Microsoft boosts Teams with new presenter tools and PowerPoint integration

It's also launching new Intelligent Speakers that look like old Echo Dots.

Microsoft's Teams app for work is about to get superpowered. At its Ignite conference today, the company announced a slew of updates for its video chat tool to make it more useful and customizable. It also unveiled new made-for-Teams speakers with special features for transcriptions.

First, since we clearly aren't going to return to large-scale in-person events anytime soon, Microsoft is making Teams a more powerful webinar platform. You can now have up to a thousand attendees per meeting from both inside and outside your organization. There will also be more tools like custom registration, host controls for disabling attendee chat and video, as well as "rich presentation options." You'll also get post-event reports to see how your webinar did.

If you need to reach even more people, Teams can switch to a view-only broadcast mode that will support up to 10,000 attendees. From now till the end of 2021, Microsoft is bumping that number up to 20,000. It's also integrating Dynamics 365 Marketing with Teams to make it easier to manage and review attendee info so you can better engage with them before, during and after each event.

The company is also debuting Teams Connect, which will let you share channels with people outside of your organization. In these shared workspaces, users can use chat, meet and share docs, as well as collaborate on apps and co-author documents in real time. Teams Connect is available in private preview today, and Microsoft said it will "roll out broadly later this calendar year."

Microsoft Teams Connect animation showing Word and Teams integrations

One of Microsoft's most beloved products is PowerPoint, and it's getting better integrated into Teams. With the new PowerPoint Live, which is available now in Teams, presenters can advance their slides whenever they like while viewers can privately skip ahead or go back at their own speed. Importantly, attendees can also use the screen reader on their own to peruse the presentation at their own pace. Presenters will be able to see their content, notes, meeting participants and chat in a single screen.

Microsoft also wants to make it easier for you to see what you need on Teams. It's adding a Presenter mode for presenters to "customize how their video feed and content appear to the audience." There are three options here — Standout, Reporter and Side-by-side. Standout puts the speaker's video feed front and center while Side-by-side shows the presenter's video next to their slides Finally, Reporter will display content "as a visual aid above the speaker’s shoulder just like during a news segment." This feature will launch with Standout mode this month, and Microsoft says Reporter and Side-by-side will be coming soon.

If you can't decide what mode to pick, you can also leave it up to Teams to decide. Microsoft's officially introducing Dynamic View, which it sort of previewed in January. With this, the app will tweak and move frames and speaker windows as people speak, begin to present or turn on their cameras. There's also a new option to put the participant gallery at the top of the meeting, closer to where your laptop's webcam is so you can "maintain a natural eye gaze," Microsoft said. Dynamic view is in the coming weeks.

Microsoft Teams Presenter Mode animation showing the screen changing layout as the user clicks on the chat button. Screen elements move to make room for the chat panel.

When we eventually return to meetings in physical meeting rooms, Teams will have new gallery views to make things easier to see. A new Together Mode and large gallery will allow people to see everyone in a room. Plus, if there are multiple screens available, or if people are joining the call remotely, they'll all be able to see the same content.

Finally, in addition to all these updates to its software, Microsoft is also announcing new hardware. It unveiled new Teams Intelligent Speakers that look like earlier Echo Dots with a pop-up control panel. Microsoft says its speakers can identify the voices of up to 10 people talking in a Teams room for more accurate attribution in meeting transcripts.

With video conferencing clearly going to continue being the primary way we work with our colleagues for awhile, it's astute of Microsoft to keep enhancing Teams. These integrations with Office apps and new tools could make Teams a more powerful service than its competitors like Google's Meet, Zoom and Webex.

Update: This article was edited to reflect changes in the availability of Dynamic View and the 20,000 attendee limit for view-only webinars.

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