You’re setting up for your presentations, the room is filling up, and Bzzzzzz — the projector isn’t working.
The presentation you and your friend have spent a few hours working on is down the toilet, because your computer and the projector aren’t talking to each other. That happened to me and my friend, Dana M. Nelson, as we were getting ready to speak to the MWBE Central Indiana Resource Fair.
We plugged in my computer — I always insist on using my Macbook, because it “always” works — but the projector wouldn’t detect it. Cords are plugged in properly, and everything should be running, but no dice. We plugged in Dana’s computer, and nothing. Hers is a Windows machine, so we decide to blame the projector, and go on with the presentation.
“We weren’t going to talk about a lot of tools today,” we tell the crowd, “but you still may want to write stuff down.”
Dana and I have given enough presentations that we were able to unplug the projector, shut it off, and just start talking. The facility staff brought in another projector about halfway through, and we managed to plug it in while we were talking. But it wasn’t even necessary. How so?
Here’s why and how we were able to manage our presentation so easily, despite not being able to show the gorgeous presentation we had worked so hard to create.
1. Don’t use a lot of text on your slides.
This is a given anyway: if you have more than 5 – 7 words on a slide, that’s too many. Keep your text limited to headlines with a large photo that takes up the entire background. Remember, people are there to see you speak, not read what you wrote. If they wanted to do that, they would read your blog. They’re there to watch you.
If your presentation relies on those visual elements and will fail without them, then you’re not speaking, you’re reciting.
Our slides only had headlines, so we just used my laptop as a reminder of what we were going to talk about next. And since the slides were basically functioning like bullet points — “Social media is not about selling” — we could talk for several minutes about that point without ever having to refer to any other words on the screen.
2. Don’t rely on online technologies for your presentation.
That means don’t create online Prezi presentations and leave them up there. It means don’t upload your presentation to Slideshare and assume you’ll access it through someone else’s computer. It means don’t include embedded YouTube videos hoping they’ll come through on your slide deck.
Basically, if you think you’ll need wifi to give your presentation, change it. Download your Prezis, copy your slide deck to a USB stick (export it to PowerPoint if you’re running Keynote for Mac), and download your videos. (I hope it goes without saying not to download copyrighted material.) Try to run everything off of your own laptop, not over wifi. Apparently there were some issues in getting the wifi to work in our area, so if we had depended on it for our own presentation, we would have been dead in the water, not even able to access the deck so we could remember our 10 secrets.
3. Know your stuff cold.
Dana and I have been speaking about social media for more than three years. We know this material so well that we could just start talking about it at the drop of a hat. Scramble up our slide deck, and we could have gone on without batting an eye. But that comes with talking about social media and personal branding for years.
If you don’t have the luxury of having years, or even months, of experience, then start studying for your next presentation. Write about the different points of your material, especially on a blog. Discuss it over lunch with friends. Tell them about the subtle nuances of a particular topic. Say your presentation out loud in the car to and from work. And then write about everything some more. Boil everything you want to throw on a single slide down to those five words, and then learn 3 important points about that particular concept.
If you can recite this information cold, it won’t matter if your projector is working or you can’t get wifi. All you need is your laptop and your slide deck so you can use it to keep your place in your presentation. If you don’t have that, write your main points out on a piece of paper and work from that.
As long as you prepare for things breaking down and you know your stuff cold, you’ll give a killer presentation, regardless of what may happen.