The Future of Presentations

If you think about it, over the past century humans have been forced to adapt to technology and the structure it creates. It’s not “normal” to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or write by typing on a QWERTY keyboard. Presentations are another example. We create linear slide decks, then conform our work conversations to the deck because that’s the way the technology works, by showing us one slide at a time, in order. It’s not the way we’d naturally talk and discuss a topic, but if we want to use technology, we have to do it technology’s way.

In this century, technology is increasingly conforming to the way humans do things. Like, we can talk to our devices instead of tapping on a tiny screen. Presentations are moving that way, too. In fact, it is the biggest change in the nature of business presentations since the advent of PowerPoint. For the first time, the technology and the linear presentation deck will no longer dictate the conversation and interaction.

Instead, the conversation will dictate the presentation. Thanks to voice recognition and artificial intelligence, the next generation of presentation technology will listen to what’s being said, comprehend the context in the room, know what visual content is available in the approved presentation management system, and automatically and instantly bring up visuals that fit the conversation at that moment. It’s almost like having a personal assistant at your side, listening and watching the room, and instantly finding and showing images that are exactly what’s needed in the moment.

How would technology like that work in practice? Imagine this scenario:

The CEO of a major cruise line is speaking at a travel conference in an auditorium that only seats 100 people. He cues up his presentation management app and it projects on the big screen and a few monitors inside the auditorium, as well as outside in the hallway and all around the convention center. Anyone who sees it, either sitting in the live audience, walking by one of those monitors, or browsing on a website, can participate in his presentation. They can log in to the presentation on their own phone or other device. After all, they have full A/V on their phone, where they can hear his presentation and see his slides. Someone in the audience raises his hand and asks a question that everyone in the audience, whether they are physically sitting in the auditorium or have logged in from 1,000 miles away, can hear. “Can you tell me more about cruises to Alaska?” As the voice-recognition technology processes the words in the question, AI starts to sort through the speaker’s presentation library, which includes all content about the cruise line, including approved databases. Up pops slides with visual support for the question. The audience will see pictures of the Kenai Fjords, snow-capped mountains and a luxurious cruise ship, with every pampering amenity you could imagine, sailing through it all. It’s conversational AI broadcast to the entire world.

Presentations will become more dynamic, more fluid, more like the human thought process. And the technology we use for presentations will become an afterthought.

And this is right around the corner – the way presentations will be within a few years. Voice-recognition technology is exploding. By 2020, it is estimated that over half of all searches will be powered by speech instead of keyboard input, according to comScore. That means that during an interactive presentation, the technology can listen to the audience’s comments and questions. Those questions and comments will prompt a search. Suggestions for slides to present will appear based on the conversation as it unfolds.

That technology will expand with Predictive SlidesTM. Your presentation management app will offer slide suggestions based on a range of variables, such as who you are, the last slides you used, the slides your colleagues used, the audience, the most popular slides, and on and on. Companies will be able to customize those variables based on the individual user, and the presentation will be created based on those inputs and variables. It’s similar to how shopping on Amazon works. Amazon presents products based your purchase and browsing history. Your presentation management app will present slides in a similar way.

This will also work at the slide level. Based on the user’s input and criteria, slides will pull information from different databases to create a specific slide for one specific instance. For example, a financial adviser is meeting with his client. Today, he searches several different databases to review that client’s portfolio, credit card debt, stock positions and IRAs, as well as age, income and stated financial goals. With all that information culled together, the adviser will then input that into another database to get suggestions for changes to the portfolio. And then, the adviser, or his admin, will create a nice slideshow. That’s labor-intensive and prone to lots of human errors. In the future all of this data will feed directly into a formatted, branded slide … visualized and ready to present.

Predictive SlidesTM can be generated before the meeting or during the meeting, as the conversation progresses.

During the meeting, the slides themselves will be created according to verbal inputs based on what people are saying. Imagine the financial adviser is meeting with that client for the first time. He discusses the client’s current financial status, her salary, her credit cards, mortgage, age, expenses and goals for her retirement. As the client speaks, the presentation app is accessing various financial databases to build her portfolio and then creates the slides on the fly. The adviser and the client review the presentation together. The operative word in this is scenario is together. The adviser is not presenting to, or talking at, the client. He’s discussing the financial plan with her. She’s responding, and the presentation is updating according to her immediate feedback. So the adviser can focus on the client, not the slides. The slides fall to the background while the two parties make a human connection, fostering trust and building a better relationship. They learn more about each other. The adviser not only gets a better understanding of his client’s financial goals, which is the purpose of the meeting, but also of her personal life, which certainly affects her finances.

In the process, the client starts to trust her adviser and starts to see him as someone genuinely interested in helping her achieve her financial goals. After all, that’s what usually happens when you break down barriers and just start talking with someone. As a result, the adviser is in a better position to help his client, because he knows more about her, and the client gets a better financial plan. It may sound ironic, but presentation technology will encourage human connection.

Advances in technology will free us from the very technology to which we’ve become so addicted. Hardware continues to get smaller and cheaper. You will be able to access your presentations from your phone, your watch and maybe even your glasses. Smaller devices will become ubiquitous, and as that happens they will also fall into the background. A watch is an accessory, it’s not the outfit. Look around today and you’ll see most people glued to a screen, clicking, searching and scrolling through data, scrolling through slides. AI and voice recognition will flip that dynamic. As the searching and scrolling through data is done for us -- as it follows our voice commands and conversations -- we get freed from our devices.

When our eyes are separated from a screen and are hands are freed from a keyboard, we are back in control of our lives. We can look up and around. Look at our friend, our business partner, the other people in the room. We can see them, talk with them and, above all, make a real connection with them. This is important in business, where having the latest gadget is a status symbol, but it’s also a distraction. Everyone is so busy checking out your new Apple Watch that they forget about doing the new budget allocations. And it’s even more important at the dinner table, where everyone is interacting with their phones instead of each other. Advances in AI, voice recognition and presentation technology will correct technology’s worst flaws. They will free us from the devices and apps to which we’ve become enslaved, empower us to be more productive in our daily jobs, and above all allow us to connect with each other in a more meaningful way and form stronger bonds. That’s progress.