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Speaking? Pack a plan.

It seems to be the season for presentation tips. First, Mark had a handy hit-list of tips for speakers and audience members. Then, Andy shared a few easy tips for prettying up one’s default slide designs. And then, Rands noted a test slide for your deck isn’t the worst idea. (In fact, I goddamn love it; Tim Brown’s already made a Keynote-ready template available.)

If you can’t guess, I fucking love this.

See, I’m not formally trained in web design or public speaking—and in both arenas, the best education I’ve gotten is watching really talented people work. My presentation style’s changed considerably over the years, as the likes of Kristina Halvorson, Karen McGrane, Jeff Veen, Doug Bowman, Erin Kissane, and Dan Cederholm have been hugely influential on my own style. I’d watch them work, and try to figure out what I liked about their style, and why I liked it. And then I’d try to be better the next time I was onstage. And heck, when people write about how they work, well—that’s just damned grand.

All that said, I don’t have any significant tips to add to the above, but thought I’d list two things I find especially helpful. One’s semi-philosophical; the other, less so.

  1. Eliminate dependencies in your work. I try to ensure my presentations aren’t reliant on audio or a network connection. Basically, depending on where you’re speaking, it’s entirely possible either—or both!—of those things won’t be available to you. So this usually means that if I want to show the audience how a certain page might work, I’ll record a little screencast, rather than assuming I can jump out of Keynote into the browser. (I use the idiosyncratic-as-hell ScreenFlow, but any ol’ app will do.)

    In other words: by all means, use audio in your presentation, or incorporate online demos! But if you do, make sure you’re planning for failure, and have a contingency plan at the ready. (I guess you could see this as a corollary to progressive enhancement, but in Keynote form.)

  2. Pack a bag. Related to this, I have a small satchel inside my laptop bag. In it, there is:

    • One VGA adapter for my MacBook Air.
    • One USB presentation remote. (There are many such remotes available. You want this one.)
    • Fresh backup batteries for that remote.
    • A USB ethernet adapter for my MacBook Air.

    In other words, this is the stuff my computer needs to actually run the presentation I’ve prepared.

    Now, most conference organizers will have many of these things, but I don’t want to expect that they will. They’re busy folks, after all. In other words, I want to ensure I’m the only one responsible for the quality of my presentation, and packing a small bag of critical cords and adapters helps me do that.

    (As a bonus, I’ve started traveling with a short VGA cable, rolled up and tucked into a large, rarely-used pocket of my laptop bag. This has been supremely handy for doing run-throughs on hotel room TVs the night before a talk.)