If you’re like most businesspeople, technology has become an integral part of your presentations. Although your audio and visual aids undoubtedly add value for your audience and make it easier for them to quickly understand your message, there’s a downside to relying on technology.
Who hasn’t experienced a technology screwup that spoiled a presentation? Members of the Professionals in Speaking Mastermind recently shared lessons learned from technology mishaps:
1. Be careful with custom fonts.
Custom fonts are great for tailoring your slide deck to your brand, but they do not always travel well. If the computer you’re using doesn’t have the font, it will automatically replace your carefully chosen lettering with Arial, Calibri or some other (boring) standard font. If you embed custom fonts, your file can end up being enormous.
One obvious solution is to use standard “safe” fonts. If you don’t want to give up your custom design elements, though, turn your text into images; pictures do travel.
2. Make your slide deck accessible in multiple ways.
For his presentation to a government information systems agency, one speaker was told he couldn’t bring any technology. It didn’t quite dawn on him what that really meant. He had his slide deck on his cell phone and on a flash drive but wasn’t allowed to take them through security. He did his presentation—about technology and presentation—with no technology.
You don’t have to be talking to a government agency for this problem to occur. In addition to having your slide deck on a flash drive or your laptop, consider emailing it to your host in advance, emailing it to yourself and/or storing it in the cloud (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.).
3. Set a deadline for making changes to your slide deck.
Remember when PowerPoint was new and “backwards compatibility” had not entered the vernacular? Years ago, a speaker spent hours developing his very first PowerPoint presentation for a four-hour workshop. Right before he left for the event, he wanted to make one minor change. His assistant tweaked the presentation and handed him the disk (yup, disk). When he tried to open the file, it didn’t work—it simply wouldn’t open. He didn’t realize his assistant was using a new computer—and a new version of PowerPoint.
While software versions are more compatible today than in previous years, file conflicts still occur on occasion. For example, transferring files from a Windows computer to a Mac and back again can still cause formatting issues. Set a deadline for making changes to presentation files—and stick to it.
4. Set a deadline for making updates to your computer.
System updates are notorious for being time-consuming and inconvenient. One speaker thought she had everything managed, having downloaded a system update the night before her presentation. However, what she hadn’t done the night before was reboot so all the changes could actually get installed. Just before she was to start her presentation, her computer went into a 45-minute update cycle.
Another speaker had a similar situation. He’d run an update the day before he was to take the stage—and he did reboot. But when he went to speak, he realized the update had wiped out all his video drivers and his slide deck would not work.
The moral? Test your tech fully the night before your presentation—and then don’t make any more changes.
5. Never count on an internet connection.
Do you run software demos that require online access? Do you like to stream YouTube videos in your presentations? Do you occasionally pull up files from Dropbox as you present to potential clients? The internet is an amazing tool, but what happens when you depend on it and then can’t reach it? You may find yourself in a secure location with no open wireless. Or you may find the available bandwidth cannot support the demand for it at, say, an extremely large conference.
I had this experience preparing a client to speak at the world’s largest IT conference. He planned to show a cloud-based video, only to discover that the venue’s WiFi had insufficient bandwidth to stream video. Luckily, he was able to use a personal hotspot to access and play the video.
The lesson? Always have a backup plan—another way to get internet access, or better yet, a strategy that doesn’t require internet access. Take screen shots that allow you to go through your demo in “un-live” form; download video and embed it in your slide deck; download files to your hard drive ahead of time.
6. Always be prepared to present without technology.
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are and how many backup methods you have, at some point technology will fail you. Your laptop will go out; your backup laptop will go out; your backup-backup laptop will go out. The power will go out. Or you will realize 30 minutes before your presentation that you forgot your flash drive 45 minutes away.
You must have a no-technology plan. Consult a notecard in your suit pocket; use flip charts and markers; use handouts and worksheets. Whatever analog method works for your presentation, make sure you have planned for its possible use ahead of time.
When your technology does fail you (and it will), remember: Your technology is not the presentation. You are the presentation.
There are so many things about presenting that are out of your control. People tend to assume that technology is one of them, but that’s not true. You do have control, and by following the advice in this article, you can prevent a technology mishap from turning your presentation into a missed opportunity.
Now go knock their socks off.
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