If you’re like most business people, technology has become an integral part of your presentations. While 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 mishap that impacted your presentation? Members of the Professionals in Speaking Mastermind (PRiSM), based in the Raleigh-Durham area, recently shared “Oops” and lessons learned from technology mishaps.
Tech Tip 1: Be careful with custom fonts
Custom fonts are great for tailoring your slide deck to your brand, but they do not travel well. If the computer being used doesn’t have the font, it will automatically replace your carefully chosen lettering with Arial, Calibri or some other (boring) standard font. And if you embed custom fonts, your file can end up being enormous.
One obvious solution is to use standard “safe” fonts. But if you don’t want to give up your custom design elements, turn your text into images; pictures do travel.
Tech Tip 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. So, 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.).
Tech Tip 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 4-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 had gotten a new computer—and a new version of PowerPoint.
While software versions are more compatible today than in prior 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.
Tech Tip 4: Set a deadline for making changes 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. Aargh!
Another speaker had a similar situation, in which 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. Double aargh!
The moral? Test your tech fully the night before your presentation—and then don’t make any more changes!
Tech Tip 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.
Tech Tip 6: Always be prepared to present without technology
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are and how many back-up 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. Or the power will go out. Or you will realize 30 minutes before your presentation that you forgot your flash drive 45 minutes away.
We can’t emphasize enough: 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 the possible use of it 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 into a missed opportunity.
Now go knock their socks off.