Making presentations the SMART way

Sometimes being able to reach an audience has a lot to do with how well you interact with your presentation tools.

That’s the concept behind the Smart Board, a projection display whiteboard from SMART Technologies Inc. that uses touch-screen technology to free computer-based presenters from their keyboards and mice.

Images for the presentations come from either a front or rear projection, depending on the unit. The boards use resistive technology in which two sheets of conductive material can sense pressure when touched, explained Scott Tallman, director of marketing communications at SMART Technologies.

“Whenever the board is first set up, you have to calibrate the image to the board to project onto it. You bring up this simple orientation program and just touch it in nine places, and then it knows where the (projected) image is,” he said. “So that’s sort of the magic behind it. Once it’s sensing pressure and knows where the computer image is, then you can do everything that you need to do.”

PowerPoint and Microsoft Net Meeting are both popular to use with the board, but any software that can be used with a mouse will work, he said.

“The pen tray itself has sensors in it that know whenever a pen is taken out of it. So whenever you take the blue pen out, it knows that you are about to write in blue,” Tallman said. The integrated Pen Tray has LED indicators so users can see which stylus is currently active.

“You don’t have a need for expensive pens, because they have a habit of walking away. With the Smart Board, you can really use any kind of pen you want, you can even use your finger to write.”

He said using the board makes it easier to interact with an audience because presenters can stand right next to their material.

“Whenever you are in front of somebody doing a presentation, it really helps to focus people, both being able to touch (the screen) and to pick up pens to circle key points,” Tallman said. “People’s retention rates go way up when you can actually annotate right on the slide.”

Jim Hollis, vice-president of the human performance technical division at Advancia Corp., in Lawton, Okla., likes the Smart Board so much he has one permanently bolted to the wall in his conference room. This also saves him from having to recalibrate it, he said, because that only needs to be done whenever the unit is moved.

“You are not tied either to a lectern or the requisite overhead projector with slides, nor are you tied to a computer. So you can really move around the room, get better eye contact,” he explained. “It puts the presenter totally in touch with the materials, and also with the audience.”

The only downside Hollis mentioned was that sometimes the audience is so interested in the underlying technology of the Smart Board that it gets in the way of the presentation being made.

Mia Shields, educational services director of St. Louis-based Intelligent Technology Inc., uses the Smart Board to demonstrate multimedia functions to potential clients.

“The touch-screen technology allows us to show a large group of people Internet site features. They can come up and get hands-on and discover the interactive parts of it,” she said. “It’s tough to get a group of 10 people around a PC (in order to do this).”

Simon Chen, marketing manager of Sceptre Technologies, a City of Industry, Calif.-based display company, said touch-screen technology is becoming more popular and less expensive.

“It is not going to replace the keyboard and mouse, but there will be more use of it with specific applications…and [Sceptre] is now providing many touch-screen options with our LCD panels,” he said.

The Smart Board 500 series units ( ) come in 47-, 60- and 72-inch diameters. The front-projection models range from US$1,199 to US$2,499. The rear projection models cost between US$7,499 and US$14,999.

SMART Technologies in Calgary is at 1-888-427-6278.