The technical aspect of public speaking: preparing slides

Posted by Joep Weijers on January 29, 2020

Public speaking can be pretty stressful. All eyes will be on you and the last thing you wish to happen is a problem with your slides or microphone. A flawless presentation requires proper preparation. We have gathered some best practices, drawn from practical experience, to help you prepare your presentation. With these tips and tricks you will confidently walk on-stage, knowing that slides and sound will not hamper your presentation.

Preparing your slides

Some conferences cater for large audiences with big screens. For example, the Devoxx conference for Java developers in Antwerp takes place in a cinema. The largest room has a 10 meter high and 23 meter wide screen:

presenting slides on a very large cinema screen

How are you going to get your slides on such a massive screen?

Typically conference organizers will provide a speaker briefing, containing all information about when you should be where, what they provide and what you should bring yourself. It is standard practice that you bring your own laptop to present from. The standard connection nowadays is HDMI, and some organizers provide adapters for other connectors. Aspect ratio is generally 16:9.

The speaker briefing may also instruct you to use a certain template for slides. Or even specify in which format you need to provide the slides beforehand. Ignite talks, 5 minute talks with 20 slides automatically advancing every 15 seconds, are scheduled back to back. To not lose any time between ignites, they are all presented from one single laptop. These ignites tend to have the strictest requirements of format. J-Fall wants Google Sheets, DevOpsDays Amsterdam requires PDF, whereas at Devoxx anything goes, as long as the host’s laptop can play it. Always read the speaker briefing thoroughly, so you don’t run into surprises.

Make sure your laptop is ready to go

windows updatesWhen you present from your own laptop, there are some preparations that will help prevent embarrassing moments. First off, your laptop should have a working battery and be fully charged. I once ran into this issue when I presented from a laptop with a dead battery. There was ten minutes between presentations to set up. That would have easily been enough to boot my laptop, but the previous speaker ran seriously overtime. My ten minutes turned into two and I had to shorten my presentation because the timer started while I was still setting up. Two minutes would have been enough if I had a booted and unlocked laptop ready to go. Also be sure to either turn off updates or apply them well before you have to present.

Don’t distract your audience

When you plug the HDMI cable in, anything that happens on your laptop will be visible to the entire audience. Notifications are meant to draw attention to them and that is exactly what they will do to your entire audience. Turn notifications off and preferably also turn off your Bluetooth and WiFi.

Also don’t distract your audience by browsing your file system for your presentation. Try not to duplicate your screen, but rather extend it (Windows + P lets you switch). This will allow you to browse to your presentation on your laptop screen, while the big screen will only show your desktop background. Choose a nice desktop background, so your audience has something to look at while you are setting up. Extending your screen will give you a presenter mode in PowerPoint, which shows your notes, the current and next slide and a timer.

Should your screen be mirrored, then don’t spoil your presentation by opening the PowerPoint file. This will show the first couple of slides before you can push play (or F5). You can right click the PowerPoint file from Explorer and directly play it. Note that this trick does not work correctly in a multi monitor setup; it will not show you the presenter view.

Presenter account

Another good practice for presenting with your own laptop is to create a specific user account that you only use for presentations. This account will have a nice clean desktop, no browser history and file references only to your presentations. My presentation user account looks like this:

screenshot of a specific account created for presentations

No icons on the desktop. A nice background with some company branding. PowerPoint pinned to the taskbar, so I can quickly open the correct presentation. This keeps things nice, clean and easy for me and will hardly distract the audience.

This is the first part in a series of technical aspects of speaking. Part two discusses the process of going on-stage and hooking everything up.

About the author: Joep Weijers

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

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