Delivering your presentation

5 fixes to common presentation technology mistakes

In our previous post I owned up to making a short cut in my preparation and had a technical malfunction in a high-profile pitch at a world-class business school. I did rescue the situation and all ended a) well and b) getting paid, but I got lazy, took a risk and it nearly caught me out. I decided then to write a list of hints and tips for the unwary, and maybe hard-pressed professional who’s just moving into the world of singing for their supper. The 5 common mistakes I’ve seen more than any others, and their simple fixes are listed below.

5 Fixes to these 5 most common mistakes –

1. The presenter can’t connect to the projector or other technology and ends up looking foolish –

Taking a Mac to a gig and expecting it to work

The most common problem for Mac users who want to use their own computer to do a presentation is that ‘Oh no, I forgot that Steve Jobs was a one-eyed maniac and Macs don’t have a VGA connector’ problem.  As I’m sure you know, the 16-pin cable (called a VGA cable) that comes out of the projector or widescreen TV will not fit your Mac. There is no VGA port on your (or any) Mac.  If you want to connect your mac (without ‘Air Player’ over the wireless system) you will need to buy or borrow a “VGA Adapter”. This will little linking device will connect to the video port on your Mac and allow your Mac and the projector/TV to talk to each other.  The latest versions of Mac also have the option of HDMI connectors too, but you still need a cable for that too.

So whatever the connection option, as a Mac user, the burden is on YOU to anticipate compatibility issues, and not on the organizers to accommodate you without any forewarning. This goes double if you want to use an iPad, Airplay, Chrome cast or what ever the latest tech toy might be.

Just turning up and expecting there to be VGA cables, sound cables and extension leads

Whether you’re a mac person or a PC user, don’t risk turning up and finding out that stuff works, or is even there.  I arrived to do a pitch, in the brand-new, global headquarters of an international fashion brand in Paris to find that everything was perfect apart from the fact that they had no technology installed in the amazing conference rooms yet. Luckily we’d prepared to pitch without visuals, and it was perfect on that particular day, but we were lucky. There are other times when we might not be.

2. The video files and other multimedia won’t play – and the presenter looks bad

Media Files in General

Mac Users

As a sometime Mac user myself, I must warn my fellow Mac users that you live in a PC world. Never assume, without testing, that anything you do or use will work with PCs.  Or vice-versa. Test all PowerPoint files on the PC in question. If you use Keynote, convert to PowerPoint before you try to show it on a PC. There is no “Keynote for PC”. You should also not assume that just because the presentation computer is a Mac, it has Keynote loaded. Always check before hand.

Most of the serious problems we see at presentations and conferences, happen when presenters succumb to the temptation to include audio and video content in their presentations. As I did here. Simple slide shows are usually fairly trouble free, but multimedia, especially done by presenters who have never done a multi-media presentation before, is fraught with technical and non-technical trouble.

Presenters often fail to take into account the amount of time it will take to actually use video or audio in their talks.  It may be a 30 second clip, but setting it up, talking about it, and explaining it, throws their timetable into disarray. A five minute video clip takes at least 8 minutes to use (more if it’s not embedded and you need to go searching for it). Whenever possible, pre-cue your non-embedded media and at the very least, put it where you can find it instantly and not scroll up and down and click around looking for it.  Again, all of this is made more difficult if you have set up your PC to have a 2 display option so you can see you slide notes, if you want to display video for example, make sure that when you press play, the video shows on the presentation screen not the second (presenter) screen so only you can see it.

Media Files (Links to Media & Connections)

If you have incorporated media files into your presentation, be aware that while PowerPoint (And Keynote) embeds images into the PowerPoint presentation file, it frequently only ‘links’ to audio and video files, it doesn’t embed them. What this means is that when you move a copy of your PowerPoint presentation on another computer, but do not move the media files as well, then the video, sounds and other multimedia content will not be there when you try to show them. The best solution to this is to put all the relevant media files and the PowerPoint master file in the same folder (do this while building your presentation, so that you add the media files into the shared folder, then insert them into the presentation, not as an afterthought).  Then when you want to show a presentation on a different Computer you just copy the whole folder to take with you or send to the host with clear instructions as to what you want the to do when moving the show to another computer.  Of course there are exceptions to the link/embed model, and the latest versions of PowerPoint and Keynote have ways that you can embed the multimedia content inside the presentation file, but it’s always best to assume the worst and provide your media files along with your presentation if you are moving it off your ‘home’ computer.

Media Files (Compatibility)

Then in a further complication, let’s remember that not all computers can play all media formats. This is particularly true if you are moving files from Macs to PCs or vice versa. Please don’t assume that any computer can play any given media format, even when the video is embedded in a PowerPoint video and you’re playing it on PowerPoint for Mac. Test all audio, sound and other files before the show, and even that doesn’t guarantee success, because I have also found out, the hard way, that many PC and laptops have unexpected ‘gaps’ in what they can and can’t play, and sometimes it is a hardware, (processor/media card- meaning “you’re screwed”- rather than a software issue that gets in the way.

3. The Sound Doesn’t Work – and guess what?

On Media Files (Particularly Audio)

If you are playing media that includes audio- Have you warned your hosts of this so that they know to connect the computer to the sound system? Never assume that this will be done as a matter of course. Connecting the computer to the sound system is frequently not the default, and will probably not happen if you fail to ask for it before hand. Fail to do this and you may end up with the built in weak, tinny speakers on the laptop projecting the sound to a room of 100 people and you’ll look amateur and unprepared. Is the sound card on the presentation computer even working? Fail to confirm this and you might not even have weak and tinny. Moral of this story: always do a sound check of your microphone AND your computer.

PC Users

Macs tend to be pretty robust and reliable bits of hardware, and because there are very few models in each range, they are predictable in what they can do and not do. It’s not the same for PCs. Apparently identical PCs from the same brand, often have vastly different power and capability. They can range between ”absolutely F amazing’ and ‘so crap that they are barely capable of starting up’. Because this inconsistency exists, and that often corporates buy large numbers of laptops barely able to do anything more than connect to the LAN in the office, it is essential that any PC to be used in presentations be run through its paces prior to showtime and asked to do everything it will be called upon to do for the show. If not, it may surprise you at exactly the wrong moment.

The Internet

The first rule of the Internet for presentations: if you can possibly avoid connecting to the internet to do your presentation, then avoid connecting to the internet to do your presentation. Sometimes, however, there is no substitute for the Internet. Perhaps you are demonstrating a web based application or website. That’s fine, but be aware that you have introduced an unpredictable variable and significantly increased your probability of technical failure. Have a back up plan if you lose connectivity or something doesn’t seem to work properly, and of course, test it before hand on the presentation computer in the location you plan to use connected to the network you plan to use. For a demonstration of what to do and not to do when the internet (or any other technology) fails, see Steve Jobs vs Steve Sinofsky.  Jobs and the Apple team had obviously rehearsed the potential problem so he didn’t panic, told a lovely story from his past, and let the tech support fix the problem for him to move on without a pause.  Sinofsky, on the other hand, panicked, froze, ran off the stage and made us all cringe. Steve jobs emerged looking even cooler, Steve S was diminished.

If you are showing a YouTube video (almost never a good idea), open the video in a browser window and cue it to the right bit before the show. This will allow you to quickly move to the video, rather than pull it up and wait for the commercials to finish and stuff to load. If you have multiple videos, open multiple tabs in your browser. But if really want to show a YouTube video, it’s much better to control the uncertainty and download the YouTube video onto your computer beforehand, embed it in your PowerPoint presentation and play if from your computer.

Finally, if the hosts have not specifically said that you will have internet connectivity, don’t assume it will be there. If it is important to you, ask. Even when you do have such connectivity, test it out in the actual location of your presentation. The bandwidth may not be up to your requirements or the hotel broadband access you paid for might work in your hotel room, but not work in the conference rooms (different plan, different fee).  The further you travel from major urban centres, and anywhere in France, the worse this will get.

4. The Formatting has changed and the slides suddenly look rubbish – And…

The fonts have all changed

If your presentation is to be given on a computer other than the one used to prepare it (a common state of affairs), remember that if your favourite font is not on the computer used for the presentation it will not display. It will default to something like Arial. If your presentation design will be spoiled if all your titles aren’t in 24 point ‘PigPen’, then you will need to ensure that ‘PigPen’ is loaded on the presentation computer or you need to make arrangements to use your own computer at the event by plugging it into the projector directly.  This in itself has huge dangers unless you check and test the projector in the room, on the day, with the actual projector, cable length, etc.


When you plug a digital projector into your computer, the aspect ratio of the display changes. If your formatting is simple, and follows the ‘layouts’ of the PowerPoint or ‘Keynote’ slide templates then that shouldn’t be a problem. But, if you have carefully arranged things in a very particular manner, on top of the slide layouts and used lots of tabs, spaces, text boxes and lines, it may not translate so well to the big screen when connected to a strange TV or projector. This is even more dangerous should you send that presentation in advance to the host, because they’ll open it up on their PC, and load it to the conference PC and all kinds of weird stuff can happen then.

5. The screensaver comes on four times and is password protected – and the presenter goes home…

Just make sure that you’ve checked that your screen saver is switched off – via ‘control panel’ in windows and ‘System Preferences’ in Mac.  It’s a real shame if you’re just finished warming the audience up with your opening gambit, and you press the button to display you killer first slide, and they see that ‘screen locked, password needed’ dialogue box.  It happens to even the most experienced presenters. So just make sure that you’ve switched yours off, or if you’re using a borrowed laptop or PC, that they’ve done the same.


Whatever option you choose, make sure that you have a backup of your whole presentation, with media files, on a CD/DVD or a portable drive, at hand. If the presentation, sound, video or computer suddenly fails, or you run into a hopeless compatibility issue, switching to another machine without fuss or embarrassment makes you look like a real pro, rather than a fumbling amateur.

Good luck in your next and future presentations, and don’t worry if it happens to you. If the audience already likes you, and you don’t embarrass them by becoming embarrassed yourself, they’ll forgive you. And if you handle it well, it’ll even add something to the overall impression you make. If you want more presentation skills advice, then please feel free to sign up to our free, and once in a while newsletter, or just download some of our free stuff for presenters. Thanks for reading.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey
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