Greeting audience members individually, asking whether they're comfortable, making sure they can see the screen, and generally acting as the host of the event can do wonders for the reception a speaker eventually receives. But what you do before people enter the room is just as important. If a speaker doesn't take the time to perform a thorough setup and run-through, technical glitches may well delay the presentation and make it impossible to relax and play the role of congenial host.
The room and the layout
While it's not always easy to work in the extra time to check over your presentation room before your talk, it's essential if you want your preparation to be complete. The most efficient way to make sure everything is working as it should is to make a checklist.
First of all, take the time to think about the kind of room you'll be presenting in and who is providing the AV equipment. Will you be connecting to a projector from your laptop, or will you need to load your presentation onto someone else's computer? If the latter is the case, are you prepared to move any linked files that may be affected by such a move? This is crucial with a PowerPoint slideshow, because video files and many sound files are linked and therefore not part of the actual presentation file. Linked presentations and other documents must also be moved if you expect to use them.
Next, consider who is setting up the equipment and whether they know your preferences. Remember that you are the show and your message is the focal point of the event. Allowing an AV staff person to put a screen in the center of the stage or back wall isn't advisable. Such a screen position will limit your ability to move around and will give the slideshow center stage – where you and your message rightly belong. An experienced presenter usually puts the screen off to the side, with their laptop placed in such a way that they can glance at the screen without having to be tethered to a podium.
The sound and image
With the room layout in order, your next concerns should be the audio and the visual. What will you be using for sound? Who will set up your lavaliere microphone? Is it properly connected to the house speaker system? Who will be switching the audio between the microphone and the laptop's sound output? Does this person have a slide list and a cue list? These are important questions that need answering ahead of time, rather than a few minutes before your presentation.
In regard to the visual, have you tested your presentation and video on the projector you will be using? Pay special attention to how any MPEG movie files will project; MPEG files behave weirdly with certain projectors. (They don't like simultaneous displays and will either play only on the laptop or the screen.)
Most new projectors output XGA resolution (1,024 x 768 pixels), which is also the native resolution of most laptops. Older projectors may have a lower resolution, however. If the venue provides an older projector, you should be familiar with your graphics-adapter settings to be able to sync down to a lower screen resolution.
Once the sound and visuals are taken care of, consider your remote control. Who will provide the remote mouse? If you will use your own, have you tested it recently? Are the batteries fresh?
Giving all these pieces of equipment a dry run will give you peace of mind at the podium later.
The recovery, if needed
Finally, do you have a disaster plan? Have you brought a backup of your presentation on CD or DVD, just in case? If your laptop computer were to freeze, do you have an anecdote to tell that defuses the situation while you reboot? And while we're at it, be sure to disable all your screen savers and virus-protection programs – just to be on the safe side.
Preparing in this way will give you even more confidence when you take the stage, as well as give you the time you need to greet attendees and make sure those all-important little things are taken care of.
Tom Bunzel is a trainer, author and speaker specializing in technology coaching for Microsoft PowerPoint and multimedia presentations. He can be reached through his Web site, www.professorpowerpoint.com.