Showing all posts tagged presenting:

Presentation Mode

I do a lot of PowerPoint in my job, and have done ever since I moved out of being a full-time sysadmin. Whether it was preparing the stage for a demo when I was in technical pre-sales, delivering RoI projections during my stint in sales, or big-picture context setting in marketing, the vehicle of choice always ended up being PowerPoint.

While life has got better over the years, one thing is still surprisingly difficult at times, and that is getting the presentation to show up with the prospect’s equipment. When you are presenting at an event, you typically have some time to go test all the A/V kit and so on, but when you’re pounding the pavement, you get shown to a meeting room and you have to plug in to whatever is there and be ready to go.

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This is where the trouble can start. First off, we are still working with VGA connectors. While not a terrible connector for fixed equipment, it’s not ideal for laptops - and in fact, most modern laptops have followed Apple’s lead and dropped the VGA connector, usually in favour of HDMI1. However, only the best-equipped conference rooms offer HDMI (and vanishingly few have Mini DisplayPort), so this means that we all get to carry VGA dongles around.

Physical connection achieved, we have to cross our fingers and hope for decent resolution. SVGA - 1024x768 pixels - is still the lowest common denominator, so you have to make sure your slides look okay at that resolution. Getting the slides to work is the easy part, unfortunately; most modern software GUIs will struggle at that resolution. Make sure you do your warm-up exercises for you scrolling finger!

The Great Demo blog has a great set of tips for making sure your slides will work in unexpected situations. They’re mostly good suggestions, as is the rest of that blog, but I really take issue with the last point, which recommends disabling Presenter Mode.

I could not disagree more. I have never yet seen a situation where Presenter Mode was the factor that made the difference between being able to work with a projector and not. However, I have often been in situations where having the ability to keep an eye on the time, see presenter notes, take a peak at the next slide, or even jump to a backup or optional slide without having to break the presentation flow, have been invaluable.

In fact, one of my pet peeves is at conferences or events where the organisers provide their own laptop instead of allowing you to connect your own. On the one hand, this avoids all the trouble with connecting the laptop to the projector in the first place - but on the other hand, it means that you’re not using your own setup. Nine times out of ten, the presentation laptop is in mirror mode, not Presenter Mode. During prep time, if I have the time I will switch it to Presenter Mode - and all too often, A/V staff will then switch it back to mirror mode.

It may well be that Presenter Mode is confusing to inexperienced presenters, but this means that our suggestion to them as seasoned presenters should be to learn it and love it, not just to turn it off. Sure, it’s a power user feature, so maybe don’t mess around with it in your first week on the job - but maybe you shouldn’t be giving customer presentations until you are confident enough to roll with that anyway.

That said, don’t allow it to turn into a crutch. Too much jumping around within a deck will confuse your audience. They will be aware of it even if they don’t actually see you doing it on screen. Also, if you are presenting in a webinar, you will almost certainly not be able to use presenter mode unless you jump through a lot of hoops. In that situation, the better and more robust solution is to have your presentation on a second machine (or my personal solution: an iPad) and a timer on your phone (muted!) to help you stick to your story thread and timing.


  1. On the other hand I did have a Dell a few years ago with a DisplayPort outlet. No, not Mini DisplayPort - full-size DisplayPort. It looks like an HDMI port with one end squared off. I have never seen a single piece of DisplayPort hardware apart from that generation of Dell laptops. 

A Hail of Bullets

Michael Coté likes bullets in his presentations. I know I’ve been forced to sit through several presentations that made me wish for firearms, but he is actually talking about something else, namely this review of Speaking PowerPoint: The New Language of Business:

PowerPoint and its infamous bullet points have been so abused in later years that the term "PowerPoint death" has become widespread, to the extent that some voices claim that PowerPoint is making us stupid or threatening our thinking and reasoning.
It's understandable that as a reaction some very popular books published in the last couple of years about presentations focused on creating minimalist slides, with stunning visuals and little text. These decks might be appropriate for ballroom-style presentations before large audiences expecting to be motivated and/or entertained. However, the vast majority of presentations in the business world are boardroom-style presentations in which these design guidelines have little application. Bruce Gabrielle has written a book for the rest of us: the professionals who have to speak often in boardroom meetings before small, highly motivated audiences expecting lots of details and thorough information.
This type of "formal" presentations had been neglected and forgotten in previous literature. This book is fully oriented to people who have to create and deliver strategic plans, marketing plans, research reports, product planning decks, execution plans, program proposals and other business planning presentations.

Caveat: I haven’t actually read the book, so this post is about the review and Coté’s reaction to it.

The zeal of the new convert is always embarrassing and overblown, and Presentation Zen is no exception. I have seen many failed attempts to do a Steve Jobs-style presentation. That said, if you actually read the book instead of trying to imitate the latest TED Talk video, the methodology and examples are much more nuanced.

Any presentation can be improved by some graphic design principles. The fact that you are presenting in a boardroom or generally to a small audience is not an excuse to bore them to death, quite the contrary. If you are making a sales presentation to the economic buyer, you probably only get one shot to persuade them. If every slide is a dozen bullets, all in the same font size with no emphasis, interleaved with the odd eye-test graph or screenshot of dubious relevancy, don’t be surprised if your competitor gets the nod - especially if they have built an attractive, clear, legible and structured presentation.

Sometimes the right choice is even to use bullet points.