I’m getting more requests to come speak to groups. Here are 8 items that are indispensable to me as a presenter (click on each image for a larger version)…
1. Presentation remote
The Interlink RemotePoint Navigator is without a doubt the best presentation remote that I’ve ever seen. It has the usual functions: forward, backward, laser pointer, and “slide hide” (which turns the screen to black). But its aesthetic feel is what distinguishes it from its competitors. This device is designed perfectly for the human hand. I’ve had numerous people borrow this remote, either because they forgot theirs or because they don’t have one. I invariably get some kind of comment like, “Ooh, this is NICE. Where can I get one?” It comes with a USB dongle and a bag and, although a little pricy, is worth every penny. I have three – stashed in my home, office, and car – so that I always have one readily available.
2. Up-down timer
I strongly encourage anyone who presents, including classroom teachers and professors, to invest in an inexpensive timer, particularly one that counts both up and down. A timer keeps you on track, lets you know if you need to speed up or slow down a bit, and sends a message to participants that you consider their time to be important. My latest timer, the Component Design TM15, has extra-large digits for easy reading and a loud alarm, which is helpful to me because I like to roam around when I present and often am not near the podium. I also like the fact that mine has a fold-down stand rather than a clip that sticks out from the back. This gives it a smaller profile in my travel bag. One disadvantage of mine is that there’s no on-off switch, which means I have to take the battery out to prevent accidental operation.
3. Screen timer
I’m a pretty strong believer that, no matter how engaging you are as a presenter, listeners’ brains are mush after 45 minutes or so. That’s why for even short presentations I create opportunities for participants to take mini-breaks. Typically I’ll pause my presentation after 10 to 15 minutes, throw up a 60– or 120–second countdown slide, and ask them to share some thoughts with their neighbors. When I’m doing a presentation or workshop that’s longer than an hour, we take bigger breaks: 10 to 15 minutes, get up and stretch your legs and lips, hit the restroom, get a drink of water, check your cell phone voice mail, and so on. I have found this online screen timer to be absolutely wonderful for getting people back into the room on time (and use this downloadable one as an alternative when I don’t have Internet access). I start it up before I let them loose so they know to keep an eye on the time. This has worked much better than simply telling folks to check their watch.
4. Wireless broadband
I pay a monthly fee for wireless broadband from Verizon (and am grateful for the Iowa State University discount). I carry around this USB dongle and can plug it into any of my laptops or netbooks that have the Verizon software installed on them. Sometimes I need this when I require Internet access on the road but am not near an open wireless access point. Its primary use, however, occurs when I visit schools that either can’t give me Internet access, won’t give me Internet access, or give me Internet access but filter and block everything so tightly that I can’t show anything (you know who you are, people!). So, plain and simple, it’s my school district filter bypass and I’ve had to use it on numerous occasions.
5. USB memory stick
Nothing’s worse as a presenter than bringing your own laptop and then having some technology problem just a few minutes before your presentation starts. This is particularly true if you’re supposed to be some sort of ‘technology expert’ that others might even be paying to listen to. Almost nothing destroys that professional aura quicker than fumbling around with your very own computer! So I ALWAYS bring my presentation files on a USB stick: every slide, every video, every Internet URL. I have only had to fall back on this option a couple of times, but when I have I’ve been grateful that I was prescient enough to load it up and bring it along.
6. Audio and video cables
My move to Iowa has put me in more rural schools than ever before, many of which are quite old. One of the things I am finding i that older school auditoriums typically are not configured very well for laptop-driven presentations. Although, as noted above, I rarely pin myself to the podium, I at least like to be somewhat near my laptop. That’s difficult to do when I am up front and the laptop/projector is in the back right corner, in the projection booth at the rear of the auditorium, or smack dab in the middle of the auditorium rows (and, yes, I’ve had all three of these happen to me). I invested in some audio and VGA video cables – along with 12– to 15–foot extension cables for each. These have proved useful on numerous occasions.
7. Travel speakers
It’s rare when I fail to have some kind of multimedia content in my presentations. But it’s tough to show a video or play an audio file if the audience can’t hear it. I ask the folks who invite me to please have speakers available but time after time I show up and they don’t have any, or they had some but now can’t find them, or they have some but someone is using them, etc. So I started bringing my own. My Griffin Journi speakers are a little large and I know that there are smaller ones out there. They’re pretty loud, though, so I’m hanging on to them for now. One advantage of my speakers is that they have a rechargeable battery that allows usage without needing an electrical outlet. The wrap-around leather cover flips over and slides into a slot on the back and thus creates a self-contained stand to keep the speakers upright.
8. Contractor power strips
I usually encourage my workshop participants to bring their own laptops. I’m not threatened by their presence and understand that people can be both paying attention and also checking their e-mail on occasion. In fact, sometimes they pay better attention because they can keep one eye on things back home rather than being anxious about what’s occurring in their absence. However, rarely are we in a location that has sufficient access to electrical outlets. While this usually is not a problem for a 60–minute session, it’s a huge issue when we’re doing an all-day workshop. I carry four industrial-strength power strips in my car. I’ve used these so often that I’m considering investing in a few more. I like these because the cord is 15 feet long, which is incredibly helpful when existing outlets are far from participants’ tables.
All of this has evolved for me over time. As I run into presentation dilemmas, I try to invest in things that eliminate those problems for future events. What else have you found to be useful for your own presentations?