Making presentations with an iPad. It’s time.

Why the iPad is now a proven tool for presentations

by Peter Watts

Some months ago I blogged about presenting with an iPad. At the time I was still tiptoeing into the world of Keynote and tablet-based presenting.

I’m upgrading my recommendation from a cautious “give-it-a-go” to an enthusiastic “go-for-it”. After three months of extended experiment with the iPad/Keynote combo here are my thoughts:

All that’s in the news, in your presentation
I’ve come to value the way that iPad lets you flick mid-presentation between KeyNote and news/video apps such as the New York Times. Nothing adds currency to a presentation quite like current affairs.

Philips Bluetooth speaker. Much bang, little bucks.
For any presentations that require sound, I’ve added a Philips blue-tooth speaker to my kit bag. It’s small, while at the same time heavy enough not to vibrate its way across the table when you have the volume high. It’s also rugged, so you won’t need to worry about where in your luggage you’re chucking it. The Philips unit has a great battery life, and most importantly, the Bluetooth connection to the iPad is a ten-second snap.

Slimming Your Slides
Most of my original caveats about iPad presenting still stand. You can’t black-out the screen, and I’m still not convinced about using an iPhone as a remote control. The Bluetooth connection between phone and pad is temperamental, and at the end of the day, an iPhone is just too big to subtly use as a remote.

The snag does however have an upside: You produce simpler and less cluttered presentations. The discipline of having to walk to the iPad to advance your slides is a powerful incentive to strip-out unnecessary transitions or special effects.

All day battery
For all day presenting, just put the tablet into flight mode, and then reduce the screen brightness to the lowest point that you are comfortable with. When the show is over, you’ll still have battery life to spare.

Synchronisation at work. Beware
If you are a combination iPad / iPhone / MacBook user, then iCloud synchronisation is a powerful timesaver. Beware though. If you’ve been editing on one device, make sure you close the presentation before attempting to edit or view it on another. It’s easy to create badly-synced duplicates that don’t co-exist at all happily. If you accidentally make some of your edits on your iPad and then the rest of them on your Mac, then at least one of those two sets is going to be irretrievably lost when iCloud tries to synchronise it all back into one document.

Go for it
The iPad is a brilliant tool for presentations. It’s time to commit the bulky laptop carry-bag to history.

And Apple, if you’re listening, the option of iPad control from the standard Apple remote would be wonderful, and how about maybe a black-out option in the next update of KeyNote?

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The Power-Cut Presenter

by Peter Watts

In the second that the lights pop there is a moment of perfect puzzled peace.

Have you ever noticed? When the power cut hits and the lights all fail, everybody freezes. The only movement is that of heads twitching upward, sharply looking for the lights.

The same thing happens when the bulb in the projector decides to pop. Everybody freezes for just a second. They then look to the projector, and next they look to you, the presenter.

What do you do next?

I was recently at a presentation given by a Chief Operating Officer to 500 executive staff.

45 seconds into the presentation there was a pop. And smoke. Blown bulb.

Here’s how the presenter handled it.

He smiled, shrugged, and joked “well, that would happen to me wouldn’t it.”

The audience laughed. They laughed not at the joke, and not because of the speaker’s senior rank. They laughed in empathy. Techno-failure in front of such a large audience. What a nightmare.

Next, he went to the podium, collected a sheet of PowerPoint print-outs of his slides, and slipped seldom publicly seen reading glasses onto his nose. “My secretary always makes me bring these print-outs with me. This time I’m glad she did.”

His secretary had been absolutely right.

For every presentation, always have an emergency back-up script hidden away somewhere.It could be on cue cards,it could be a print-out of your slides,it could even be written on a MindMap.

Even when we intimately know a presentation, if the unexpected happens it can throw us off our game. A paper reminder of our presentation is all we need to put us back on track.

In the event, just knowing those notes were there proved to be enough. Once back into his stride, the COO could deliver the presentation as if the projector had never failed.

The reading glasses came back off his nose, and quitting the stage he came down to the level where the audience were seated. He then sat down on the edge of the stage, and spoke from there instead.

When using PowerPoint you are often obliged to present in a specific style.
When you no longer have to use (or can use!) PowerPoint, you are no longer obliged to present from anywhere near that big bad screen.
Change the vibe. Get closer to your audience.

In this little case study example, let me conclude by saying that many in the audience agreed this was the best presentation their COO had ever given. We saw his warmth, his humanity. Removed from electronics both presenter and message were able to become at once, more intimate.

The COO had become a Power-Cut Presenter.

He embraced the moment and with the aid of a small printed safety net and a willingness to adapt, connected with the audience in a way he never had before.

Presenting with an iPad

by Peter Watts

You no longer take your laptop to a picnic if you want to play music; you take your MP3 player instead. The same thing is happening to how we deliver presentations, with tablets and even phones becoming potential delivery devices for mobile presenters.

  • Light and easy for carrying around
  • Small enough to be useful even in cramped airline seats
  • Instant-On capacity. Just flip open, and there’s the presentation ready to go
  • Highly usable presentation software
  • Excellent for performing presentation edits in minutes
  • Simple to connect to a projector via a VGA connector

All of these advantages have encouraged me to experiment with my iPad as a presentation tool, and as long as you are aware of the pitfalls, I’d recommend it.

OK. The pitfalls. There are three big ones:

  • No reliable remote control
  • No ability to black-out the screen during a presentation
  • Unable to plug-into the power while connected to a projector

If like me however, you can’t resist going early-adopter, here are some of the workarounds I’ve discovered for presenting from an iPad.

Quick edits & delivery only

An iPad is an oversized iPod, without the functionality of a laptop. It’s good for quick edits on the move, and content delivery, but when it comes to the heavy-lifting of writing your presentation, that remains best done on your laptop.

Buy a stylus

Much of what you’ll want to do requires the precision of a stylus rather than fingers. I’ve found the Pogo Stylus to be excellent.

Keynote converts PowerPoint easily, but check for oddities

Transferring PowerPoint slides into KeyNote is an easy WiFi process, but do check for font changes that knock your formatting around. Also be careful to check any graphics that were originally created within PowerPoint; straight lines that were in there have an odd habit of vanishing!

Slim-down the slides

iPad remote control apps are available, but I’ve experienced their WiFi / Bluetooth connections as too shaky to be relied on in front of an audience. You’ll need to manually advance slides, so remove fiddly transitions and minimize the slide-deck to reduce the number of times you have to return to the iPad. This might seem retrograde, but it’s always good discipline to streamline slide-decks, and iPad’s lack of an effective remote control simply reminds us to keep presentations simple.

Plan the black-outs

The inability to black-out the screen during longer presentations is the biggest single issue with the iPad. Possible solutions are to either create a special slide that stays on-screen during shorter activities, or plan black-out periods long enough that you actually turn the projector off altogether. Many audiences breath a sigh of relief when that projector goes off, so it can be used to indicate a shift from presentation into discussion or activity. Do remember to switch the projector back on at least 90 seconds before you need it!

Maximize your battery

With the iPad’s out-port connected to the VGA, there is nowhere to plug-in the power. For shorter presentations, this isn’t a problem, but if it’s a whole day session then you can extend battery life by reducing screen brightness. Flight Mode can also be used to save even more power.

Practice first

Presenting from an iPad is a different experience from using a laptop. Practice prior to your first time in front of an audience. I would also suggest still taking your laptop with you as backup just until you are completely comfortable.

Is it worth it?

This question depends on the type of presenter you are.

Would I use an iPad for a major audience, large stage event? No I wouldn’t. I would miss my remote control too much.

Would I use the iPad for delivering an in-depth technical presentation, requiring the ability to run separate reveals on my slides? Again no, and for that same lack-of-remote reason.

For myself as a presenter though, constantly flying, performing small edits on the move, and immensely prizing lightness-of-backpack, then yes the experiment has proved worthwhile. The pitfalls I’ve encountered will be rapidly filled as more of us find solutions and workarounds.

Do you have any solutions to share? Please post me back if you have. Be great to hear your experiences.

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