So you’re going to speak at a conference. Congratulations!
I cannot help you much with making your presentation interesting, but at a minimum, you want it not to suck — “suck” is what happens when you annoy dozens or hundreds of people by making them wait 15 minutes while you deal with easily-avoidable technical problems. Incompatibilities between laptop computers and projectors are still common with all types of hardware and operating systems, so it is never safe to assume that your computer will work this time, even if it has in the past: I’ve seen Linux, Windows, and Mac users, in roughly equal proportions, all fall flat on their posteriors muttering phrases like “but it’s always worked before…” Things will go wrong, but you can minimize the damage by following some simple guidelines:
- Carry an extra copy of your presentation on a CD-ROM or USB memory stick. If you have a last-minute technical problem, you can always borrow another computer and finish your presentation after only a very brief delay. Mailing a copy to yourself at a webmail address is also a good idea.
- A screen resolution of 1024×768 is usually safe. Higher resolutions may or may not work, depending on the projector, so know how to change your resolution quickly if you need to. Seriously: practice changing your resolution at home.
- Disabling screensavers and screen blanking will improve your chances of a successful presentation.
- Have a backup plan if network connectivity slows down or fails (e.g. a local demo) — even if it tests OK beforehand, it might not work when there are 100 other people in the same room, using the same hub, during your presentation.
- Start all programs (web browsers, editors, live demos, etc.) and open all windows you need before you start, and then switch to them as you need them. Murphy’s law clearly states that trying to launch a program during your presentation will fail in the worst possible way.
- If you are using programs other than a slide presentation (such as a text editor with source code, or a web browser), set the fonts to a much larger size than normal so that the audience can read them. 18 point text is the absolute minimum, and 24 point is generally better; 12 point text or smaller is completely unreadable, especially for audience members near the back.
- Make sure that your battery is fully charged, even if you plan to plug in your notebook during the presentation.
- Create a separate profile or account on your computer for presentations, so that all your regular icons, bookmarks, etc. are not sitting on the screen in public view, an IM window doesn’t pop open in the middle of the presentation, etc.
I know that this is obvious, but almost every failed presentation I’ve seen failed because the presenter didn’t follow one of these steps. Go figure.