Recently, I was a part of a university event where I needed to present along with a senior executive from my company and several student teams. Rather than switching out the laptops for each different presentation, I decided to load all of the presentations on to my machine beforehand. I hate it when you run into setup problems when one group’s laptop doesn’t work properly with the projector or some other issue — and it throws off the whole schedule. What I didn’t anticipate was that the presentation remote would only work with the desktop computer in the auditorium.
No problem. I had all of the presentations also loaded on to a USB flash drive so I could transfer the files on to the desktop. However, in its infinite wisdom, the university’s IT group blocked any files from being installed on the desktop including a font file that one of the teams needed. After explaining the situation to an IT “support” person, he indicated nothing could be done before our event started. Aaagggh. Luckily, someone had brought their own presentation remote so we could just run the presentations from my laptop.
Often it’s easier said than done “to be prepared”, but we often focus so much on the actual presentation itself and forget the other small technical details that can completely ruin our beautiful slides and well-rehearsed thoughts. In reflecting on this recent situation, I had several takeaways for presenters who want to be more prepared for PowerPoint emergencies:
1. Be early
Nothing defuses potential problems like having ample time to adjust or adapt. If I wasn’t early for the aforementioned event, I would have been scrambling and very stressed out right before I was set to present. Not ideal. It’s always a best practice to arrive early for important presentations to familiarize yourself with your environment, technology, audience, etc. Nothing says “I don’t care about my audience” like unnecessary delays or complications due to arriving last-minute and expecting everything to “just work” — and it doesn’t.
2. Have a back-up plan
As you’re building your presentation, anticipate problems before they happen and have a contingency plan in place. Common problem areas include needing internet access to show a website or displaying a live product demo. What will you do if you can’t access a website or the demo crashes? I often have screenshots of the website or product in my presentation if something goes wrong. While screenshots might not be as good as the real thing, they’re better than nothing. Panic from not having a back-up plan can throw off what would have been a great presentation.
3. Invest in a 16 Gig (or higher) USB flash drive
You never know when you’ll need a way to quickly transfer a file from one computer to another prior to a presentation. We frequently assume that we’ll have an internet connection available so we can just email files back and forth, but experience has shown that’s not always the case as Murphy’s Law will often kick in. What if the wifi reception in the room is spotty or the files are too big to email? Having a large-capacity USB drive overcomes these types of issues, and the USB drives are now fairly inexpensive. I picked up a new Kingston 16 GB flash drive from Amazon for less than $20.
4. Buy your own presentation remote
After this recent experience, I finally broke down and bought my own remote — probably something I should have done ages ago (I know, I know). Now I have one less thing to worry about from a technology and usability perspective. I love my new Logitech Professional Presenter R800 (about $60). It works flawlessly, and I don’t have to worry about figuring out an unfamiliar remote. I also hate being tethered to a computer, and the remote gives me the freedom I need to engage and interact with my audience (as well as a handy laser pointer built into the remote).
5. Apple Users: Get an extra VGA cable adapter
If you use a MacBook Pro, you’ll want to have a spare Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter. When I’ve used an Apple MacBook, I needed to bring my VGA cable adapter for internal meetings; however, I often forgot to pack it for external meetings. I found it was better just to have one permanently in my laptop bag for external presentations in addition to the one I used in the office.
How else do you prepare for potential PowerPoint emergencies? Pack a spare CAT5 cable? An extension cord? I’m sure there are other tips and tools that may have helped you to be more prepared. Please share them!