Google slides now lets you display real-time, automated captions as you present. Caption capabilities can benefit speakers, conference organizers, and audience members. Captions may help people who speak to be more easily understood by audience members, especially those with hearing difficulties, since the speaker's slides are typically displayed on a large screen. Captioning also can help meeting hosts and organizers cope with a sound system that may not capture or amplify the speaker's voice throughout a venue.
For captions to work, you'll need to present Google Slides using Chrome on a computer with a working microphone. The system provides captions for English speakers only, as of October 2018.
To show captions, create your presentation with Google Slides, as usual. When ready, select "Present," then select the "CC" (closed caption) button to the right of the pointer. Speak into the microphone connected to your computer. The system will convert your spoken words into text captions and display them at the bottom of the screen, below your slides.
The automated captions shown by the system aren't perfect. They're automated. You may want to keep an eye on the captions shown when you rehearse your presentation. (Note: Yes, you really should rehearse your presentation. Try giving your presentation one time through while watching your screen with captioning enabled. You might say "um," "uh," or "like" more often than you think.)
The captioning system omits punctuation. That can be a bit confusing, but in the flow of a presentation the words paired with slides should make sense. If they don't, you may want to rethink either what you show on your slides or what you say as you present
Of course, if you're one of the people who reads every word on a slide, captioning will just mean that your words will appear twice on every screen: Once on the slide and once below in the captions. If you recognize yourself at all in that last sentence, you also have some homework to do. Take the time to create a presentation where your slides complement or supplement your words, not duplicate them.
The system also only shows captions for words spoken into the microphone connected to the computer from which you're presenting Google Slides. Of course, it helps if you speak clearly. At panel events, that may mean you need to pass a microphone around. In general, it also means you're dependent on the quality of your microphone. If you present frequently, you may want to invest in a high-quality wireless microphone that works with your system, so you can move around as you present.
Captions also display when you present Slides to people with Hangouts Meet (you did know you could present Slides to Hangouts Meet, yes?). That helps people who may have joined Hangouts Meet from a mobile device while on-the-go: They can mute the sound, watch the screen, and remain engaged with the presentation.
The bottom line is that live, real-time presentation captions deliver value to many different people. The next time you present with Google Slides, give captions a try.
If you've used captions as you present with Google Slides, let me know how well it worked for you—either as a presenter or meeting participant. Share your experiences in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).
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Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Albuquerque, NM with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.