If you make stage presentations, you will sooner or later find yourself in a situation when your talk is streamed live or recorded on video. Here are some tips on how you can (re)design your slides and your act to support an excellent performance for people not physically present.

Web video is increasingly important

Nobody could have missed the fact that web video has become immensively popular. This includes the cases when various meetings (e.g. conferences and seminars) are live streamed on the Web, and sometimes made available for later viewing.

During 2009 I have been engaged in the production of a number of such live streamed events. These have ranged from simple setups with just a smartphone as the camera, to more complex settings involving the live mixing of multiple cameras with graphics and simultaneous broadcasts of multiple channels from the same event. I have briefly documented an example of the latter at Production setup event for 2009-11-27.

Of the many lessons we have learned so far, I would like to share some insights regarding presenters and their visual support, be it slides from Microsoft Powerpoint, Apple Keynote, Prezi or any other presentation tool.

Please note that the ideas presented here are based on my personal experiences and preferences. I am not making any claims that the advice given is supported by any kind of scientific or formal practical research.

The three main sources of preso content

There are basically three main media sources in a live presentation: the sound, the speaker, and the slides. Let us start by looking into what goes from stage to web/video space.

  1. Sound is extremely important.
    Make sure people can hear you, This includes audio in the form of your voice as well as any other sound coming from the stage and the room. If the audience gives you questions and a warm applause, will they appear in the video? Hence, a good mike on you (lavalier or headset), audience mikes, and audio mixers are in practice a necessity. As a safe guard, always repeat what the audience say (although it is perphaps overkill to appluse yourself ;)
    Quite frequently the ”video audience” will use only the sound. For example, when listening as a background while doing other things on their PC, or just listening to your talk in an mp3 player.
    If the sound quality is bad, people will most likely give up. Imperfect slides might on the other hand just be overlooked.
  2. The presenter is of course equally important.
    Giving a presentation is a performance act. The video producer should strive to provide a good image of the speaker’s face and body. Whereas facial close-ups support the connection with viewers, one must not forget the importance of body language. Facilitating both is a daunting task for the producer, especially when the speaker move around the stage, sometimes even running back and forth. You have a choice, be energetic (and stress the producer); be static (and bore the auditorium); or be dynamic by balancing both forms of kinetic approaches in a smart fashion.
  3. Slides vary between useless and crucial.
    I will not go into detail here about what one should do in order to produce good slides. Suffice to say is that your slides should be useful, otherwise skip them. To learn more, I suggest you dig into Garr Reynold’s fantastic Presentation Zen. In that blog Mr Reynold by the way provides excellent insights about talks way beyond the slides part.

Slide synchronization versus integration

Okay, let us now focus on you as a speaker and your slides. When it comes to people in the room, it’s up to them whether to look at you or the images you show. Hopefully the slides by themselves are always made available before or after the presentation. Either published as pdf-files, or on services like Slideshare.

When the meeting is watched through a live stream and/or recorded on video, the situation is different. In that case the producer must decide on what to include, and how.

For some years we have had the option to afterwards publish a web page where the video recording of the stage appearance is synchronized with the slides. There are an abundance of services and post production tools for that. For example, Omnisio (now aquired by Google) offers such tools. As illustrated in the screen shot below (from Startup School 08), viewers can see the slides (left), the speaker (right), and navigate (bottom part).



Another way is to integrate, or mix, the speaker with the slides. That is, include the speaker and the slides in one single video stream/recording.

One way of integrating is to show either the speaker/stage or the slide being talked about. Another way is to mix in the speaker into the slide, as illustrated here from an archived live streamed  recording we did for SSR Konsument. image

Which method, synchronization or integration, is better should of course be determined by the situation. In general, I am betting on integration.

Future will tell, but for the moment my impression is that we are slowly leaving the desktop/laptop environment for viewing situations that are mobile. In other words viewers might not be able to run the software applications necessary to watch synchronized presentations.

Furthermore, synchronized presentations require some, sometimes a lot, of post production. That is a time consuming and costly process. Hence, in many cases it is simply more cost effective to produce a single live mixed recording.

So, whenever you as a presenter suspect that your presentation will be recorded with your slides integrated, I suggest you prepare your slides for that.

Design your slides for video

Given the above, here are some tips on how you can design your slides for a nice result when the talk ends up in a video format.

  • Think low res.
    While everyone seems to be crazy about full HD, mobile devices have relatively low resolution. In 320×240 (limitation in many mobile phones) most slides are still usable, but copy text might become unreadable,. Smart phones, like the iPhone and various flavors of the Android and Windows mobile, are slightly better and typically offers 320×480 (or 480×320 in landscape mode). Therefore, if your slides feature important text information (e.g. an e-mail or web address), make sure it’s readable in low resolution.
  • Leave room for video integration.
    It might very well be that the producer will integrate the stage camera into your slide(s). In particular when you talk about the slide(s) for a longer time, or when the emphasis is more on your visuals than yourself. Trust me, the producer will love you if you leave som empty space in your slide where that video nicely can be integrated without destroying the slide.
  • Consider the DOG
    The broadcasting term DOG (Digital On-screen Graphic, or ”corner bug”) refers to the watermark station logo, typically imposed in the upper right corner of the screen. This graphic might be inserted by the producer when the recording is made, or later by the video sharing service. Sometimes the DOG appears throughout the whole video, at other times  just for a short while when the video starts playing. Again, consider leaving some room for the DOG in your slide.
  • Beware of lower thirds.
    The lower third is ”a graphic placed in the lower area of the screen, though not necessarily the entire lower third of it as the name suggests”. This part of the screen is frequently used to present subtitles and captions (such as the name of the speaker). In addition, many web sharing services (like YouTube) use this area to superimpose advertising content on top of the video. Hence, if you have important information in that part of the slide, it might occasionally be hidden by other stuff.

Interact with the video production

If you are a well trained speaker you understand the importance of having a good contact with the audience. Live streaming and video recording adds the dimensions of a non visible audience and the appearance of cameras.

  • Smile to the camera.
    Make sure you know where the camera is, and direct your attention towards it when useful. Remember, people are watching you through the camera, give video viewers too a smile.
  • Point in the proper direction.
    There are situations when speakers direct the attention to a slide by pointing to it with their arm/hand. In such cases, it is important to consider where you might appear in the video. If you have left some space for video integration in one side of your slides, then make sure you are standing on the same side of your slide. Otherwise your hand will point out from the slide, not into it.
  • Be careful when fronting your slides.
    Sometimes it is possible for you to walk up to the screen and point in it, on the slight expense of obscuring the image. While this occasionally looks OK on stage, it might not look so good in the video. Depending on the quality of the camera and its operator, it is everything from impossible to difficult to get a good contrast. Either you are just in the way, or you are the only visible object. Contrast is king –  and difficult on video.
  • Help the producer.
    Depending on the setting, you might be able to have a subtle interaction with the streaming/recording producer. Try to keep an eye on him or her. Maybe you can on beforehand agree on signs when you should start, thus giving room for a vignette or simply make sure that everything is good to go. At other times the producer might want to call to your attention that your mike needs to be repositioned.

Let us learn more

I hope my concerns and advice regarding how to prepare a presentation for live streaming and webb video are useful. Please let us know by commenting here if you have things to add or if the above raised any questions that needs further attention.