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Exclusive: Zoho's Showtime app battles boring presentations

Mark Hachman | Sept. 23, 2014
An audience busily typing into their laptops as you give your presentation may be the most engaged, fascinated audience you'll ever have. Or they may be busily surfing cat videos. How do you tell? Zoho's Showtime app knows.

An audience busily typing into their laptops as you give your presentation may be the most engaged, fascinated audience you'll ever have. Or they may be busily surfing cat videos. How do you tell? Zoho's Showtime app knows.

"A listener's attention span drops," explained Sridhar Vembu, the chief executive of Zoho. "Everyone has their smartphones, and laptops, and are checking their email... Presentations became boring because people are just not paying as much attention as they used to."

Showtime, which Vembu demonstrated at the company's recent user conference, is a way to take the concept of audience engagement and bring it to the real world — making presentations an effective communication medium.

Showtime spans both desktop and iOS/Android apps. The mobile apps (which will officially launch in a few weeks) serve as a means for the presenter to control the presentation and receive feedback, while the desktop app shows the presentation to the audience and allows them to type comments and ask questions. If audience members leave the page, that lack of attention is (anonymously) collected by the ShowTime service and recorded as an incentive to make that slide more interesting in future presentations.

Showtime encourages a presentation to become more of a conversation, executives explained. "It really alters the way in which you present," said Raju Vegesna, the chief evangelist for Zoho. 

Vegesna actually demonstrated Showtime presentation using the Showtime app. Zoho provided a website where audience members logged in. As Vembu and Vegesna moved through the presentation, viewers were given access to each new slide as it appeared, and they could browse through older ones.

Each slide contained a question button, and users could also "like" a slide as a simple way to send feedback. (Right now, there is no option to "dislike" slides. Zoho executives said that they had "philosophical objections" to such a feature.) Per-slide polls will be added in the future, Vegesna said. 

At the end of the presentation, Showtime offers the option to archive it online. Showtime also gives feedback: graphs that track the presentation from start to finish, measuring the amount of time the presenter and the audience spends on each slide and the number of "likes" given. Additional metrics include the number of questions asked and answered, and the percentage of the audience that was actually engaged.

The Zoho team said they plan to include the ability to record audio, so that all the components of the presentation can be stored online. The ability to support multiple presenters is another feature that's due soon, they said. 

Not a presentation, but a conversation

With about 8 million to 10 million users, Zoho's a smaller player in the online productivity space. But the company publishes over 30 productivity and collaboration applications, from office suites like Zoho Writer, Show, and Sheet; CRM and Invoice apps; plus collaboration tools like Mail and Projects. Showtime, which works with Zoho's Show presentation app, is the latest addition.

 

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