Speaking in public can be nerve-wracking enough. But speaking in front of a video screen and worrying about whether your presentation is going to play properly can make it even worse.
Sure, technology could ruin your presentation, but if you take the time to learn how to use it properly, it can enhance what you have to say. The goal is for it to be a complement to your other materials. "You are the star. The media and visuals support you," says Ronnie Moore, a communications consultant, speaker and trainer based in Atlanta. "All the high-tech and slick stuff cannot compensate for mediocre material or a less-than-expert or boring speaker and trainer."
So what is the best technology to use? If you're not a tech genius, you can start by consulting a well-informed clerk at a computer, electronics or office store. In fact, Jeff Hicks, a business technology consultant with Best Buy, talks to owners of small and medium-sized companies every day. He recommends that--tech savvy or not--if you're going to bring your own equipment to a presentation, try to go with items that weigh less.
Moore has a check-list for what you may need:
- A laptop
- A projector that hooks up to the laptop
- A remote, hand-held flipper or laser pointer
- A screen
- Flip chart and markers
Some of these items, such as the screen and projector, may already be available at the venue. Find out beforehand what you need to bring.
Purchasing Your Equipment
If you need to buy a projector, look at the lumen output--how bright it is. High-end projectors have 3,000 lumens or more, but there are some great ones with 2,000. If you're going to be in a small room, a projector with 1,500 to 2,500 lumens is optimal; for a large conference room, look for one with 2,500 to 3,500 lumens; for an auditorium, go with more than 3,500.
Color, contrast and connectivity are important, too. And if you're concerned about distracting sounds, look for a feature called eco-mode, which can help silence some of the noise that comes with so many projectors.
According to ProjectorCentral.com, a website filled with information on projectors, some of the most popular brand names include Panasonic--especially if you're going for a high-end, auditorium-type presentation--Sharp and NEC. Hicks prefers InFocus projectors, one of which weighs just 2.4 pounds and can fit in your shoulder bag. Moore says Proxima projectors have become synonymous with the technology, much like Kleenex has with tissues.
When it comes to software, PowerPoint, which is celebrating its 20th year in existence, is still a good standby. But there are alternatives. Some people swear by Apple's Keynote 3, which offers 3-D transitions and impressive effects. Others prefer OpenOffice.org's Impress, which is compatible with PowerPoint and is an option for a presenter on a budget. If you want to stick with PowerPoint, Ovation, an add-on from Adobe, can add motion, improved transitions and high-resolution text to the slides.
Just be sure to avoid what Barbara Busey terms "PowerPoint poisoning." The author of Stand Out When You Stand Up: An A to Z Guide to Powerful Presentations, recommends thinking very carefully about when you should use a visual. "Be purposeful," she says. "Ask yourself if a slide would help the audience understand or remember anything. If it doesn't, because it's got way too much information or it's simply a non-informative title slide, or it's got meaningless graphics or cartoon characters, then you have a worthless slide."
Mastering the Technology
Once you've prepared your presentation, Moore offers the following tips for making it go smoothly:
- Load your PowerPoint presentation in the hard drive, not on the flash drive; the presentation will run faster.
- Spend time before the presentation making sure that the projector and laptop are synched up. Go through your presentation and make sure that everything--the colors, brightness, text and images--are displaying correctly. Moore recalls one of her clients who was giving a presentation using PowerPoint and kept referring to a green box on the screen. On his computer screen, the box was green; however, on the screen everyone else was looking at, the box was yellow.
- Use a remote flipper or pointer so you don't have to physically stand next to your laptop or projector. You'll be able to move around the room more naturally and can avoid getting stuck in a cramped space where you risk knocking your coffee onto your laptop.
- Be sure to load any software for your remote, wireless, hand-held flipper or pointer onto the laptop you're using.
- Especially if you're presenting to a small group, consider eschewing the technology and using a few charts and a black marker and whiteboard instead.
Finally, whether you have your own equipment or use what's provided, practicing your presentation in your office or basement is going to be different than in the room you'll be presenting in. So if you can, go run through at least part of your presentation in the actual space to work out any bugs.
And remember, your audience and potential investors are there to see you--not the technology.
Other articles in "The Perfect Presentation" series:Week 1: Materials
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.