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I am working on a presentation for an AALL caucus in the next month. It’s given me a reason to play around with Microsoft PowerPoint’s Cameo feature. It validated a concern that I have about virtual presentations, which is that the speaker and the presentation are split, visually, and that it doesn’t need to be that way. There are tools for allowing you to see the presenter AND put the presentation in the same sight line.

Virtual presentations can be a challenge. I had thought about this before Sarah Glassmeyer and I did our Zoom coffee chat with AALL. You’ll have experienced this by now, I expect. You join a call and you’re the top left-hand video square. Others join and, whether it’s because their audio is picked up or some other reason, the squares start to move. Since I was going to be talking with Sarah, I wanted to be able to see her. It’s not just because I’m an #old. The (only?) benefit of the video in a video conference over audio conference is that you can mimic in-person speaking, relying on facial expressions and pauses that get missed in audio.

When you have multiple video inputs, you can’t use Speaker view effectively. It’ll flip back and forth. You can pin a Zoom participant’s video square to make sure it doesn’t move around. When you add in a presentation, and screen share a slide deck or other media, this is also a challenge. So, what if you could bring the speaker and presentation together, enabling people to use Speaker mode (full screen) without worrying about the app’s mechanics?

Enter Cameo. (Word up).

Option 1: PowerPoint Embedded Camera

I am not sure when Cameo first appeared in the PowerPoint app. It appears to only be available to Microsoft 365 users, but I see it on both my Family 365 account and my work 365 account, so it doesn’t appear to be a business feature. You can find it under the Insert tab on the Ribbon. I have a feeling that you could use the PowerPoint embed feature in the past to include a camera option (or was that only video files?), or use a PowerPoint plugin, but the Cameo feature seems to be about 1-2 years old.

A screenshot of PowerPoint with a circle highlight over the Cameo camera option.
Screenshot of PowerPoint with a circle highlight over the Cameo camera option.

There’s not really much to it. Like any technology, it’s not so much activating it as figuring out how to use it. That was my challenge.

When you drop a Cameo box onto your screen, you can resize it like any other screen element. This is useful so that you can place it within your PowerPoint presentation and see where it might obstruct underlying content. This would be important for all of those lawyer presentations that are word-heavy – and not really presentations, in my mind – because the screen is already challenged for space.

There are some features to make the video box stand out. You can add a lot of the design elements you’d add to a box: a frame, a shadow, a glow, etc. These seem distracting to me but I’m pretty conservative, I guess. I have put a thick black border around it to segment the video from the presentation content.

A screenshot of PowerPoint showing the Camera Effect options on the Camera Format tab after inserting a camera Cameo object.  There is a dropdown menu in the middle of the screen with options like shadow, reflection, and glow.
A screenshot of PowerPoint showing the Camera Effect options on the Camera Format tab after inserting a camera Cameo object

Cameo can be inserted on any individual slide. This is perhaps the most compelling feature to me. The received wisdom for using slides in a presentation is to aim change slides every 2 to 3 minutes. If you have content that fills the screen (embedding a full web page or search interface for legal research training, for example), you would not want your video to overlay that content. In this way, you could put Cameo just on the pages that you want.

One idea I’m rolling around in my head is doing a standing video. Since the Cameo embed is just whatever the camera sees, why not do a full height video, rather than headshot? You could then reframe the slide to a full rectangle, with one edge taken out for the video. The PowerPoint Cameo framing options might make more sense in that case.

I’m not sure that’s as useful as it might seem. I think Cameo only works on the device on which the slide deck is running. It is picking up the local camera feed. And the local camera feed will only go to one app at a time, and it does not seem to be an automatic process.

I wanted to try this out. So I started a Microsoft Teams meeting with myself, and then joined from my phone. I shared my PowerPoint slide deck (work in progress) and then tried to see what I could see.

A screenshot of PowerPoint with the Cameo video embed started, and I'm holding a phone up to show the screenshare, which is the same PowerPoint with video enabled.
Picture in Picture!

So far, when I’ve started PowerPoint with a Cameo embed, the Cameo video is toggled to off. In editing mode, you can click on the Cameo box and it turns the camera on. In presentation mode, it automatically starts the video.

If you join Teams with video on and the presentation in editing mode, the Cameo video will not toggle on. You have to toggle your Teams video off, release the camera’s video feed, and then turn on the Cameo embed. This means you have video in one place or the other. This is when PowerPoint in editing mode. You cannot interact with the Cameo element when you are in the live Slideshow mode.

I tried to run Cameo with a Teams meeting in a web browser, with PowerPoint in Slideshow view. I opened the PowerPoint first, so it was ready to go for the presentation. When Teams opened, it would not find the camera. This isn’t a huge issue, if your goal is to have your video only in the presentation. But it means that, at least with the web app, you can’t toggle between PowerPoint and Teams for your camera.

If you are using video on only selected slides, and you are relying on your audience seeing you in your virtual meeting software, you need to return to that app, Teams in this case, and toggle video back on. This seems unmanageable to me in the flow of doing a presentation.

For my presentation, it makes more sense to keep the video in the same place the whole time. That way I know the video will always be accessible to the audience. It has other benefits. If you have your Cameo embed on every slide, you can plan your content around it. I suppose there’s the option to move your video placement around, in a different place on each slide. I chose to keep it simple.

In fact, for ease of slide management, I opened up the Slide Master and dropped the Cameo embed on the main default slide. In that way, it is automatically included on all of my slides, no matter what layout I choose. This also helps me visualize each slide with the video in place.

Option 2: OBS Studio Video plus PowerPoint

This PowerPoint approach is closer to what I have tried before, using OBS Studio (free: direct, Microsoft Store) and a green screen and a PowerPoint slide deck. I won’t retread that experience, which I posted about here. The basic idea is that, instead of putting the video in PowerPoint and using the virtual meeting screenshare, you pipe the PowerPoint slides into OBS Studio, which also handles your camera, and the entirety is outputted as video to your virtual meeting software.

A picture showing two flow charts.  The top chart shows the camera and PowerPoint inputs converging on OBS Studio before it is sent to the virtual app.  The lower chart shows that the virtual app has to take both a camera and a PowerPoint input.
The OBS Studio approach shifts the multiple connections to your PC.

The OBS Studio approach has some advantages. One is that it has specific tools for toggling video on and off. You can preset these layouts – slides with your camera overlay, slides without, cameras in different locations – and quickly move between them using OBS Studio using the Multiview function.

This means that you’re not relying on any interaction between your virtual meeting software and your presentation. By the time Teams or Zoom receives a video signal from me, I am already sending everything I want them to have. I don’t have to worry about whether the manner in which the virtual meeting app handles the video camera will impact the PowerPoint Cameo functionality.

This may seem a quibble but one thing I worry about when doing a presentation is having the delivery messed up because of differences in delivery models. Have you ever given a presentation deck to someone else to show from the conference laptop or media deck at the back of the room, and find they have a Mac or can’t support the fonts you used?

The benefit to using the Cameo embed is that it forces you to reformat your slide presentation to ensure the video doesn’t overlap the content. It’s a more deliberate approach. However, you could also just place a box shape in your Slide Master to do the same thing, essentialy fencing off part of every slide to ensure the video doesn’t overlap. You could then remove the box shape before the presentation. This is an approach I’m toying with. Even if you wanted to later give this presentation in person, the blank space wouldn’t be a detriment.

PowerPoint in Presentation Mode

One PowerPoint failure I’ve seen frequently over the last few years is the failure to use Presentation mode. People will screen share a PowerPoint presentation and leave it in the edit mode. This eats up screen space with your PowerPoint ribbon and toolbars, among other things. There’s no reason to take this approach. You might as well just share a PDF, since all of the dynamic functionality of PowerPoint is flat in the editing view.

Ironically, OBS Studio would help with that. You can create a scene with PowerPoint in editing mode. Then resize the PowerPoint input so that you only see the slide contents. It works if your slide deck is flat, and avoids you having to worry about Presentation or Slideshow mode, if you’re on a single monitor.

I wondered about whether a PowerPoint web presentation would leverage the Cameo embed. It doesn’t. When I opened a slide deck in Microsoft Edge as a PowerPoint web presentation, the Cameo box was just a flat box. It doesn’t appear to send a request for the camera to the browser and does not have the toggle to activate or turn off the video stream.

The nice thing about using the web presentation option is that it’s easy to make full screen (F12 in your browser) and the web browser is an ultralight tool. If Cameo worked, you could skip the virtual meeting app entirely, sending your camera video to the web browser presentation, which your audience could join directly over the web.

I use a dual monitor set up with Nvidia Surround to merge the desktops. Since PowerPoint isn’t smart enough to size its Slideshow mode, I have to turn off Surround. In that way, PowerPoint will stick to one monitor. I can have my virtual meeting app (Teams, Zoom) running on one monitor and PowerPoint in presentation mode on the other.

As I noted above, though, PowerPoint in slideshow mode seems to activate the camera in a way that blocks other apps from accessing it. You also can’t turn off the Cameo embed once you’re in a live presentation. This is a pretty significant hurdle.

All in all, Cameo seems like a bit of a novelty. The best use case that I can imagine is in a large conference hall where the speaker is small and the attendees can only see either their face or a presentation on the large screens behind the speaker. In that case, you could merge a person and a presentation to great effect.

It seems deficient in comparison to using OBS Studio or nothing at all. So long as participants can pin your video square in their virtual meeting window so it’s adjacent to your presentation, you may be better off doing that than using Cameo. OBS Studio is such a low barrier to entry, though, I think it makes more sense to use it for any virtual training or presentations.