agents, check out two books from Microsoft Press (www.microsoft.com/mspress): Developing for Agent and Agent Software Development Kit. Both contain a CD with samples, Agents and a speech recognition engine.

These tools also can be used for remote presentations and training tutorials on your Web site or for downloading. The one drawback is Agents needs to be installed on the PC that is running the presentation. Vox Proxy has utilities to handle that if you use its distribution software.

If you’ve called into an automated help desk, you’ve probably interacted with AT&T Labs Natural Voices technology (www.naturalvoices.att.com). The voices sound almost human, and there are many to choose from. AT&T is working on a version that will plug into the Agent technology.

The Web site offers sample voices and the opportunity to create a demo. AT&T estimates text-to-speech technology will be a billion-dollar business in five years.

Bob Walters, based in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is the founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak software.

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