A couple months ago, a friend was going to give a presentation at our local 1 Million Cups chapter here in Orlando. He sent me a PowerPoint version of a slide deck he had spent several hours on. He had built it in Apple Keynote, exported it to PowerPoint, and I uploaded it to Google Slides.
We run all of our slide decks off my Google Drive account on the computer in the meeting room, rather than trying to mess with thumb drives or using another person’s laptop. We only have one hour for our meeting and we can’t waste a few minutes swapping out laptops or trying to get the screen mirroring to function.
“We may have a few formatting issues,” I warned.
“It should be fine,” he said.
“It won’t be fine,” I said.
Luckily, we had time to run through the deck and we saw that there were, in fact, several formatting problems with the text. He spent the next few minutes fixing them as he cursed Apple, Google, and for good measure, Windows about the “utter shit show” that is converting files.
“What’s even causing this?” my friend ranted. “Why can’t I just upload a Keynote deck to Google Drive and have it work?”
“Because Google and Apple don’t play well together. They both refuse to try to accommodate the other and so you can’t open Apple products in Google Drive,” I said.
Many people have this problem, especially when they present at events and use the host’s tech instead of their own. I used to get rather annoyed when an organizer wouldn’t let me use my laptop. After all, I made the presentation on my software (Keynote), the fonts were in my system, and the videos were embedded in the deck. As long as I could use my laptop, everything was great.
Once I became an organizer, I got annoyed at the prima donnas who insisted on using their own gear.
(And yes, I recognize the conflict between those two ideas. I’m fine with it.)
But I realized why the organizers want you to use their tech. It’s either something provided by the conference hotel or center, and they know it will work. Or they just don’t have time to switch between everyone’s computers and then fart around with getting the monitors to work because you don’t have the right kind of adapter or the power cord is too short.
If you do a lot of public speaking, you will inevitably be asked to present on someone else’s technology and equipment. Don’t be a jerk about it or believe your presentation is so precious that it can only be done on your computer or the entire conference will fail and the hotel will fall into the ocean.
Of course, this isn’t ideal, but we can’t always get what we want, and is one of those times.
So here are five things to do when you present on someone else’s tech.
1. Keep the design simple
When I design my slides, I like to use one large photo as the backdrop and then a short headline in bold. If necessary, I’ll use bullet points with 1 – 3 words per bullet item.
(This has nothing to do with presenting on someone else’s tech, I just think it’s important to mention because I still see so many people who don’t do this. PRACTICE GOOD DESIGN, PEOPLE!)
That also means avoid all transitions and fancy graphics. They may not work properly if your deck is converted to another format, like Keynote to Powerpoint or vice versa, let alone Google Drive. (See #4.) Plus, transitions are the Comic Sans of presentations.
Remember, your slide deck is there as visual support, it’s NOT the purpose of your presentation. If we can read your slide deck without you, you have an article, not a presentation. But if you can give your presentation without your slide deck, then you’re a real speaker.
2. Use basic fonts.
Remember, Apple and Google do not play well together, so the fonts you use probably do not exist on Google Drive. That system doesn’t have all the fonts you do, whether you use Apple or Windows. That means Google will often change your fonts to its closest equivalents, but that’s what screws up your formatting. (Here’s a list of Google’s available fonts.)
You can paste your text into a slide, but that doesn’t mean it will look the same when you open it somewhere else.
Pick basic fonts like Gil Sans or *shudder* Arial. Don’t use cool fonts that you downloaded from a font site. They probably won’t upload.
3. Upload your slide deck to Google Drive.
There are three ways you can get your slide deck to your event organizer.
- You can email it to them.
- You can share it via Dropbox.
- You can upload it to Google Drive.*
*You can also use Slideshare, but I don’t want to type “Google Drive or Slideshare” over and over.
Just be aware that if you do the first two options, the organizer may upload your deck to their own Google Drive.
But — and this is critical — Google Drive will completely screw up your formatting. And you’ll learn this right in the middle of your presentation when your beautifully-designed slides look like hot garbage.
Instead of sending your slide deck to the organizer, upload it to your own Google Drive and then share the link via email. This lets you double-check all formatting and avoid any embarrassing formatting issues. You can be assured that everything looks great on the day of your presentation.
Plus, if all else fails, you can open the web browser on their computer, log into your Google account (it’s your Gmail password), and drive your presentation from there.
It’s a good idea to upload it even if you’re using your own tech just so you have a backup in case your computer breaks or gets stolen.
Note: If you use Apple Keynote, you will have to export your slide deck to a PowerPoint format before you upload it.
4. Do NOT put your deck on a flash drive
You’re not Johnny Mnemonic, so stop handing people a thumb drive with your presentation on it. It’s getting harder to use flash drives these days anyway, because a lot of newer computers don’t have a USB drive. Or they use a web-based presentation platform, not PowerPoint or Keynote. A lot of computers don’t have USB-A slots on their computers anymore, at least in the Apple world. My 2019 MacBook Pro only has two USB-C slots and nowhere to put in a flash drive.
A flash drive should be a backup method only, not your primary means of delivery. But if you insist on this, make sure you have an adapter that lets you plug your Flash drive into a USB-C slot. Remember, you are the person responsible for making sure your presentation will work on the host’s computer, not the host. So if you insist on using a flash drive, make sure that you have the necessary adapters for any situation.
5. If you insist on using your own tech, make sure you have these things
- A USB clicker (affiliate link). These come with a little USB dongle that plugs into a computer and will work on Windows and Apple.
- USB-rechargeable batteries (affiliate link). These are AAA and they fit the USB clicker listed above, but if your clicker takes AA, then get AA rechargeables. These things can plug into a USB slot on the computer and charge in an hour. You don’t want to get to a presentation and find your clicker isn’t working. Just carry a couple spares and the charging cable in your bag.
- A USB-to-HDMI-and-VGA adapter (affiliate link). I carry my HDMI/VGA adapter because there are still a few places rocking the old VGA cables and won’t upgrade any time soon. You don’t want to get caught out.
- If you have a newer Apple computer, get a 7-in-1 USB-C hub adapter (affiliate link). The one I listed here has ports for HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, micro SD, and standard SD cards.
- A 10-foot power strip with USB slots (affiliate link). I have been in plenty of situations where the facility does not have an adequate power source, or they only have one single-plug extension cord and I have two devices. A power strip will alleviate that problem. And the 10-foot cord will cover most lengths, especially if you already have your computer power cord with you.
You don’t need to carry these things all the time, but you do want to put them in your bag or briefcase on the day you speak so you don’t get caught in a bind when you show up and find that your presentation room is not equipped with any technology made before 2010.
And remember to write your name on all these items so you can show that they’re yours and not the organizer’s.
When you present on someone else’s tech, it will take some additional preparation, but it’s a great way to ensure that you’re fully prepared. Just design the deck with basic fonts and photos, upload it to Google Drive, double-check the formatting, and then share the link with the organizer. Carry your own tech so you can handle any hiccups that happen on the day of your talk.
Photo credit: Dave Delaney (DaveDelaney.me, Used with permission)