Creators are using the video app to add custom effects, backgrounds, animations, and more to their events.

2020 was the year virtual events went mainstream — because that’s simply the way it had to be. To survive, creators of all stripes have pivoted to digital and hybrid events. In doing so, they’ve discovered both their positives (you can’t transmit viruses through a live stream) and all their glaring shortcomings (timeouts, conversational timing sucks, and a loss of connection with the audience). But one good thing happened when we went into lockdown: crafty entrepreneurs went to work making video apps better.

“We started working on mmhmm as a joke in May of 2020,” says Phil Libin, the co-founder of All Turtles, a mission-driven product studio that hatched mmhmm. “Everything was boring and dreadful and depressing. We were just goofing around on video by doing wacky things to try to make ourselves laugh a little bit.” 

Libin fine-tuned the app, which makes “video calls less boring” using custom effects, backgrounds, and animations, for use during a startup class he taught that had transitioned to online. Rather than just showing his face or the slides, he used mmhmm to shrink himself, fly around, and pull apart various charts and illustrations on screen. 

“I was significantly better as an instructor on video than I was in person,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to duplicate the in-person experiences — I was able to make them different and better.” In its current state, the app lends five “communication superpowers”: spotlight the speaker, illustrate and focus, tell a story, supercharge time, and interact, each of which can be used in real time for seamless presentations and performances. 

“Now the question is, why would you go listen to me talk live in person, when you can just watch a video of me that you can rewind, fast forward, listen to in 1.5x time, use for notes, and have graphics in real time?” Libin says. “Obviously, it’s better for that kind of knowledge transfer.”

Today mmhmm has a growing community of creators, a new version called mmhmm Chunky, and even more capabilities on the horizon. We talked with Libin and users of the app about how creators can succeed with video in a changing world.

Synchronous or asynchronous? Ask the face hole.

Question number one for creators who want to up their video game, Libin says, is whose face hole is moving. Multiple mouths moving in a short span of time? That’s a conversation, and live, synchronous video is just what the doctor ordered. And if only one person’s face hole is moving for long stretches of time? “It’s not a conversation, it’s a lecture,” Libin says. For this type of “information transfer,” he says, there’s no reason for everyone to have to experience it together at the same time (synchronously). Making an asynchronous recording on mmhmm allows users to pick from multiple takes, and viewers can experience the recording at normal or increased speed. And you can mix in pre-recorded content with live content for, say, a talk followed by a discussion.

Be one with the slide.

Highlight the Speaker is mmhmm’s most simple improvement over other video presentation apps and programs. “If you ask Powerpoint, they pretend that the slides are most important… and if you ask Zoom, they pretend that the person’s video is most important,” Libin says. “No, what’s most important is you being expressive, and your face plus the materials in context together.” 

Mmhmm’s Highlight the Speaker feature allows for customizable overlap between slides and the speaker. Speakers can engage directly with the images and videos from various positions on screen — doing away with the awkward “share screen” dance. Garr Reynolds, a professor and professional speaker, pairs the Zen approach of simplicity with his mmhmm presentations. That way, he says, “the brain is much more engaged, the audience can see the presenter, and the visuals come in to compliment and to amplify the presenter’s message.”

Get creative, live.

Reynolds isn’t the only one with an interesting take on mmhmm’s useful tools. A number of creators have become ardent users of the app for their classes, performances, and events. Tamara Miyasato uses mmhmm to seamlessly cut between English and Lakota translations of indigenous folk tales that she reads to kids. Drew Badali, a children’s music teacher, integrates creative visuals to enhance his songs, like “reaching” up into an apple tree and coming down with an apple (or three). And Prescription Joy, a pair of hospital clowns, use mmhmm’s virtual tools to “disappear,” “shrink,” and more in real time. 

The future has room for both in-person and virtual events, Libin says — and the key is narrowing down what is best performed virtually. “If you think of a virtual event as an inferior version of a physical event, then obviously it’s going to suck,” Libin says. “But if you lean into the things that you could never do in a physical event, then you can make something really great.”

Want to try it for yourself? mmhmm is offering Eventbrite creators a three-month free premium trial now.

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