Look Who's Talking PowerPoint's basic sophistication is no longer a novelty; you can't faze attendees with a fancy fade or colorful graphic. However, the developer world is busily building new tools to keep PowerPoint hot. One of the most unusual we've seen is Karta Technologies' KartaNarrator, an on-screen virtual presenter. Using text-to-speech synthesis, words typed into PowerPoint's speaker notes area are delivered by one of seven animated characters.
Could your executives use a little wizard as a co-presenter? How about a parrot, a computer, a robot, a genie, a soldier, or just a guy named Bill? Besides moving their mouths, the animated characters can be programmed to make any of 80 gestures. For example, Bill will bang on the monitor glass to get your attention. Karta Technologies is also in the business of creating customized narrators: Would you like your company logo to come to life and help with a presentation?
A KartaNarrator character could, in fact, do an entire program, but most presenters will want to use their sidekick just for key moments. By configuring speaker notes only for certain slides, the character will be quiet the rest of the time. With a bit of advance practice, a presenter can seem to be interacting with the animation.
The program costs $99; more for customized products. Contact Karta Technologies Inc., San Antonio, TX, (800) 725-2782, or download a demo at the Web site, www.karta.com.
In the decade or so that event planners have used interactive keypads to poll, test, and entertain their attendees, the basic concept has remained constant: Each attendee uses a keypad to respond to questions shown on a screen, and answers are instantly tabulated and displayed for discussion. The technology itself, however, has made huge strides.
The first systems required cumbersome wiring; later, wireless keypads came on the market, and recently new meeting enhancing features have been added. Chattanooga-based IML Inc. now offers a wireless keypad with a built-in microphone, a memory function, and PowerPoint compatibility.
IML added the microphone feature, a push-to-talk system, last year to help planners add more interactivity to their meetings. The memory function allows attendees to answer questions outside the general session format, for example in breakout sessions or atbooths, then transmit the responses when the group reconvenes. Keypad questions can also be integrated into PowerPoint presentations, and in addition, as soon as a question has been answered, the results become an imbedded object, which can be saved.
Keypads cost $295 each, and software starts at $5,500 for a 100-user license. Rentals are available. Visit www.audiencevoting.com or call IML at (423) 296-0798.
Since 1982 Methuen, Mass.-based MicroTouch Systems Inc. has been developing computer touch-input products, but it was just in 1996 that it began adapting its expertise to digital electronic whiteboards.
Digital whiteboards, which record everything written on them and allow presenters to e-mail, print, save, or fax meeting notes, aren't new. However, MicroTouch claims its technology more accurately picks up what's written than early products were able to do, and its top-of-the-line, four-foot by six-foot Ibid 600 is worth special attention.
Like the other whiteboards in the product line, Ibid 600 supports real-time teleconferencing, but also has major enhancements: the ability to create a huge active writing area by connecting as many as four whiteboards together; the Ibid 600 can be used as a touch-sensitive "projection screen" to control your PC directly from the whiteboard; and LEDs light up on the whiteboard to show the current tool selection. Another feature: You can import forms into the Ibid software. Write on a form using the whiteboard and save the results as a single file.
Ibid 600 costs $2,699 and needs a 486-33 MHz processor or better, operating Win-dows 3.1 or higher, 8 MB RAM memory, and up to 15 MB disk space. Contact Micro-Touch at (888) 388-4243 or www.microtouch.com/ibid.
If one of the main reasons to bring people together at meetings is networking, doesn't it make sense to do everything possible to make it easy for attendees to meet each other? One way to do it is with a directory of attendees that includes photos as well as other basic contact information. Are you running away screaming yet? Imagine chasing a hundred attendees for photos of themselves, and getting back poorly exposed images in a dozen different formats, none of which scans well . . . and everyone, everyone, misses the print deadline.
It doesn't have to be that way. The good folks from On-Site Photo Directories, Culver City, Calif., will show up at your event and take digital photographs of people as they register, enter all the necessary contact data, and create cross-references, then put it all into a handsome brochure that can be handed out to attendees within 24 hours. It's not magic; it's new image and printing capabilities, and not only will the company produce these directories, it will help you sell advertising in them to defray production costs. For information, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (800) 575-9245.
Wireless technology is the greatest thing since sliced bread--until you get a busy signal while trying to reach a show manager on the far side of McCormick East. Sony's U-ceiver two-way radio has a range of two miles and has 14 channels, with 38 privacy codes per channel, which means not only no busy signal but a reasonable expectation that your competitors won't be able to listen in, which is not the case with cell phones. Unlike the squawk boxes of yore, the U-ceiver operates on a dedicated FCC frequency. So communication is clear, with very little static. At less than eight ounces with batteries, it won't make your hip sag, either. And at about $250 a pair, they won't bust the budget. Designed especially for the business market, the ICB-U655 model is water resistant, has a belt clip, and is available in sober corporate gray.
The U-ceiver's coolest accessory is a speaker/microphone unit like the cops on TV use, available for an additional $40 or so. For more, visit www.sony.com.