Tuesday, February 23, 2021

PowerPoint Slides as Virtual Background in Zoom


Do not readjust the visual settings on your computer. I am writing about PowerPoint. If you are reading this, it may come as a surprise to see me write about a Microsoft product instead of Google. That being said, although I specialize in Google, I aim to be device/platform/app agnostic. I actually use Microsoft Office pretty regularly for certain tasks, but Google is still my go-to. 

Not too long ago, a colleague of mine was tinkering with Zoom settings and discovered a new beta feature that allows you to set PowerPoint (Apple Keynote too) slides as virtual backgrounds. Google Slides is not an option yet. What this does is put your slides as the background when you share the screen and your torso in front of them. This creates an effect like you're on stage and your slides on the screen behind you. You can move a little bit horizontally as well as point to parts of the slide. Your body gets cut off from the screen if you rise or point vertically more than roughly one third of the way up from the bottom of the screen.

This feature, still in beta, is available on PCs and Macs using the Zoom Desktop Client app. You must have PowerPoint installed on the device. You students will need to also have the Desktop Client app on their Chromebooks, PCs or Macs. If using their mobile device to join your Zoom, they will need to use the Zoom mobile app and their mobile device must be a relatively updated model. Click here for a more detailed look at specifications from the Zoom Help Center.

Get started by having your PowerPoint slides saved on your computer. If you are like me and have all your slides saved in Google Drive as Google Slides, open the presentation, click File, hover over Download and click Microsoft PowerPoint. Your slides will be in your device's download folder as a PowerPoint presentation.

When your Zoom call has been initiated, click Share Screen.

At the top of the Share Screen window, click Advanced. 

In the new menu that appears, click Slides as Virtual Background. Notice this is still in beta so there will be updates to this feature in the near future.

Your computer's files will pop up. The example below shows what it looks like on a Mac. A PC will look different, but it will function similarly enough. Select the PowerPoint presentation you want to use and click Open.

The first time you try this, you will be prompted to give Zoom access to control PowerPoint. Click OK. 

After loading, your Zoom screen will appear with the first slide of your PowerPoint Presentation and you'll see your torso at the bottom of the screen. At the bottom middle of the screen, you'll see a control button that will allow you to move ahead and backwards through the slides.

You are able to move horizontally across the bottom of the screen. Your ability to stand or point vertically ends at about one third of the way up from the bottom of the screen. Going past will see you cut off.

I think this is such a cool feature. It allows you to really personalize your presentation and better connect with students. Now they can see you while you teach. This seems like something very trivial, but it does make a difference for those looking to connect with you. There are some limitations now, but this is still in beta and will likely improve greatly over the coming months. You can bet I will be downloading many of my Google Slides presentations as PowerPoint. 

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