Our current best practice for fighting this problem: remember to wiggle your finger on the track pad every so often to keep the computer from going to sleep. But this is silly, and worse, it doesn’t work. How are we supposed to manage all the aspects of presentation delivery and to wiggle our finger at fixed intervals? The solution: hire a personal assistant to travel with you and wiggle his finger on the trackpad at fixed intervals. Or, you can download Caffeine, a free app for Mac, and forget that this problem was ever a problem.
Caffeine has one purpose: to prevent your computer display from going to sleep with the push of a button. The beauty of the app is its simplicity. There is an icon that lives in my toolbar, and I can turn it on with a single click. No menus to scroll through. No confirmation click needed. Just click it and you know that your display won’t go to sleep during your presentation. I have mine set for 2 hours so that I can turn it on well before the presentation starts. Then after two hours, it automatically shuts off and my power-saving settings go back to normal. That’s it!
I’ll be honest: This single app was the inspiration point for this entire post. It has solved a nagging problem for me, and can do the same for you too.
At the MTNA conference, the room where I presented was narrow but very deep. That meant that the podium was far away from about half of my audience. But because I have a wireless presenter remote, I was able to advance my slides just at the right time, while not being chained to the podium. (I also had a wireless lapel microphone.)
For my presentations, I use the Kensington Wireless Presenter, which is currently about $30 from Amazon. This model includes the remote, as well as a laser pointer. Some models also have storage capacity on the USB receiver stick, so you can carry all of your presentation files with you. But my favorite feature of these presenter remotes is the ability to blank the screen with the push of a button (“blanking” the screen turns the presentation black, so that it looks like the presentation has gone away). If I sense that the audience is focused too much on the slides, blanking the screen draws their attention to me, and back to my message. Then when I’m ready to go on, I can just pop the presentation back up with the push of a button.
The presenter remote is a small investment that will pay you back by giving you more control over your presentation pacing, and more ability to engage with your audience by getting out from behind the podium.
Have a timer visible at all times during a presentation, and use timed signposts. This tool might sound obvious, but too often I see presenters try to manage their time internally. Because we know that psychological time can move at varying speeds, this is a recipe for disaster. This leads to a presenter coming to the end of his or her time, but falling short of the talk’s big payoff. You’ve seen it: the presenter realizes how short time has become, signals panic to the audience (either conspicuously or inadvertently), then rushes through the talk’s final points. The presenter becomes frustrated, and the audience feels flabbergasted, leaving a poor impression for everyone of the talk. I have been the presenter in this situation more than I care to admit, and it is still one of the most difficult parts of delivering a strong talk for me.
I fight this by having a timer visible at all times during my talk. I use the timer that is displayed on my computer screen in presentation mode (I use Apple’s Keynote software), in combination with my phone timer. Here’s why I use a phone timer too: First, I can set it somewhere out front, so that I am not trapped behind the podium during the talk. Second, I set the timer not for the length of the talk, but to tick down to zero at my conclusion signpost. By this I mean that when the timer ticks to zero, I need to begin my conclusion as soon as possible to have enough time to make a convincing end to my talk. Having this signpost will give you an external cue that you can count on, and will allow you to end well, so that you can avoid the embarrassing race to the end I described above.
The conclusion signpost represents an crucial point: just having a timer in front of you will not solve the problem. But if you use it intentionally, and build in signposts throughout your talk, it can make you more consistent, fulfilled, and effective as a presenter.
I hope you’ve seen how these three teeny tools might help you avoid some common presentation hurdles. You’ve spent the time to make your content valuable—these tools can help you get out of your own way so that your delivery shines. Each of the tools can be implemented immediately, and two of the three are free (assuming you own a phone with a timer).