Dec 29 2011

Emergency Preparedness for PowerPoint

Ready for any PowerPoint emergency. (c) Thinkstock

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!

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12 Responses to “Emergency Preparedness for PowerPoint”

  1. PowerPoint Ninja: “Emergency Preparedness for PowerPoint” « Breaking Murphy's Law says:

    […] Dykes, The PowerPoint Ninja, strikes at the dark heart of a potential presentation disaster with this story of  uncooperative hardware and a decidedly nonsupportive support person: What I didn’t anticipate was that the presentation remote would only work with the desktop […]

  2. Richard I. Garber says:


    Excellent advice! I bought a remote after once getting “handcuffed” to a desktop computer –

    In my February 1st post about checklists
    I mentioned three other inexpensive things to carry along with an extension cord – a two prong adapter, a cube tap (so you can plug both your laptop and projector in), and a wood block for angling the projector upward onto a screen.

    Do what you can to mistake proof your presentation outfit –

    That might also include locking out a rarely used port on the projector that could be confusing –


  3. John Zimmer says:

    A nice list, Brent. And you have put the most important point first – arrive early. I am happy to arrive an hour or more before my presentation to make sure that everything is working. If it is, so much the better, I can chat with some of the participants or read. (I always have reading material with me.)

    Some other ideas: (a) Bring extra (fresh) batteries for the remote. (b) For Mac users – and I am one myself – consider also getting a DVI adapter: because the technology is changing.

    Cheers and all the best for 2012.


  4. Janice Tomich says:

    Really great tips especially “arrive early”. More often then naught best laid plans go askew when it comes to the tech side of presentations. As a Mac user perhaps you have had the same issue that I often have run across – incompatibility of the venues projector to my Mac Air (like you I have the VAG adapter on hand)? I always call the venues tech person to confirm compatibility and get their assurance but come presentation day it is usually a scramble. I have sometimes resorted to using a colleagues PC laptop – thankfully I save the presentation in ppt. too! Any insight appreciated.

  5. Mohamed says:

    Thank you very much for the very useful tips& wish your presentation went well anyways.

  6. Fred E. Miller says:

    I always Print all my slides in Light Table View, and get about 36 + slides on one page.

    Since I use mostly images, I can hold that piece of paper in my hand and deliver.

    Suggestion: Always practice with that ‘Plan B.’

    Having a spare tire and knowing how to change it are two entirely different things!

  7. Tony Ramos says:

    Old, but still good: Troy Chollar’s “PowerPoint Pre-Show Checklist”

  8. angkiperdana says:

    Really useful insight…
    As I rarely use animation, and stick with large images, sometimes I also save my PPT as JPG and in case they have older version of MS Powerpoint or having Mac instead of Win PC, I just run my presentations as a slideshow.

  9. Lori Miller says:

    I’m just wondering if there were any other way to get around the font install issue you described –that is, other than relying on installing the fonts on the machine. Would a PPT executable file have solved this? Any other ideas?

  10. pptninja says:

    Two more reasons for arriving early. First, you can survey and adjust the presentation area — move tables, remove cables that could trip you up, rearrange the seats (if a smaller audience), etc. Second, you can get yourself some water before everything starts (because nobody in your audience may think of getting you any).

  11. Adam Greco says:

    Another good thing to know is how to use your phone as the remote. If you have an iPhone, you an make a virtual network with your phone and the laptop using wifi and then advance your slides using the $1 iPhone remote app. It has been a life-saver for me. There is also a similar app for PowerPoint called MyPoint that works well…

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