Dave Paradi wrote a blog post about using Microsoft Live Meeting for the first time and running into slide conversion problems. He concluded that showing slides via screen share rather than upload is the way to go. I wrote a comment adding that Live Meeting has a little-publicized restriction preventing certain audience members from seeing animations in your PowerPoint, which the presenter may not even realize. Dave seemed to think that this put the last nail in the coffin for uploading slides.
I am not so quick to concede the slide display war to screen sharing. Let’s look at advantages and disadvantages to uploading vs. sharing:
1) Fidelity. Screen sharing is the clear winner. Every technology that uploads slides has to convert them from native PowerPoint to another format. In the process, strange things may happen. Color gradients and image fills can get messed up. Embedded fonts are almost always casualties… Anything that the conversion programmer considers “nonstandard” (or doesn’t have a license for) may get turned into another font. With screen sharing, you run your PowerPoint in PowerPoint. About the only problem I have seen is with conferencing technologies that reduce the color palette to boost performance. That can produce pixelated or blotchy images and bad display of gradient fills.
2) Animations and transitions. Quite a few upload-oriented conferencing systems convert slides to static images – JPG or something similar. This eliminates animation effects, builds, and transition effects from slide to slide. I don’t like telling guest speakers they have to redesign their presentation to suit the limitations of our software. But screen sharing is usually awful at any animation involving movement. It can handle a simple appear/disappear, but I don’t know of ANY screen sharing technology that can guarantee or even hope for a smooth display of scrolling, fly-ins, wipes, and other effects. My favorite for handling animations is a really good converter that works at keeping up with the latest versions of PowerPoint. Note that most conferencing products do NOT support slide transitions. A few go the extra step in their conversion process.
3) Non-PowerPoint slides. I can’t think of an uploading technology that lets you import Keynote slides to your conference. You would have to go through a preliminary conversion to PowerPoint format. And forget about using really offbeat solutions like Prezi. Screen sharing is the winner in this category as well.
4) Preparation time. Screen sharing comes out on top again. Want to make a last second change to fix a typo five seconds before your web conference? Go ahead! All you have to do is bring up the latest version of the slide deck on your desktop. Done. Uploading a slide deck and converting the slides to the vendor’s display format takes time. You have to do this step ahead of your meeting and you won’t have the freedom to make a last second change. Since NO web conferencing vendor lets you upload and integrate an individual slide, any small change means starting the upload and conversion from scratch. I still can’t figure out why nobody has introduced a way to replace a single uploaded slide with an update.
5) Scaling. This is one area where a good uploading process can score points over screen sharing. If your vendor converts the slides to a vector format, it can display them at any size and any resolution for any attendee. You never have to worry about whether your attendees have scroll bars and are only seeing a part of the picture or are seeing a tiny image in a corner of their huge high resolution monitor.
6) Performance. Another win for uploading. I have worked with too many presenters who create a series of slides at some point in their talk and flip through them rapidly: “Here’s the drag strip. You can see the staging light turn from red… to yellow… to green… And away they go!” That sentence is accompanied by three rapid slide advances, each with a picture. For a screen sharing technology to redraw an entire screen with a full color picture, it can’t possibly keep up with the presenter’s display. He or she doesn’t even know that the audience either missed seeing some of the slides or is lagging behind. The best of the conversion-based conferencing technologies do a local cache of the next slide or two on the attendees’ computers. They can more rapidly flip forward to the next slide, staying closer to the presenter’s display. And usually the presenter has the same redraw limitation as the audience, so she can tell when she is moving too fast for the technology to keep up.
7) Multitasking. It is usually very hard to run a PowerPoint in slideshow mode on your desktop and still see and work with your other presenter controls. You can’t see chat messages or audience questions or similar controls that give you extra functionality. I often end up logging in as a presenter on two separate computers – One to show the presentation and the other for looking at my presenter controls. Not very convenient. Technologies that upload slides usually show them in a window designed to work alongside the other conferencing control functions.
8) Annotations. A few years ago, no screen sharing vendor allowed markups on the shared display area. Now it is becoming more common, but still lags in universality behind the upload technologies – all of which allow marking up slides for the audience to see. And with uploaded conference slides, it is common for annotations to “belong to” a slide. When you return to the slide, you can still see your previous markups. Screen sharing has no concept of the individual slides, so you only get whatever annotation is currently on the screen.
9) Multiple presenters. When slides are uploaded to a conference room it is easy to let various presenters each take their turn moving through the slides. Everyone has the same performance. Some vendors prefer simultaneous control, some pass control from one presenter to another. Some let you swap between preloaded slide decks quickly and easily. With screen sharing, passing control presents more difficulties. Either the first presenter gives control of his keyboard and mouse to the next presenter (leading to delays and lag time in response) or passes local screen sharing rights to the next presenter’s desktop. This can cause problems with differing resolutions, pauses in the attendee view, and other distractions.
10) Backup and failsafe. For me, this is the overwhelming decider. If I am the main presenter on a screen sharing technology and I have a computer problem (freeze, crash, lost connection, etc), there is a significant hassle in swapping to another computer so we can continue the session. I need to have given the other presenter the same presentation, they have to be ready to bring it up and move to the same place in the presentation, there are potential problems with screen resolutions being different, etc. But with my slides uploaded to the conference room, I can immediately pass control to my designated backup person (moderator, co-presenter, etc) who keeps flipping the slides for the audience while I work from my hardcopy. Lost time and audience distractions are minimized.
As you can see, there are positive and negative aspects to both slide display approaches. My personal preference is based on being a moderator for large-audience structured events – not small ad-hoc person-to-person meetings. If I can, I will use a really good upload and conversion technology that stores the slides in the conference room, provides access for multiple presenters, lets me switch between slide decks, and preserves animations and slide transition effects.