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Presentations to a Wired Audience

December 17, 2011 at 4:26 am in Executive Speaking, PowerPoint, Speechifying, Toastmasters by John Freisinger | No Comments

The lighting in the room was greatly augmented by the glow of dozens of laptop and iPad screens. Eyes down, transfixed by the screen images, if you had walked into the room at that moment you would have assumed that the audience had long ago stopped listening to my presentation. You would be wrong.

I have been experimenting lately with ways to take advantage of a wired audience’s propensity to watch their screens and have come up with a few ideas. These are not yet fully formed techniques but I am playing around with them to see how they work in different settings.

First, I begin with the mindset that the click of a keyboard is actually a good thing. Initially my speaking ego was a bit bruised when I would see audience members paying more attention to their devices than to my slides but overcame those misgivings quickly. After a recent presentation a pair of students, who had been buried in their laptops for the last hour, approached me with some very insightful questions. They referred to the copious notes they had been taking on their laptops throughout the lecture and wanted more information. They had even taken the time to look up one of the resources I referenced and ask which edition of the book they should purchase.

On a second occasion a “distracted” audience member raised her head long enough to ask a question, “What’s your Twitter handle so I can tweet some of the great things you are saying?”

And then last week one of my audience members asked me for permission to post portions of the workshop we had just completed to his company’s internal website. He had been recording our session with his laptop webcam (he had swiveled it around to face me) and wanted to include some of the video clips in his notes. I enthusiastically said yes because I had been looking for an entrée into his company and he was willing to walk me right in.

The webcam request was my first but I am finding the Twitter and laptop note-taking to be a much more prevalent occurrence. So I am now beginning my presentations with a couple of new strategies. First I give my Twitter tag up front, @JFreisinger, so that the Twitter-savvy participants can add to the conversation.

I choose the the term “conversation” literally. During a presentation, I have my Twitter app up on my iPhone and will check it during the breaks that I have scheduled into my presentations (these are usually quick “discuss with your neighbor..” activities), or I will take a tweet break to check in to let the audience know I care. The tweets help me understand if there is something that needs to be expanded or if we are getting bogged down on one topic too long. If no one is tweeting I ask why. Often they are looking for permission.

The side benefit of actively seeking tweets from your audience is that it creates a record off what the audience heard. I use the tweet history as a debrief on what the audience heard and how they responded. Sometimes I read the tweets after a session and realize that their rephrasing of an idea is more succinct and memorable than the mnemonics that I used.

The second technique I am experimenting with is to host my materials on my website and invite the audience to download them for use during the presentation. Typically what they will find are a few Word documents (because handouts should be done in Word or Pages not PowerPoint) that have some of the essential anchor points and plenty of space for notes. These online documents are derived from the physical handouts I also provide but I have found that some audiences prefer the electronic version to a paper copy, which is a nice cost savings for me.

In one of my first efforts to provide an electronic “follow along notepad”, as one of my students called it, I spent quite a bit of time formatting the notes fields so that they produced bulleted lists. The overwhelming feedback was that the group did not like the formatting because they changed it anyway. Some used hierarchical numbers or letter formatting. Some used bullets. Some used complete sentences. Now I just provide blank areas next to key phrases, images or diagrams so that there is ample, unformatted space for the audience to note-take in any form they prefer.

So those are just a few of the things I am testing with my connected audiences. I still haven’t come up with a strategy for the camera note-taker but maybe one of my upcoming audiences with tweet a solution.

PowerPoint on the Go

December 2, 2011 at 4:12 am in Executive Speaking, PowerPoint, Speechifying, Toastmasters by John Freisinger | No Comments

The current TSA screening procedures at the airport make lugging your laptop along for a PowerPoint presentation a difficult decision. About a year ago I stumbled across a mobile app that allowed me to cut the cord on my reliance on my laptop for presentations. The app is called 2Screens, and I use it on both my iPad and my iPhone.

The iPad version allows me to run a PDF version of a previously created PowerPoint presentation to a projector via a small VGA-out dongle that I purchased at Target. The dongles are widely available at Apple Stores and Wal-Marts as well. I create the PDF directly from PowerPoint (PDF is one of the “Save As” formats to which you can save) and then email it directly to myself on my iPad. I can then open the PDF up from the 2Screens app.

The presentation has to be saved as a PDF so any changes you need to make have to be made on a computer or laptop before they are transferred. In a pinch I have used Google Docs to update my presentations on the road. I save them to Dropbox online ( and then download them to my iPad. (You can link directly to Dropbox from the Tools menu in 2Screens). While you are creating or updating your presentation, remember that animations and transitions will not work so don’t use them.
The presentation can also be run from your iPhone but I choose to use my iPhone for another feature of 2Screens, as my remote control. Under the Tools menu you can turn to turn on the Remote control feature on both the iPad and the iPhone and the phone displays a mini view of the slide on your iPad that can be used to advance your slides. I have found the “remote” range of the iPhone to be sufficient for every sized room that I have experienced. At one hotel I tested the remote feature to more than 100 feet.

The other feature I find myself using frequently is the whiteboard mode. In a slide show you can write directly onto a slide (by writing on your iPad screen) to highlight important points or you can pull a blank page out at any time and make notes or diagrams that may be needed to expand a point. 2Screens allow you to save changes or notes made during a presentation for later review as well.

So before your next trip try playing around with 2Screens, (Don’t just assume you will be able to learn the app on the fly), and you may never have to take you laptop out at airport for special screening again.

To PowerPoint or Not to PowerPoint

November 23, 2011 at 12:37 am in Executive Speaking, PowerPoint, Speechifying, Toastmasters by John Freisinger | No Comments

What would you like your audience to leave with? Memorable ideas that they can use in their lives or an appreciation of your mastery (or lack there of) in the creation of slides. Put your effort into that which you desire.

PowerPoint can be a very effective tool to convey an idea or concept but without a worthwhile concept to convey slides are nothing more than forgettable placeholders. Even a professionally designed layout, created by a visual artist, (which is something I recommend) falls flat if it doesn’t make a point.

So if the message is so important why don’t we spend more time crafting it?

This blog site is devoted to giving people skills to enhance their presentations. As a professional speaker myself, I constantly seek out tools that will help me better convey my message. Most of the advice I have seen lately trains people on how to make their slides better (fewer words, less pictures). The key is to know where you are going to end up.

The end of a presentation comes after your audience has left and gone back to their lives. If you have created an effective presentation your audience will think or do things differently as a result of your presentation. Focusing too much on the creation of your slides (medium over message) shifts your focus from what the audience will gain to how you will look.

In defense of PowerPoint however, the software is very easy to use and provides us with a very easy method of displaying visual information. If your message is visual, use PowerPoint. If it is better expressed through a story, an exercise, a written document, or an experience (like a test drive of a new car), use something else.

You have a multitude of options. Keep your focus on what the audience will leave with and act accordingly. To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint. That is the question.

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