Showing all posts tagged presenting:

Going From Caffeine To Amphetamine

No, this is not a post about controlled substances – even though it is Friday!

In the past, I have recommended some useful apps to improve your presenter game, including a great little tool called Caffeine. Unfortunately the upgrade to macOS Mojave seems to have finally killed off Caffeine, which is fair enough really since it has not been updated in some years.

Luckily, there is a fantastic alternative called Amphetamine, which sticks to Caffeine’s attractive pricing of "free". It does the same job that Caffeine did, sitting quietly in the menu bar until you need to prevent your display from sleeping – perhaps because it is connected to an external projector and you are trying to show something other than your cool screensaver.

On top of that, though, Amphetamine offers a ton of configuration options. My favourite is that you can create triggers which will automatically prevent your Mac from sleeping in certain conditions. I created a trigger so that my Mac will automatically stay awake when I connect my presentation remote, for instance.

If you don’t want a pill icon in your menu bar, you can also change it to something else, including a version of Caffeine’s classic coffee cup.

Do check out Amphetamine and let me know how you get on.

How To Run A Good Presentation

There are all sorts of resources about creating a good slide deck, and about being a good public speaker – but there seems to be a gap when it comes to the actual mechanics of delivering a presentation. Since I regularly see even experienced presenters get some of this stuff wrong, I thought I’d write up some tips from my own experience.

I Can’t See My Audience

The first question is, are you presenting to a local audience, or is your audience somewhere else? This seriously changes things, and in ways that you might not have considered. For a start, any sort of rich animation in your slides is probably bad for a remote presentation, as it is liable to be jerky or even to fail entirely.

You should definitely connect to a remote meeting a few minutes ahead of time, even if you have already installed the particular client software required, as there can still be weird issues due to some combination of the version of the plugin itself, your web browser, or their server-side software. If the meeting requires some software you have not used before, give yourself at least fifteen minutes to take care of downloading, installing, and setting that up to your satisfaction.

Even when people turn on their webcam (and assuming you can see something useful through it, as opposed to some ceiling tiles), once you start presenting you probably won’t be able to see them any more, so remember to stop every few minutes to check that everyone is still with you, that they can see whatever you are currently presenting, and whether they have any questions. This is good advice in general, but it’s easier to remember when the audience is in the room with you. When you’re just talking away to yourself, it can be hard to remember that there are other people listening in – or trying to.

Fancy "virtual meeting room" setups like Cisco’s TelePresence are all very well – as long as all participants have access to the same setup. Most times that I have used such systems, a few participants were connecting in from desktop devices, from their computers, or even from phones, which of course gave them far less rich functionality. Don’t assume that everyone is getting the full “sitting right across the table from each other" experience!

My Audience Can’t See Me

In one way, presenting remotely without a webcam trained on you can be very freeing. I pace a lot; I do laps of the room while talking into a wireless headset. I think this helps me keep up the energy and momentum of a live presentation, which otherwise can be hard to maintain – both when I’m presenting and when I’m in the audience.

One complication is the lack of presenter mode. I’m on the record as a big fan of presenter mode, and I rely on this feature heavily during live presentations, both for speaker notes on the current slide and to remind myself about the next slide. Depending on the situation, I may also use the presenter view to jump around in my deck, presenting slides in a different order than the one they were saved in. Remote presentation software won’t let you do this, or at least, not easily. You can hack it if you have two monitors available, by setting the “display screen" to be the one shared with the remote audience, and setting the other one to be the “presenter screen", but this is a bit fiddly to set up, and is very dependent on the precise meeting software being used.

This is particularly difficult when you’re trying to run a demo as well, because that generally means mirroring your screen so the remote audience sees the same thing as you do. This is basically impossible to manage smoothly in combination with presenter view, so don’t even try.

Be In The Room

If you are in the room with your audience, there’s a different set of advice. First of all, do use presenter mode, so that you can control the slides properly. Once you switch over to a demo, though, mirror your screen so that you are not craning your neck to look over your own shoulder like a demented owl while trying to drive a mouse that is backwards from your perspective. Make it so you can operate your computer normally, and just mirror the display. Practice switching between these modes beforehand. A tool that can really help here is the free DisplayMenu utility. This lives in your menu bar and lets you toggle mirroring and set the resolution of all connected displays independently.

Before you even get to selecting resolutions, you need to have the right adapters – and yes, you still need to carry dongles for both VGA and HDMI, although in the last year or so the proportions have finally flipped, and I do sometimes see Mini DisplayPort too. I have yet to see even the best-equipped conference rooms offer USB-C cables, but I am seeing more and more uptake of wireless display systems, usually either an AppleTV, or Barco ClickShare. The latter is a bit fiddly to set up the first time, so if you’re on your own without someone to run interference for five minutes, try to get a video cable instead. Once it’s installed, though, it’s seamless – and makes it very easy to switch devices, so that you can do things like use an iPad as a virtual whiteboard.

Especially during the Q&A, it is easy to get deeply enough into conversation that you don’t touch your trackpad or keyboard for a few minutes, and your machine goes to sleep. Now your humorous screensaver is on the big screen, and everyone is distracted – and even more so while you flail at the keyboard to enter your password in a hurry. To avoid this happening, there’s another wonderful free utility, called Caffeine. This puts a little coffee cup icon in your menu bar: when the cup is full, your Mac’s sleep settings are overridden and it will stay awake until the lid is closed or you toggle the cup to empty.

Whether the audience is local or remote, Do Not Disturb mode is your friend, especially when mirroring your screen. Modern presentation software is generally clever enough to set your system to not display on-screen alerts while you are showing slides (unless you are one of those monsters who share their decks in “slide sorter" view, in which case you deserve everything you get), but that won’t save you once you start running a demo in your web browser. Some remote meeting software lets you share a specific application rather than your whole screen, but all that means is that instead of the remote audience seeing the specific text of your on-screen alerts, they see ugly great redacted rectangles interfering with the display. Either way, it does not look great.

I hope these tips have been useful. Good luck with your presentations!

Photos by Headway and Olu Eletu on Unsplash

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.


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.