Confessions of a Public Speaker
I was doing a presentation earlier this month at the famed Granite Club in Toronto, with its 141-year history. It was for a TEC Canada group and a number of Toronto CEO’s and business owners were there. Obviously, I wanted to deliver a great presentation.
I got there early to make sure everything was properly set up, but when the presentation started, the audio volume on my video clips that were part of my presentation wasn’t high enough and I couldn’t make it louder. I eventually determined my wireless speaker had lost its connection, so I was only playing audio from my laptop. No wonder the volume was low. I didn’t want to play around trying to get it to sync again, so I connected the speaker with an audio cable, while admitting to my audience that's what I should have done in the first place and apologizing for the loss of momentum.
Even people who speak professionally screw up every now and then. When you do your next public presentation, here’s how you can avoid what happened to me.
“Just Bring Your Presentation on a Stick”
I cringe every time somebody asks me to do this. I’ve seen what can happen. I long for the day when I can get on a plane with nothing more than my boarding pass, passport, my presentation on a memory stick, get to the hotel, plug in the stick and start talking. Frankly though, I don’t expect it to happen.
The first issue the crops up is that Apple computers and PC’s have different formats and when you put your presentation on a stick on a Mac it defaults to a format that only it can use on another Mac product. Most PC’s won’t be able to read the stick because it’s in a different format. It simply can’t find the memory stick in its system, so it will normally ask you if you want to format it, which of course you don’t because it will wipe out your presentation. The PC system remains the standard for different forms of presentation devices in offices and auditoriums, so keep that in mind if you use a Mac.
Assuming the computer you’re using for your presentation can read the stick, here are another couple of landmines many people step in. The two main presentation products are PowerPoint and Keynote. There’s a PowerPoint version for PC or Mac, but Keynote is a Mac product. Even if the computer you’re borrowing to load your presentation on can read your memory stick, it likely won’t have Keynote, only PowerPoint, so once again you’re hooped.
You can export your Keynote presentation to a PowerPoint version in advance, but even if you do your problems don’t always end there. Many of the transitions and fonts you used on Keynote won’t export properly to PowerPoint because they’re different. As a result, your presentation will work in PowerPoint, but it may look and act a little different.
We’re not done yet. There’s one more issue. Even if your presentation was developed in PowerPoint it may not look the same because of different versions of PowerPoint. As an example, if you’re using the latest version and the one that’s loaded onto the laptop you’re using for your presentation has an older version, it won’t necessarily look or act the same way.
So when somebody says to you “Just bring your presentation on a stick” politely decline and say you’ll bring your laptop.
You Know Your Technology Works
When you bring your presentation on a laptop you know it will work, but that doesn’t mean your potential problems have been eliminated.
If you have a PC laptop you will likely have an easier time because most projectors connect to laptops through a VGA connection. Most PC laptops have a VGA connection on the back or side, so all you need to do is connect the projector’s cable into your laptop. More and more laptops are finding ways to discover they’re connected to a projector and the process is fairly seamless, but some of the older ones still require you to hit one or two keystrokes to get the projector to “read” your laptop. So even though you have everything on your laptop good to go, you may still have a problem getting the projector to find it. My advice is, do some practicing before you go to the event to make sure your laptop will make the proper connection.
If you use a Mac, the projector will find your laptop easier, as long as you have the proper connection cable, or “dongle” as it’s sometimes called. Mac products don’t come with a VGA connection built in, so you need to bring an adapter to go out of your laptop and into the projector’s VGA connection. Your Apple store can help you with this.
If you can use an HDMI cable to connect your laptop to the projector th en go for it. However, your laptop will need to have an HDMI output. As a general rule of thumb HDMI to HMDI works the best because audio is also carried, along with video. A week and a half ago I was doing a presentation in Toronto and although the VGA connection to the projector wasn't working, I went directly into the projector with an HDMI cable and it saved my bacon.
So Now You’re Hooked Up
Getting connected is the hardest part, because everything else you can control on your laptop and in your planning. You’re almost there to a real professional presentation.
One of the things you need to understand now is proper placement of your laptop. Unfortunately far too many places I have spoken at force the speaker to put their laptop on the podium, or very close to it. You need to be able to set your laptop between you and your audience, so you can refer to the laptop as you speak. This allows you to know what’s on the screen behind you, so you don’t have to keep turning to look at the screen to make sure the right slide is there. When you’re setting up your laptop make sure it’s in a place that will help you move seamlessly through your presentation. If you need the a/v person to move a cable or table to make this work, it’s well worth your time and effort to make the request.
You can’t look like a pro through without a wireless presentation device, also called a wireless remote. We’ve all seen somebody do a presentation with their assistant sitting next to their laptop and the person on the stage repeatedly saying “Next slide please.” These remotes aren’t expensive - $39 will get you a decent one. They normally have a tiny USB that goes into your laptop, so make sure you have a USB slot in your laptop. I believe you can also get remotes that work without a USB, so feel free to check that out. One final note about wireless remotes, keep some fresh batteries in your bag in case you get to the event and your remote isn’t working because the batteries have died. Stronger batteries also normally give you better range on your remote too.
If your presentation requires audio, make sure you have a way of playing it back. In larger venues with big audiences, there’s normally “house sound”, so you can connect your laptop by a cable that’s normally supplied by the venue. This allows you to tap into the mixing board and big speakers set up for the event. Make sure you test the sound before so your first audio clip isn’t so low that people can’t hear it, or so loud that it knocks them out of their seats. In smaller places, a good portable speaker does the trick, but it’s something else you need to bring with you. As I found out the hard way, if you can use a cable to make the connection, it’s more reliable than a wireless one.
One final thought – some advance planning and practice can avoid all of these potential landmines. I have a case that I keep my cords, adapters, batteries and other stuff in. If I have that case (pictured right), then I know I’m good to go for most of my speaking events. You likely won’t need as much gadgetry as this, but you will need a wireless remote, an adapter, an HDMI cable and some fresh batteries. You may as well keep them together.
Remember, the only time you ever want to bring your presentation on a stick is if you’re using it for nothing more than a back up.