Tech Tip: Using PowerPoint on the Big Stage

PPT_on_the_Big_StageHere’s the picture:

You’re speaking at an event that will put you on the big stage. You’ve decided to use PowerPoint (or Keynote) to support your presentation. You’ve put in hours on your graphics… working with a designer and writer to make sure your deck is a stunning accompaniment to what you plan to say.

You begin your presentation, clicking for the first slide… and something unexpected appears.

It happens.

Projecting your presentation graphics on the big screen is usually not as simple as plug-and-play. Here are a few tips to help make sure you get what you expect, next time you present on the big stage.

1. Choose a Show Computer
The device you use to present your program is critically important. Your choices are…

A. Your own computer or tablet
While you can use your own device to present, it’s not recommended… unless you want to risk having software, virus protection or calendar updates pop up over your slides or having your screen unexpectedly go dark as your computer puts itself to sleep. Yes—you can turn all those things off, but the possibility that something distracting, annoying, or embarrassing will pop up on your screen during your presentation isn’t worth the risk.

B. A show computer provided by the A/V provider
A better choice. A good A/V provider can provide laptops that have the latest software and are used ONLY for shows… meaning there are no e-mail accounts or other personal applications on the machine and all the system settings are optimized for use at a show.

C. A show computer operated by a professional operator
Even better—if the producer brings an experienced Graphics Operator, she or he can save you from undesirable surprises and ensure your show runs as smoothly as you envisioned it. What’s more, the operator will run your presentation on two computers simultaneously, with the ability to switch to a backup in the event the primary computer has a problem mid-show.

2. Use a Confidence Monitor
Instead of looking over your shoulder to see your slides on the screen, use a presenter confidence monitor… usually a large video monitor on the floor, angled-up toward the stage. That way, you don’t have to turn away from your audience to view your slides. (If you are presenting using a computer on-stage, the computer screen can be your confidence monitor.)

3. Use Presenter Notes
Both PowerPoint and Keynote provide a notes feature, enabling the presenter to display comments for each slide which will not be visible to the audience. Using dual confidence monitors, you can set one monitor to show your slides (what the audience sees) and the other to show your slide notes (which only you see). I wouldn’t do it any other way. Note that this setup is more complex for your A/V provider, so be sure to give them advance notice if you want to use presenter notes this way.

4. Manage Media
If you use a show computer, it’s especially critical to manage any media in your presentation. For example…

  • Are there any specialized fonts used in your deck (fonts that aren’t part of a normal system installation)?
  • Will you be playing any audio files?
  • Any videos?

Fonts always need to be installed on the host computer to display correctly. Bring them along, if you use them. The latest version of PowerPoint enables you to save your presentation with media files (audio, video) embedded in the file itself. Previous versions required the files to be available to PowerPoint separately… meaning, when you give someone your .pptx file, you need to also provide your video and audio files separately. Keynote automatically embeds media files in the presentation file. But no matter what version or brand of presentation program you’re using, it’s always a good idea to bring along any videos and audio files you may be using as separate files… just in case.

5. Keep it Simple
When it comes to live presentations, I’m risk-averse. If you don’t need to interact with live web pages in your presentation, then stay off the web (you can often use screen grabs of web pages instead of showing the pages live from the Internet). That way, you aren’t at the mercy of the venue’s Internet service. If you do need to go live to the web, wired Internet access is more reliable than wifi.

6. Review and Rehearse
Always, always, always click through your slides on the stage with the people who will be supporting you for your presentation. What’s better is to do a full rehearsal—deliver your entire presentation with full A/V support. If a light is in your eyes or the room has a distracting echo, better to deal with it before you’re in front of your audience. Rehearsals and run-throughs are as much for your tech crew as they are for you… otherwise, your performance becomes the rehearsal.

7. Give it a Name
I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve been handed from different presenters for the same meeting that were named “Sales_Meeting_Deck.pptx”. If you want to help your over-worked show staff, give your deck a unique name that will distinguish it from all the others that may be coming in. Also, don’t forget to provide version numbers. I prefer version numbers to dates in the file names as we can often get multiple revisions on the same date. Here’s one approach: “lastname_event_showday_title-v1.pptx”

Most technical problems that occur during a presentation are preventable. Plan ahead and come prepared for your next presentation, so you can give your best to your audience.


Rick Cornish creates communications that inform, influence and inspire… helping organizations increase sales, promote unity and encourage their people to embrace change. Working in video, corporate meetings, event marketing and more; Rick delivers purposeful creative that drives business results and builds stronger brands.

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