Salvation for your presentation

TurningPoint turns slide shows into audience dialogue

I imagine there's a special circle of hell that features PowerPoint presentations. History's most notorious villains will likely orient newcomers with bulleted slide shows outlining goals and mission statements to guide them through their eternal stay in the inferno.

Hell's marketing team will try to brighten the presentations with some colorful clip art or interesting audio files, but I can't think of a more torturous way of spending eternity than being stuck in a dark, stuffy conference room watching PowerPoint slides. Let's hope we never find out for sure.

In the meantime, there's TurningPoint 2008 from Turning Technologies to liven PowerPoint presentations in this earthly realm. TurningPoint transforms a droning monologue into a vital two-way exchange with the audience.

Its secret weapons in the war against conference room drool are ResponseCards, handheld devices about the size of solar calculators. The presenter can poll the audience with the ResponseCards, and TurningPoint instantly creates graphs showing the audience's responses. The process takes only seconds.

TurningPoint intends the kit for the K-12 educational market in addition to government. The TurningPoint kit could easily be mistaken for a lunchbox. It comes with a radio frequency receiver stick that you plug into a USB port. The receiver picked up ResponseCard signals from as far away as 400 feet in our testing, but you probably want folks to be within 200 feet for guaranteed reliability.

Software installation was easy on a standard 1.8 GHz Dell Pentium 4 desktop PC with 256M of RAM running Windows XP.

TurningPoint loads a special toolbar onto what looks like an ordinary PowerPoint template. You have to do a bit of jiggering in the Tools menu, but a quick-start guide walks you through it. Within a few minutes, I was ready to go live with my TurningPoint presentation before a real audience of computer journalists.

The software has some impressive interactive features. You can show audience response on a thermometer or other meter or use an hourglass or a New Year's Eve-style ball to show how much time is left. It's all designed to engage your audience and make them feel part of the presentation.

The company has two kinds of ResponseCards. The ResponseCard RF is smaller, has a 12-button keypad, and communicates with a blinking light that flashes on and off or red, green or yellow. The larger Response- Card XR has 20 keys and an angled LCD screen. It's more expensive but offers more options for engaging your audience. The XRs let you program whole tests into them, which makes them especially useful in the classroom. The TurningPoint license and RF receiver have a General Services Administration price of $384. The GSA price of the ResponseCard RF is $49 apiece, and volume discounts are available. XR keypads cost a bit more, with a GSA price of $70.

TurningPoint can work with as many as 1,000 ResponseCards, so you could poll as many as 1,000 people at a time. Our test kit came with six RFs and six XRs. I plugged in the RF receiver, called up my TurningPoint presentation and distributed the ResponseCards to my test audience.

My first slide asked, 'Which would you rather read?' The choices were the New York Times, TV Guide and GCN. Half of the journalists picked the New York Times, nobody picked TV Guide ' which seemed almost un-American ' and half wisely chose GCN. A click of the mouse, and the software instantly registered their responses as a bar graph complete with a legend.

The slide 'Do you believe in love at first sight?' brought a wide range of responses. Of the possible answers, 25 percent chose 'Heck, no,' and half selected 'Yes, and I also believe in sudden-onset mental illness, which is the same thing.' Amazingly, 25 percent of the journalists surveyed were hopeless romantics who picked No. 2, 'It's the only kind of love that matters.' Quite a shock.

But even more shocking was what the audience said after the presentation was over. 'We want more questions!' they clamored. 'Your presentation was too short,' another said. How often have you gotten that response to a PowerPoint presentation? Not often, I'll wager.

The other great thing was how private the voting was ' nobody knew who the hopeless romantics were who believed in love at first sight, although everyone had their suspicions.

If you want that kind of connection with your audience, TurningPoint would be a valuable addition to your conference room.

Turning Technologies, (866) 746-3015, www.turningtechnologies.com

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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