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Now You Can Deliver Your Own Webcast


Have you ever given such a great presentation that you wish you could show it to people who weren't there? Unless you are a CEO or a CFO -- or have a friend in your company's media production shop -- probably the best you could do was make the PowerPoint slides available. But a new program makes it simple for just about anyone to immortalize a presentation, using the Web.

Apreso from Anystream is a $199 PowerPoint add-on that makes it simple to create a Web show that synchronizes your slides with a video or audio version of your presentation. In its simplest form, you plug a digital camcorder or, for audio, a microphone, into your Windows computer. Click the Apreso "capture" button and run through your PowerPoint presentation.

When you are finished, you click another button and Apreso synchronizes the slides to your video and audio, then converts the package to a Windows Media file. You can stream this file from your own Web server, upload it to Apreso's Web hosting service, or burn it onto a CD. You can even send it out by e-mail if it is small enough, which usually means no video.

Apreso does impose some limitations on what you can do in your PowerPoint. It's best to avoid animations or fancy transitions between slides. Don't even think of putting audio or video into your slides, and keep graphics simple. The result won't have the fancy effects of a Bill Gates Webcast, but it can be a powerful tool for communications or training.

THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS YOU CAN DO to make an Apreso presentation look more professional. It's possible to create the video sitting at your desk, talking into a microphone and an inexpensive camera connected to your computer. You'll get much better video, however, by using a digital camcorder, which starts at about $500. Spending another $75 or so for a clip-on lavalier microphone instead of using the camera's built-in mike will dramatically improve sound quality. Some attention to lighting and makeup -- at least some powder to take the shine off your nose and forehead -- can also work wonders.

One drawback to Apreso is that when you create a presentation in the simplest way, there is no opportunity for a retake if you muff your lines or change slides at the wrong time. While you can pause during recording, you can't back up, so the only way to cover a flub is to start over. But I discovered a neat trick if you use a camcorder and have access to a video editing program such as Adobe (ADBE) Premiere. Tape the presentation without running Apreso, shooting retakes as necessary. Edit the video, then record it back to tape in your camera. Plug the camera into your PC, run Apreso, and advance the slides as the tape plays. The result can be a much more polished presentation. Most high-end corporate Web presentations are created using another PowerPoint add-on, the free and powerful, but complex, Microsoft Producer. If your company uses Producer, you also can export an Apreso presentation to it to add complex transitions or video effects.

You can stream an Apreso presentation from any Web server running Windows Media Server. Anystream also offers a hosting service starting at $29.95 a month, allowing you to upload the presentation there and link to it from your own Web site.

The Web has revolutionized many forms of communications, bringing presentations at annual meetings and analysts' conferences to the public for the first time. Apreso brings a version of the technology within reach of a much wider range of users. It is cheap and simple enough that a teacher could record a lesson and make it available online for review or reinforcement, or a marketing manager could share a sales presentation with branch offices. It's not just for CEOs anymore.

For a collection of past columns and online-only reviews of technology products, click here By Stephen H. Wildstrom


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