Avatars, talking web characters and virtual representatives are growing in popularity for one main reason…they “work”!
With broadband becoming standard internet access in all four corners of the world, the benefits and possibilities of using rich media and interactivity in marketing are starting to become a reality, if not the norm. One of the most active areas is in the so-called Animated Avatars known by many names such as: Talking Web Characters, Virtual Representatives, Virtual Characters and Web Compares. Their popularity is growing every day, it’s no coincidence, one of the key reasons is… “they work”, but when it comes to using them to deliver training, presentations or integrate them into CBT and education, the virtual teacher is all height of the challenge.
Assisted education delivery using the ubiquitous virtual tutor comes of age.
Virtual teachers, educational presenters and tutors can have a new face, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the same happy disposition, virtual, animated, automated lip-syncing and captivating content combined with contextual delivery. We know retention is improved, we know lean back instruction can be absorbed effortlessly, and we know there is nothing more powerful when it comes to delivering complex ideas or facts than the spoken word. Virtual Teachers can come in many shapes, ages, genders, and even fantasies. The flexibility is endless. Education creators can focus on the subject and choose the ideal virtual tutor to assist in the process. Literature assignment can be delivered in context, and even brain science and math education can become more accurate when you have the help of a virtual tutor who has the power of “voice.” Web-based or locally managed unattended instruction makes virtual education delivery highly effective and manageable. CBT has a new face, interactive courses can have virtual assistants and guides. Many formal education and training environments incorporate media into their presentations and educational content, and it’s no coincidence, why? because it works! The ability to focus on content and its compelling and memorable delivery is the reason virtual teachers and tutors are commonplace in institutions high up in the corporate stratosphere and in middle schools alike, they both have something in common, the recognition that compelling animated virtual teachers can deliver results in a planned and precise manner, where results can be accelerated at all levels of learning. Not surprisingly, its technology at its best, with a face and a purpose. Take a PowerPoint presentation, graphs, facts, figures and pictures, nice enough, add a fully animated virtual teacher into the mix and now you have a new generation of educational delivery.
In an educational context it is a fact that information retention and concentration improve in the face of captivating content. So what should you look for in your animated talking character.
1: The look of the avatar
Your talking animated character is “attractive”, or looks like it fell off the ugly tree, is well-crafted and generally engaging, or amateurish and poorly animated. It fits your image and your delivery requirements…it’s quality something you feel comfortable with.
2: Automated Lip Sync
Is my avatar lip sync accurate? there’s nothing worse than watching a virtual rep that looks like a badly dubbed movie, it’s crucial, our brain reacts in microseconds when faced with something that doesn’t seem right! It sounds bizarre, but most animated talking character offerings have less convincing lip-syncing to say the least. Simple tests include; Do virtual tutor lips stop moving when silent? Does it model the phonemes correctly or is it just a random selection of nonsense words?
3: Virtual teachers Environmental animation, Less is more.
Animations during narration should be kept to a minimum and be subtle, almost invisible. When watching a newscast you would feel uncomfortable if the eyes of the confrontation rolled from side to side and showed strange and seemingly uncontrollable head movements. It is the content provided by the talking avatar that is important and all animations should be kept to a minimum to avoid distraction. Less is definitely more.
4: Virtual Tutor – The Voice
Text-to-speech may seem convenient but it has a tendency to sound really bad. Remember! this is a virtual representative, your animated web or media compare is an extension of your image, unless you look like a robot that steers clear of synthesized voices. Use your own voice, or a friend’s, or shell out for a professional voice actor, they’re not as expensive as you think! TTS will probably improve in the future, but at the moment it should only be used if you have no other options.
5: Customizing your virtual character
Some offers give you tons of customization options, they even allow the visitor to play with the character during his narration. Generally you should try to limit the tailoring to the clothing and backgrounds for the best effect. You want your visitors and users to build a relationship with your virtual teacher, so constantly changing its appearance offers no continuity to the visitor or student. Having a virtual tutor that the visitor can joke with just takes away from their message.
6: Integrating and Hosting Your Virtual Teacher
Consider that many education delivery requirements can be remote over the Internet. Think a lot about this area as it is full of potential burdens and additional risks. If you have a Pay-for-view contract, a contract that charges you a monthly fee for so many streams, the risk is your growth in visits, you’ll end up with one of two potential problems; you have to pay more because you’ve had more traffic as your site grows in popularity, or you can’t afford to pay more, so your talking avatar disappears and leaves a block with the vendors logo in its place. The same goes for hosting providers, you have no control over their hosting structure, if you rely on your web comparison and your service providers’ servers go down, you’ve lost your “voice”. If your internet service goes down, at least your entire site is gone. Always try to use a solution that gives you total control, creates your composition in your own time, generates industry-standard output (Flash, Flash Video or conventional video), and has total flexibility when it comes to integration.
7: Flexibility gives your choice.
Flexibility is important, it would be nice to have access to the native output of your efforts in an industry standard format like Flash, Flash Video, AVI etc. So you can integrate your work into other environments like Powerpoint, Camtasia, YouTube etc. There are other services that can assist you from the provider such as Voice-Overs, integration and bespoke services. Your composition can work offline, you can create them offline. Flexibility increases return on investment.
Doing any job badly is not a good idea, many people grab a new technology and throw it to their audience without thinking about it. Implementing a bad animated virtual rep is harmful and may reflect on your business and/or educational needs, take your time in creating and don’t settle for second best.