Yawnbuster: Review

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 0 comments

YawnbusterVariety is the spice of life, so they say, and one of the joys of life at m62 is being exposed to presentations that deal with every conceivable type of subject matter for every conceivable type of audience. Every so often we come across a PowerPoint app that reminds us that not every presentation is a sales presentation, and not every audience is composed of purse-stringing procurement prudes. Yawnbuster is such an application – while it’s difficult to imagine it finding its way into boardrooms and  pitch presentations, presenters who use PowerPoint for more educational purposes may find it a useful ally in the perennial battle against snoozing audiences.

What is Yawnbuster?

Yawnbuster is designed to help presenters keep audiences interested and stop them disengaging from the content of the presentation – a highly destructive phenomenon experienced by 99% of presenters everywhere (the 1% being customers of m62). To achieve this, Yawnbuster gives the presenter the means to create, quickly and simply, a range of exercises, games and tests designed to encourage audience participation. Yawnbuster embeds itself into the Add-Ons tab in the Ribbon (PowerPoint 2007 and 2010) or in the toolbar in PowerPoint 2003, and within a few clicks and a bit of typing, the presenter can create a flash-based exercise that runs on a slide. This can be used to brainstorm ideas, run quizzes, test understanding, set up team competitions, and more.

Yawnbuster runs within PowerPoint, and is displayed within the PowerPoint SlideShow. As long as you have ActiveX Flash Player 8 or higher, you can use it without installing any additional software (if you’re not sure whether you have this, try watching the demo below as a test).  It’s available as a fully-functional 7-day trial, and the Essentials pack gives you the core set of eight exercises for US$99, with additional Business and Games packs for around the same price, should you need even more variety.

How Does it Work?

Perhaps the most difficult thing about Yawnbuster is deciding which of the different types of exercise to choose. The Essentials pack includes the following:

  • Participation Enhancers – Interactive exercises that allow the presenter to record straw poll-type information provided by the audience. Essentially, the presenter puts up a question and shows a list of options, the audience members put their hands up to vote, and the presenter inputs the number of votes for each response. Yawnbuster creates various types of charts, in real time, to display the data.
  • YB_pic1Collaboration – A test consisting of a list of headings that the audience must put in the correct order (for example, listing countries in order of revenue from highest to lowest, or organising a number of process steps into the correct order). Again, the presenter manipulates the slide while the audience calls out their suggestions, until the correct sequence is revealed.
  • Breathers – A few variations on a group-oriented quiz. The audience is split into different teams, and each team has a turn at answering a set of multiple choice questions, with the presenter providing hints and tips onscreen as required, inputting their responses, and revealing the winners at the end.

YB_pic2Whichever type of exercise you choose, it’s surprisingly simple to set up. Yawnbuster opens up a simple and clean interface that lets you create your questions and answers; set up hints and messages to appear onscreen as quizzes proceed; and even do some tinkering with the formatting. As the background to each exercise, you can select a custom flat colour, choose from a handful of preloaded themes, or upload your own picture, and there are also options to change the font style and colour.

YB_pic4Once all this is set up and saved, a Flash object is embedded onto your chosen PowerPoint slide. This object will run as soon as that slide arrives in the SlideShow, and the presenter simply clicks on the opening title screen to start the activity, clicking and typing when required to record answers, proceed through questions, or change the format of charts and data.

A demonstration of Yawnbuster’s setup process and one of the exercises in action

What doesn’t work?

Yawnbuster is simple and intuitive to work with, and provides a quick and easy way to set up interactive exercises within a presentation. Not all of the exercises included in the Essentials pack seem immediately useful however; the ‘show of hands’ exercise is somewhat eclipsed by the ‘brainstorm’ exercise for example, and most of the ‘breather’ games are just more or less inventive ways of conducting a basic quiz between two or more teams.

Although there are some customization options to change the look and feel of the flash sequences, it’s difficult to make them look properly ‘at home’ within a professionally designed presentation. The background images and themes are not the most attractive or varied. The best option would seem to be to save out a JPG image of the presentation background image and upload that, but Yawnbuster does not automatically size the image to fit the window, but leaves a white border around it. This makes it very difficult to make the appearance of the exercise slides consistent with the rest of the presentation, even if you spend some time setting up the fonts and colours. The button styles may not be to everyone’s taste, being basic shape variations on a beveled chrome theme, which looks a little dated.

YB_pic3A bigger problem is the ‘title’ screen of each sequence, which uses ClipArt style images and garish text-art. These title screens announce the start of each exercise you insert into the presentation, and require the presenter to click a button or enter team information to start the exercise. The cheap quality of the graphics used on these titles is quite a turn-off and it’s a big shame that these screens can’t be customized, or done away with altogether.

Because the interactive exercises require the presenter to use a mouse and keyboard to input the audience information and responses, it’s difficult to imagine using Yawnbuster in a typical ‘stand-and-deliver’ presentation scenario, such as a sales meeting or pitch. Although you can save the exercises once they’re complete, and so potentially use them as information for follow-up meetings, the process of counting hands or asking participants to call out answers and then clicking to record those answers seems like a slightly clunky way of managing feedback in most presentation situations.

What does work?

However, this is where we have to think beyond the business environment and into presentation scenarios that focus on teaching and learning. It is very easy to imagine Yawnbuster being put to excellent use with younger audiences, perhaps in schools, where setting up team competitions and quizzes, and counting votes or organizing brainstorming sessions are excellent ways of breaking up lessons and monitoring understanding. Indeed, given the somewhat cartoonish graphics and the style of games that have been developed, Yawnbuster feels well-suited to the classroom, and it’s there that I can see it having a real impact. Although the quizzes and tests might conceivably be put to good use during internal company training sessions, the overall aesthetic threatens to undermine credibility in front of a mature audience. This would not be a problem when expectation levels are lower, and Yawnbuster would probably be well-received and appreciated by a class of children.

Indeed, in modern classrooms when teachers are encouraged more and more to integrate communication technology into their lesson plans, Yawnbuster is a positive boon. When there’s less and less time to create lesson plans and teaching materials, teachers could create a few slides in Yawnbuster that help students to summarise the key learning points of the lesson, and engage in some fun competitive tests to reinforce their understanding. When professional graphics and corporate image are not a concern, and the emphasis is on interaction and learning through discussion, Yawnbuster could be exactly what educators are looking for to encourage participation and engage learners in the material.

Conclusion

Yawnbuster is a very interesting piece of software that has much to recommend it, although it would benefit enormously from some further development. The exercises are, for the most part, well-conceived and well-executed, and the customization options provided currently are a step in the right direction. In order to find a niche in professional training situations, more work has to be done on this front. The ClipArt style aesthetic and somewhat limited graphical options make Yawnbuster difficult to incorporate into a business presentation without destroying the slick and polished impression that careful slide development seeks to build. The presenter also finds himself doing a lot more work than normal during the course of the presentation; as well as explaining the exercises and soliciting the responses, he must manipulate the flash sequences to reflect the audience’s input, which is why this application screams out for use in schools.

Presenters in typical business meeting scenarios or delivering internal training may well be put off by the visual style, and might find the effort involved setting up and manipulating the exercises is not worth stepping away from a flipchart. Educators in schools however will probably find the visual style more than apt for their audience, and the dynamics that Yawnbuster brings to lessons should more than repay the effort involved in creation the exercises. Until this product is developed further to allow a more professional look and feel and more seamless integration into a polished slide deck, it may find itself appealing to the educational sector more than the commercial. Within that context, however, it certainly does impress as a time-saving, attention-grabbing addition to any lesson, and should find no end of grateful users – and no shortage of yawns to bust.

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