episode 4: Presentation Software; Setup, Best Practices, Tips & Tricks


Everyone presents at some point. The Presentation Podcast hosts talk about their tips and Best Practices for using presentation software. The discussion is not about speech coaching, stage craft or presenting a message – all very important skills – but what a presenter should focus on behind the scenes in using PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi. Hear what our presentation design hosts see that a presenter should know and think of when planning, presenting, and making things work if something goes awry.


What tips and tricks should be part of the pre-planning?

  • Troy: I will start the pre-planning with a confirmation of the meeting setup: is it 16×9, 4×3 or something unique? The presenter should develop their presentation to match the meeting equipment/screen setup.
  • Sandra: Is your personal computer going to run the presentation? If not, what version of software is on the show computer? Do you need to load custom fonts, do you need internet access? For keynotes, If the presenter is using notes I want to know what show technology for presenter notes is; teleprompter, confidence monitor.
  • Nolan: Do you have custom fonts, embedded video or anything else that is a concern if the meeting has central show computers? Also, you have to ask how the conference AV team plans on running your presentation. I’ve seen insane situations where they convert PPT to Keynote to PDF, drop your content into their templates without telling you, etc.

Multimedia, video and audio, can have a high failure rate if not pre-planned. What do you do in planning for presentations that use multimedia?

  • Sandra: If you have video, even if it is embedded, show up with each video as separate files. Sometimes the meeting show computer just won’t play your video, or the meeting has a separate system for playing videos. Having a USB drive with your videos ready to hand off if requested is a definite way to show up prepared.
  • Troy: For video or audio that is embedded, each needs to be setup to either automatically play or start with an On-Click animation, not moving your mouse on the screen and clicking on the video. As a best practice, do not count on having access to a mouse or trackpad to move a cursor on the screen and click on a video to start it playing. PowerPoint is not helping you do this, the default is to add a trigger animation to all videos. This means you need to move the cursor on the screen and click the video to start it. You need to delete that animation and replace it with a Play animation that is set to With Previous for automatic playback or On-click to start next presentation advance.
  • Nolan: Check the volume levels on all of your videos and music are about the same. You do not have access to the computer volume, but you can adjust ahead of time in both PowerPoint and Keynote with their movie properties.

How are the slides advanced?

  • Troy: For large meetings where the presenter does not have access to the computer, my favorite is the D’San Cue light. It is the AV industry standard for slide advancers, expensive and not compact as others.
  • Nolan: For smaller “board room” presentations, you will probably get a more light weight remote that uses RF (radio frequency), like the one I described in an early Tech Tips section, the Logitech presenter 400.
  • Troy: My favorite “consumer” remote is the Interlink Navigator remote. A really great thing about Navigator remote is you add extra receivers, the part that plugs into the computer, and 1 remote can run several presentations simultaneously. I have run 12 computers simultaneously.
  • Sandra: Usually with a technology as described by Troy.

Before a presenter presents, on-stage rehearsals and a “Stage Walk” are critical

  • Troy: A Stage Walk is basically someone on the AV team walking each presenter on the stage, before the meeting starts, and making sure they are familiar with everything: How you get on stage, left side, right side, from the backstage area, etc. Where your DSMs (downstage monitors) are, what they show you — usually your slides, and you confirm you can see and read them (ie. not too small, too far away, too low stories).
  • Sandra: Always have dry runs with executive and team keynotes. There can’t be surprises. Speakers need to become familiar with how their notes will be delivered, e.g., teleprompter or confidence monitors. Depending on the stakes, and the budget, I’ll rent the equipment in advance for in-house practices. And out of respect for the audience and other speakers, keeping on schedule is so important.  Practice helps with this.
  • Nolan: Be familiar with the stage before the presentation, but also check the environment periodically during your presentation (ie. check the audience is seeing your slides too).
  • Troy: One more on the rehearsals, because I have seen too many presentation failures at awards shows. An awards show is supposed to be memorable for the recipient, so, as a presenter, it is your responsibility to really make sure everything goes perfectly. Insist everyone that will be on stage do a dry run, just like Sandy was talking about. Everyone needs to be  100% confident they know how the names will be announced and pronounced. Know what the audience sees before the name is announced and how you know what name to announce – go in order or things go bad. Know what to do after a name is announced, is the winner allowed to talk, is there a photo op you need to be in, or direct and what happens on screen when that winner is done?

What about Presenter View?

  • Nolan: I love Presenter View; it’s the single greatest tool for reducing the amount of text on slides.
  • Sandra: When I work with executives on keynotes, I arrange for the technology that is most complementary of their presentation style. If that includes presenter view, then I make sure it’s available in the version of PowerPoint with which the executive is familiar (e.g., 2016 looks a lot different than 2010). In PowerPoint 2013, you can resize the three panels (Notes, Current and Next Slide) to your desired size. If you have notes, you’ll want these as large as possible. I work with the AV team in advance so they understand the requirements.
  • Troy: For large conferences, do not count on Presenter View (Windows or Mac, PowerPoint or Keynote) being available. It is usually a limitation of the equipment setup of the meeting. alternatively, a separate slide deck of the notes is often a solution that is displayed on a 2nd DSM (so just the presenter sees those slides, next to the slide the audience sees).

Every presenter needs a plan for when things go wrong

  • Sandra: This is a good point, and I must admit that I haven’t thought about it a lot. So far, I’ve been blessed with amazing speakers who handle glitches so well the audiences don’t even notice. Thanks for raising my awareness on this.
  • Nolan: I used to be a performer and learned long ago that if you don’t point out that a mistake has happened, 95% of the time, the audience won’t know there was a mistake. It may be frustrating, but if there’s a slide missing in your deck or if the operator skips over an animation, unless you point it out, nobody will know.
  • Troy: After years of being backstage at every size meeting, I have lots of stories of when things go bad. And I can tell you which presenters were incredible and had a plan. The most common issue is the presentation remote does not work (or they are not familiar with the remote and know how to use it). Prepared presenters do not let this affect them, they assess the situation and roll into a backup plan, which is usually announcing the remote does not seem to be working, until that is fixed I’m just going to say “next” to keep the slides going.
  • Sandra: I bring my Surface Pro Book as a backup, because I am confident it has everything needed for the presentation, all just in case I show up and the show computers have a different version of PowerPoint or something else that affects the presentation. All three of us know how confusing it is to differentiate the various builds of PowerPoint. I don’t want to take any chances.
  • Nolan: Did we cover asking about software versions? Trying to run your Morph transitions on PPT 2007 and things don’t go well.

Creating slides for a large meeting is different than slides you hand out. Let’s go over some design tips

  • Sandra: I haven’t worked on as large of screens as Troy, but this is when presentation best practices really come into play. Keep text to a minimum by using key words or graphics.
  • Nolan: I remind people of the bottom third rule. In many situations, conference room situations without raked seating, the bottom 3rd of the screen might be hidden behind people’s heads for much of the audience. Be really careful in putting any important content down in the lower third of the screen.
  • Troy: There is a big difference in the way the slides are projected. There are basically 3 options: Projection, LED wall, Flat Screen: all have different color and resolution characteristics.
    • Projection  – go for high contrast
    • LED Wall – avoid thin/small text and lines
    • Flat screen – this option closest to your computer monitor
  • Troy: If it is your computer, confirm it is setup for presentation. No screen saver, have power adapters, supply the password or turn it off, volume on full, have display adapters. I use the term “content density” which is a polite way of saying you have too many words/charts/or stuff on a slide. As a best practice, less on screen is better, talking through details and being the expert, not the reader, is better.
  • Nolan: I always like to remind people that they are the star and what the audience is most interested in. The slides are your backup singers, you’re Mick Jagger. Like backup singers, your slides need to be in tune and attractive but nobody buys a ticket to see them.


Wrap up

  • Troy: Being a presenter is a great thing, it means someone trusts you to deliver a message. And, just like in the Spider-Man movies, with great power comes great responsibility. As a presenter, you do not want to be the last minute, unprepared, non-conforming presenter that brings everything down a level. We have covered a lot a great practical tips from people that see presenters all the time, use this information to be an even greater presenter.
  • Sandra: I’ve spent 3 years working with a client who, when we first started, made the comment: “Well, executives don’t practice their presentations that much do they?” Today, we’ve turned that around completely to the point where this company’s executives begin the presenter readiness process as early as 4 months in advance of their keynote. My words of wisdom: practice, practice, practice.
  • Nolan: Have I already mentioned that great Guardian UK article on the preparation and rehearsal that went into a Steve Jobs  keynote, even though they always looked so casual? Last week, I finally saw Jobs, the Aaron Sorkin film and one thing I loved about it was how they showed the intensity of preparation for all those keynotes.


Pro Tips

  • Troy: Practice with presenter view and just your laptop monitor. Presenter view shows you the slide, your notes, the next slide or animation and has a timer. With PowerPoint 2013 and up, go into slideshow, move your mouse on in the lower left is a pop up set of icons, click the 3 dot icon on the right and select “show presenter view.” Or, click Alt-F5 to enter slideshow mode in presenter view.
  • Sandra: Practice with a clicker. Stand up, advance the slides and speak out loud — even if you’re the only person in the room. Even President Underwood does this (for you House of Cards fans).
  • Nolan: Black slide (“B”, sequence, or remote)–start with a black slide to get attention on YOU from the start.


Tech Tips


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