The technical aspect of public speaking: coming on stage

Posted by Joep Weijers on February 7, 2020

Your presentation starts in a few minutes. It is your time to shine. You plug in your laptop and nothing happens. No slides on the big screen behind you. An already stressful moment becomes even more stressed. You’re starting to lose your audience.

Nobody wants to be in this situation. Here are some tips to make getting on stage a smooth process, even if unexpected events occur.

The Solution

Most problems you’ll encounter when speaking at conferences can be solved if you have a proper preparation and enough time. So the foremost tip is: be on time.

It helps if you already know where the room is. You can even consider to attend the session in the room before yours, so you don’t have to bustle through the crowds in between sessions.

Prepare in the room

Presentation in a themed theater

If possible, do a trial run in the room you are presenting in with your actual slides. Things you want to check in this trial run:

  • Is your presentation in the right format? Are the contents of the slides fully visible?
  • Are the fonts legible, even from the back of the room?
  • Are the colors what you expect, considering the stage lighting? Is the contrast and color intensity good enough for any diagrams or pictures you have included in your presentation?
  • Check the sound setup and sound levels. Can the audience hear the audio clearly?

Testing this well ahead for your actual presentation allows you to make modifications to your presentation. You don’t want to be enlarging the fonts on all the slides, or realizing you can’t use a video, five minutes before your presentation starts.

Some conferences provide a speakers room, where you can do a trial run. This might not exactly be the same as the conference room, but it still gives you an opportunity to test out the setup.

Foolproof slides

Typically you’ll be presenting your slides from your own laptop. But imagine what would happen if you spill your bottle of water over your laptop right before you go on stage?

Your first challenge is getting another laptop. Maybe you have some colleagues in the audience, or you can borrow one from another speaker.

Your next challenge is getting your presentation on that machine. It is a good practice to have a backup of your presentation available somewhere online, preferable without having to log in anywhere.

There might not be internet available, so also have a copy of your presentation with you on a USB stick. Ensure that it is a clean USB stick, with only the presentation on it. You don’t want to wait on a virus scanner to verify that your USB stick contains no malware.

It is also advisable to have a PDF version of your presentation handy. There can be significant differences between different presentation software or even operating systems. Powerpoint on a Mac will probably render your presentation in a different way than you envisioned it when you created it in, for example, LibreOffice Impress. There is much less variance in PDFs.

Bring all your kit

Whenever I give a presentation I bring the following items with me:

Items I bring when presenting: laptop, adapter, network cable, USB stick, mouse, wireless presenter, batteries and mini-DisplayPort to VGA adapter

In this picture, starting from the top right going clockwise, you see my laptop (with a working battery) and adapter. I always plug in the adapter, because the graphics card of your laptop sends a stronger video signal when powered by mains.

I rarely have to use the network cable. But should I have the need for an internet connection, a cabled connection is much more reliable than a conference Wifi.

The white brick is my presentation USB stick containing the Powerpoint and PDF versions of my presentation.

A small Bluetooth mouse, which has a nice cover to ensure it doesn’t drain batteries while it’s in my bag. But I bring a set of spare batteries anyway.

The batteries also fit my presentation remote. If you’re also using the generic Logitech presentation remote, be sure to label yours. Almost everyone has the same model and you don’t want to lose it.

And lastly I have a mini-DisplayPort to VGA adapter. Most of the times I use the HDMI port on my laptop, but some venues (universities typically) are still using VGA connectors. I prefer always having both HDMI and VGA as options, since it provides a backup should there be any connection problems with the projector.

With these tips, you should be able to mitigate most problems when setting up on stage for your presentation. Remember: take your time and come prepared!


This is part two in a series of technical aspects of speaking. Part one discussed the preparation of slides. The third and final part discusses microphones and help you be heard by your audience.

About the author: Joep Weijers

Joep is a Build Master at TOPdesk with a keen interest in delivering quality software continuously. He loves playing around with Jenkins Pipelines, Selenium, Docker and keeps in touch with his inner developer by educating his colleagues on testable Java code.

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