In this digital era--where powerful, easy-to-use technology aids are more accessible than ever--the average company still fails to wow at conferences. Many experienced speakers persist in sending audiences to sleep with dreary slide show presentations, featuring lists of bullet points and graphs, or dull video loops in their exhibit booths.
But some companies and organizations are breaking away from slide show hell, using new digital presentation tools to make their messages count.
Take the example of a Bellevue, Washington-based technology company. They were determined to make their presentations stand out at the Gartner ITXpo, in Barcelona, last November. Knowing that standard presentation techniques and tools likely would not make its highly-technical products stand out at the conference, they hired UK-based marketing and communications group Article 10 to dismantle a text heavy, 50-slide master presentation. Article 10 restructured the content and created an Interactive Tablet Toolkit that allowed the sales teams to select only content pertinent to a given audience.
The Toolkit also provides tracking functionality that allowed the marketing and sales team to see which delegates had been interested in what, and create customized follow-up material. The new presentation tool increased sales leads by 22 percent.
"Interactivity is a big thing," says Dale Smith, Article 10's co-founder. "Presentations can be treated much more like Web content now, where slides can be mixed and matched and selected as appropriate to the situation."
The drive to move away from linear, dead-end presentations has created a zealous user base for Prezi, a cloud-based tool that eschews the concept of sequential slides. Instead, Prezi stores everything on a huge online canvas that allows a presenter to zoom in on any detail. Prezi, the company, is based in Budapest, Hungary.
"The flexibility of the [Prezi] format enables me to proactively change the flow of my presentation, without freaking out that I need to skip through 30 slides to do so," says Heather Healy, head of social media at UK-based digital marketing agency Stickyeyes. "I feel in control of the slides, rather than vice versa."
Another convert to Prezi is UK-based Crunch, an online accounting software and services company. "Prezi differentiates itself by being cloud-based," says Crunch founder Darren Fell. "Just fire up the browser and away you go!"
Other alternative presentation tools include SlideRocket, Google Docs Presentations, Zoho Show and 280 Slides. More information on these tools can be found here.
The only remaining challenge is coming up with concepts and stories that engage the target audience. For inspiration, potential speakers could do worse than look at some of the presentations – given by the likes of Bill Gates and Al Gore -- featured on ted.com.
Another option for companies looking to refresh their approach to exhibitions and conferences is to consider hosting their own "virtual" events, or setting up a virtual booth at a conference. Virtual events are a natural extension of online business networking forums, with particular appeal to time-pressed executives in far-flung locations.
European social business specialist SITEFORUM offers a software platform that lets companies create their own virtual online exhibitions, conferences and seminars, complete with sponsor booths. Doing all of this online is not only very convenient, it also maximizes opportunities for audience tracking and follow-up activity. Time poses no limitation either. As a result, sponsors and exhibitors are given greater exposure, and visitors can browse and return at any time.
One organization that has tried SITEFORUM's virtual event platform is SIMalliance, a non-profit industry association representing SIM card manufacturers. SIMalliance was looking for new ways to expand its online presence and says SITEFORUM's platform lets it hold events throughout the year, and not just at one expensive live event.
Says Bob Pike, COO at SITEFORUM: "One of the real benefits is the ability to supplement and enhance your face-to-face networking at live events, like organizing meetings before you arrive, and downloading brochures and materials."
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