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Category Archives: PowerPoint

Unplug Before You Present!

I attended a keynote presentation last week at an international conference of 3,000 or so executives. I arrived at the ballroom early to get a good seat for the kickoff event because I wanted to gather a lot of new ideas from the keynote speaker who was a nationally known expert in his field. I was the ideal audience member: my interest and expectations were high, I had pen and paper in hand, and a look of anticipation on my face.

Imagine my disappointment when ten minutes into an awkward introduction, the speaker’s Skype alert pops onto the screen. In case you don’t have a Skype alert, see the image above, except that there is no blackout of the person’s name.

Anyway! When this otherwise small and inconspicuous alert pops up on your desktop back at the office, it’s a helpful tool at best, and at worst, it’s a minor distraction. But when the message is magnified on a 20×30-foot I-Max screen, it’s a huge distraction. The speaker didn’t notice it because to his credit, his attention was focused on the audience.

Luckily, there was nothing too personal or potentially damaging during the 1-hour presentation, but it was very distracting. I kept hoping someone really famous would go online, like Hillary Clinton or Chris Rock. I could hear several audience members commenting on how unfortunate it was that the speaker forgot to turn off his alerts and how clueless he seemed to be about the whole thing. Those murmurs turned to laughter at each consecutive pop-up. Needless to say, it was harder to stay focused on the content of the presentation because we all just had to read every alert. After all, inquiring minds want to know.

Before your next big presentation, turn off all your alerts, sounds, beeps, and any other potentially damaging or distracting information. And speaking from experience, this goes for your desktop wallpaper. Need I say more?

– Barbara


PowerPoint Users: Don’t Drop Out of the Program!

Last week I attended a presentation given by a successful CEO who was also a casual, comfortable and likable speaker.  There were two things that detracted from an otherwise informative presentation. The first was that he did not have a remote mouse so he kept walking three steps to the computer to press the ‘arrow down’ key and then three steps back to his preferred position.  If he were not so comfortable on stage, I am sure this behavior would have been more distracting.

The second thing he did that most definitely affected his delivery was to press that arrow key one too many times.  That is, when he was on his last slide, he advanced the show, but there are no more slides in his deck.   This is called “dropping out of the program” and what usually happens is the audience sees a black screen with white letters that say “End of Show.”  Not very polished.

In this particular case, the computer reverted back to “Slide View” – the equivalent of a Broadway stage manager letting the audience catch a glimpse of what’s going on back stage before the finale.  Ten minutes later when the computer went to standby mode, we were given the pleasure of watching the WindowsXP icon bounce around the screen (the speaker is always oblivious, I find).

The icing on the cake was when the computer went to sleep and up popped a blue screen with big white letters that said, “NO SIGNAL.”  All while he was answering questions.

Always create a visually interesting final slide.  It will not only be a signal that you should put down the remote (and yes, please keep one in your bag), but it will allow you to close your presentation on a more professional note.

– Barbara

Expect the Unexpected

You can see it in your mind’s eye:  the rapt attention of your audience; commanding the physical space like a sensei; technology working seamlessly – including state-of-the art audio.  At the end you receive vigorous applause from the crowd, which is well-deserved because you prepared for this event.  It’s all so perfect. You, my friend, are a public speaking rock star.

But then reality kicks in. As you walk into the room an hour early it dawns on you that everything is wrong.  The tables are too far away.  The lighting is way too dark. The projector placement will cut off your ability to move around.  But wait, there’s more.  The only microphone available is the one wired into the lectern, and worst of all, the event host tells you that because they are running so late, you are to start your presentation….wait for it…during dinner.

This is not a risk manager’s “what-if” scenario.  It happened to me the other night.  All that work on my PowerPoint presentation – which required wireless internet access and a great sound system to pull off – and all that effort to design just the right introduction, is now down the tubes.  But I persevered because I always have a Plan B.  I shifted my introduction to accommodate the clanging of silverware,  I only used the microphone to bring the group back together after my opening and mid-way interactive exercises, and by the time I had reached the conclusion, I had an alternative strategy for making my point without the use of the internet.  All this was possible, of course, because I arrived early.

If you find yourself in this position, keep one thing in mind:  the audience doesn’t know that you are changing things on the fly.  So don’t give it away by offering a long-winded explanation or telegraphing your disappointment.  And most of all, don’t allow last-minute curve balls to affect your confidence because what matters most is that you show up – fully present and ready to engage.  The rest is fluff.

– Barbara