Sunday, March 2, 2008

Animotorize - Help Banish Boring Business Presentations

This story, "Help Banish the Boring" was originally posted on 11/14/2007. Since then the guys at Animoto continue to make great strides... including this high-profile interview with the Fox Business Channel - "Bringing Photos to Life." Nice job guys. Hard work. Skills. Great attitudes. Sense of humor. It does pay off. Congratulations ... and keep it coming.

by Steve Kayser
Near-Death Experience
I was near death. Poisoned by an uber-ugly, overly long, boring PowerPoint presentation.

How Did This Come to Pass?
I had been asked to sit through another "no more than 20 minutes" business presentation. When it started, I discovered the presenter had 112 slides with an average of 9.97 bullet points per slide (do the math ... try not to go mad). Three hours later, slide 21 appeared.

Near Death But Nowhere Near Done
I was nearly bored to death but the presentation was nowhere near done. I tried to leave. But my get up and go had got up and went.

I know PowerPoint isn't to blame. It just facilitates overexposure to boring inanities, extreme vanities, useless information and words drained of meaning.

Wanted! Change!
Change is needed. Desperately. Something different. Please! Anything but the same old PowerPoint vomitoria. A nano-change ... even some baby steps would be welcome.

Have You Ever Noticed?
Most business presentations start off with an introduction to the company or service and it's always the same? "We've been around." "We're great!" "Our customers love us. Industry analysts love us!" "Everybody loves us!" "We're smart ... and you're stupid if you select anyone but us."

Have you also noticed during the start of most presentations that after the first or second slide, most people (peer around the room in your next meeting) look like this? Politely smiling ... but inside their heads "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"(as performed by AC/DC) is playing.

Banish the Boring
On a quest to banish the boring from business presentations, I ventured out to try to find a new way to spruce up; to make presentations more interesting.

Use at Your Indiscretion
Big surprise! I found one. At the end of this article we'll take a standard corporate gobbledygook presentation, rework it and throw a little video-creation "Wow" into it. In fact, it'll be an open-sourced corporate presentation that you can use and re-use anytime, at your indiscretion.

I found a web application called Animoto. This application automatically generates professionally produced videos using patent-pending technology and high-end motion design. Each video is a fully customized orchestration of user-selected images and music. Produced on a widescreen format, Animoto videos have the visual energy of a music video and the emotional impact of a movie trailer.

Short, 30-second videos, using 12 to 15 photos, are free, while $30 a year allows you to create as many long-version 60-second videos, with an unlimited number of photos. The creators of Animoto probably never envisioned their application being used in a business environment (I asked - they hadn't), but I saw it, tried it and liked it anyway.

Tries Something New
Animoto took me about five minutes (which equates to about 30 seconds for the normal person) to figure out. Easy to use. Easy to learn and understand.

I had a few questions, so I e-mailed the folks at Animoto. They responded almost instantly via email and instant message - even at 1:00 am. So, not only did I find a good, new tech application, better still I found polite, courteous and responsive folks that innately understand customer service. Especially noteworthy was Tom Clifton. His attention to detail, inquisitiveness and ability to figure out an inarticulately worded, undecipherable, obtuse question in seconds was nothing short of amazing.

Animoto has the potential of being a real icebreaker in business meetings. You may harrumph, perorate, harangue and bloviate - too goofy, too hip, too young, too in-your-face ... but at least it's not boring. And if you're still doing the traditional PowerPoint presentation, YOU ARE BORING.

Can You Open with an Opening?
Opening a meeting with a humorous or poignant look at an issue with a quick 30-to 60-second video will differentiate your presentation from about 99% of all other presentations at any given time. I'll give you a "briefy" (neologism for a "quick overview") on how to use Animoto, then include some examples.

Animoto Makes it 1-2-3 Easy
Step 1 - Upload your images.

Step 2 - Select your music. (I like their selection; a good mix of styles) ...

Step 3 - Then Animoto analyzes the images and music and creates a customized video.

The end- result is a 30-second or 60-second movie-like trailer.

Two Types of Edits
You can go back in and move images around any way you want, change the music, or do both.
Now here's the really cool part. They have a one-step remix process so you can essentially make 10, 20, 30 different versions of the same presentation. You just press the automated remix and a new version of your video is mixed. No two videos are ever the same. Not boring.

The heart of Animoto is its patent-pending, newly developed, Cinematic Artificial Intelligence technology that thinks like an actual director and editor. It analyzes and combines user-selected images and music with the same sophisticated post-production skills and techniques that are used in television and film.

I struggled with the ability to add and edit text. It's not there yet. But, I put on my thinking cap, filled it with the appropriate liquid nourishment, then solved the problem. Another issue - the full screen display works on my computer but was not particularly clear on a larger, full-screen overhead. I'll figure that out eventually too ... with a little more liquid nourishment.

What About the Company?
The founders of Animoto are veterans of the entertainment industry and have produced shows for MTV, Comedy Central, and ABC; studied music in London, and played in Indie rock bands in Seattle. They continue to innovate in the field of creative artificial intelligence. Wanting to find out a little bit more about the company and application, I got with Co-Founder and President of, Jason Hsiao.

Steve: What was the inspiration to create Animoto?

Jason: While working in the film and television industry, we found ourselves increasingly frustrated with the discrepancy between the quality of content on the web versus film and television. But it really doesn't take someone from the entertainment industry to notice the disparity. Part of the inspiration behind Animoto is to simply bridge this gap in quality and production-value, and to build something that helps people easily create and share video content that feels closer to something you'd expect to see in a film or on television.

Another motivation for developing Animoto was to develop a compelling alternative to photo slideshows, which, as we all know, can too often be dreadfully, painfully boring. No one wants to spend 15 minutes watching a 182-photo slideshow of their friend's trip to Maine.

Who has that kind of time? We set out to end the era of slideshows and take the experience of photo viewing to a whole new level.

The inspiration of Animoto also takes into account how people use cameras these days. With digital cameras increasingly accessible and having near unlimited storage, is very different from the days of film (or expensive storage). It's no longer about taking the perfect shot. These days, it's common for people to take dozens, if not hundreds of digital photographs at a single event. People are using their digital cameras much less like photographers of the past, who capture individual moments, and increasingly more like video producers and directors who capture an entire experience through a series of images.

Animoto makes it simple to convey experiences through a series of photographs by perfectly synchronizing the images to music. If we're doing out jobs right, the resulting Animoto video should perfectly meld the imagery and music to create a video that evokes the intended emotional response from its' creator and subsequent viewers.

Steve: What's your target market for Animoto?

Jason: While we originally sought to target teens and twenty-somethings who use social network sites, we've been pleased to find that appeals to a much larger audience. We feel our potential market includes anyone with access to digital photos. At last count, this included about 109 million global users of photo-sharing websites and at current growth rates, is projected to grow 150% to 272 million users by 2010. While we originally thought most of our usage would be U.S.-based, we've been pleasantly surprised by the strong adoption by international users in countries such as France, Italy and Japan. The fact that we haven't yet localized for these countries is a testament to the simplicity of our website design and the universal appeal of Animoto videos.

We've also been thrilled to discover that the possibilities for the Animoto video creation service are far greater than we first assumed. We've had hundreds of inbound inquiries from fans of Animoto who want to use the service in K-12 classrooms, on residential real-estate websites, on professional photographers' websites, on small-business-owners websites, and of course, on musician's and band's websites. From a business development perspective, we've had dozens of inbound inquiries from interested potential partners like video device manufactures, video game creators, and social network platform providers.

We are committed to staying focused on the teens and twenty-somethings market with, but with the release of our API we'll have the ability to enter several additional large markets where there's already a demand for Animoto. After creating a Facebook application, we're going to create an Animoto Pro service for the commercial use of Animoto videos and then consider options for Animoto wedding videos, Animoto reunion videos, Animoto baby videos, etc.

Steve: Have you thought about the potential in business presentations? Sprucing up boring PowerPoints?
Letting users ...

We have a business version of Animoto planned for 2008. But it will be more geared toward short video-like commercials ... not text information based material. We won't replace PPT. All I can say, is I'm actually more exciting about our business offering than I am with our current product.

Thanks Jason!

Takeaways and Example Videos

Animoto won't make you a good presenter.

It won't make you a good storyteller.

It won't replace slide shows or PowerPoint.

It won't generate leads.

It won't close the sale. But it might help you banish the boring from your presentations. It's a start.


Some REALLY Valuable Additional Uses

You can use it to suck up to the Boss's secretary. Alice Imfeld (, my boss's Chief Executive Secretary, makes the world go round. She gets things done when all hope is lost. She's the helping hand out of the quicksand, and on and on. Once, (a couple of weeks ago) when I realized I forgot to get her a birthday card, I was frantic. I quickly resulted to unplanned sophomoric cartoonializing that is a character flaw of the truly disorganized. I did the 1-2-3 step Animoto Boogie, and it morphed into the semblance of a well- thought-out personalized birthday card. I e-mailed it to her and waited for a digital pink slip to ping my e-mail inbox. But ... she loved it. It has now gone down in corporate history books as the day "Steve won over Alice."

See below.

A Great 60- Second Video Briefy on Animoto

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