New presentation technology

Broadband internet is ushering in new ways for people to communicate. For example, Webinars. They are easy to set up, offer an unlimited audience reach and are also useful for one-on-ones, with visuals enhancing a standard audio-only phone conversation.

Webinar technology

Webinars are great but pose special challenges for presenters. The most obvious one is your inability to monitor audience attention. Seated at your station, you won’t know who’s focused and who’s busy catching up on emails as you talk. Some webinar platforms now indicate a user has switched to another browser tab, but it’s different from sensing the pulse of those physically present in a room with you.

There are also technical challenges. As slides are usually uploaded from the presenter’s computer, a time gap occurs (upload speeds are generally slower than download speeds.) There will be a significant delay between the moment you switched slides and the time your online audience see the actual transition on their end. 

Before you start your webinar, close all other applications on your computer that can drain unnecessary bandwidth such as your Internet browser, Skype, other instant messaging applications, online backup services, Dropbox, etc.

Improving your webinar

You can monitor your webinar by simulating a participant’s station. On a separate machine, join in as a participant and see what your audiences are seeing. It’ll help you adjust your story as you change slides a bit earlier, to improve sync.

Another big help to webinar slides are design adjustments you can easily make beforehand. Cut the amount of data to be uploaded by removing embedded videos, and using only few images in high res. Minimize the number of transitions by skipping slides set in quick sequence or those with frequent animations. An object that moves smoothly across your screen in an animation or a video clip can stutter and bounce on your audience screens. 

Some webinar platforms enable you to upload all the material beforehand, and run the presentation off the remote server located in the platform provider’s data center. This solves the limited upload bandwidth issue, but it comes at a price. These platforms convert PowerPoint and Keynote files to PDF or other proprietary file format. In the process, custom fonts and animations are often lost.

If you do present from your own station, you probably won’t have Presenter Mode available, indicating your next slide. Instead, prepare in advance and have a printout of slide thumbnails and page numbers ready in front of you. The page numbers are especially useful during Q&A, when you need to instruct PowerPoint or the webinar software to jump back to a specific slide.

When you present online, you must explain things you otherwise wouldn’t worry about. In a live presentation, its apparent why you paused, to drink some water, for example. In a webinar, the sudden silence in your narration is unclear, so remember to announce your short break before hand.

Explain why you are silent all of a sudden

It is always useful to call for help with administrative tasks during your webinar. Focusing on a story is hard and there are many things that can distract you, such as reading through questions, admitting people into the conference, etc. Split these tasks with a partner, so that one of you focuses on delivering the presentation, and the other takes care of the rest.

Pay special attention to your webinar audio track, and silence any background noise you may have in your room. The air condition track may be humming away. Position your microphone well, as too far, and people won’t hear you, and too close will pickup on your breathing. Use a room with good acoustics, one that does not sound hollow or carries an echo. Invest in a good microphone and a proper headset, since builtin laptop microphones are usually not good quality.

If you are using a camera, test the lighting beforehand to see your picture quality. Make sure that you setup a calm and neutral background for your presentation. Pay attention to what you wear. Try to avoid looking down into a web camera, as it accentuates your chin. In the world of webinars, you are prompted to hurdle issues that have bothered television presenters for decades.

When you present without a camera, you could in theory have your entire presentation scripted out in front of you. While this eliminates the probability of mistakes, it may also make your talk sound unnatural. The opposite strategy can work best. Instead of sitting down, stand up and gesture like you would in a real live presentation. Your energy and passion are best conveyed this way, and although the audience don’t see this, it will come across to them and they will sense it in the way you present.

Emailing a presentation

PDF format is preferable over PowerPoint/Keynote files, for emailing presentation documents.

Device proliferation makes it increasingly difficult to anticipate the hardware on which your file will be opened. Macs are becoming increasingly popular, some people might not even have PowerPoint installed. Also, people open up files on their mobile devices and their cell phones during the day, and iPad in the evening seated in their living rooms. PDF is the only format that works well on all these hardware platforms.

A file packaged complete and locked to editing renders a more professional look. Imagine a company sends you their brochure as an editable Word file. This seems odd.

PDF file sizes are usually smaller than original source documents. 

Managing big files

File size: most email systems still have a cap of about 10MB on email size. Back in the 1990s this seemed huge, but we’ve come a long way since. If you can, keep your file under this 10MB, to fit within the legacy email attachment constraints.

Besides videos, the biggest culprits to file size are images. In PowerPoint and Keynote you can compress them, and the paid version of Adobe Acrobat offers tools to further reduce size, after you’ve already generated your PDF by clicking Save As in PowerPoint or Keynote. Compressing images will compromise quality, so always keep a master version of your presentation containing good quality images, and use it to make future changes.

If it’s impossible to stay within the 10MB file size, you can use alternatives to emailing attachments. Send a link to a web page from which the file can be downloaded in its entirety. My favorite file sharing service is Dropbox, and YouSendIt is another good option. Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Microsoft Sky Drive are other devices that offer file sharing, slowly eliminating the email attachment mechanism, making it a thing of the past.

File sharing systems cary security implications you should be aware of. The download link for your file is a random, long URL address. Anyone can download and open your file if they get a hold this URL. It’s all just out there in, floating in cyber space.  If your email, containing the URL, is forwarded to someone else, that person can also open the file. Some security level setting can be made in file sharing applications, so define them carefully or each file you share.

Email overload is a true burden to many. When they see a link on an email, people tend to skip any introductory text and immediately click to open the file. Make sure to enter the key message within your presentation.

PowerPoint can be used as a word processor


PowerPoint or Keynote are perfect alternatives to word processing applications for creating documents intended for reading rather than presenting to an audience. Corporate executives are so overloaded with information, the corporate memo is making way to more immediate and visual ways of presenting messages, somewhere between a dense piece of text and a keynote presentation.

  • If you are writing a book or a complex legal contract, you probably rely on some of the more advanced word processing functionalities, such as style sheets, numbering, or revision marking. In all other situations, PowerPoint or Keynote can work great. So, decide if its a full textual document intended for reading or a quicker note to be presented, and choose your styling accordingly.
  • Reduce font size to make space for elaborate sentences. You will not be there to present the document, so the text must be self explanatory. Big bold fonts work great for catchy headlines, while a smaller font size is good for reading a paragraph. The eye can get lost between largely sized text that flows onto several lines.
  • Adjust the number of words per line. Books print seven to ten words per line, and newspapers use columns to keep lines extra short. The eye loses track sailing across long distances. Consider using a column layout to relax the eye. Your email application, gmail or Outlook, are a good example for this. When you open an email on a wide screen, they react responsively, and a sentence is stretched to fit the entire screen space. Such long lines are very hard to read.
  • Add indicators to help readers locate themselves within a document, such as tracker pages or page numbers. Remove these in standup presentation because they add clutter.
  • Maintain white space on pages, using wide page borders, for a calmer look. Shrink the text to give it breathing space, rather than increasing font size that coves your entire canvas.
  • Use very subtle highlighting techniques. Too many bolds, italics, and underlines create clutter. Use a restricted set of font sizes, for example, one for slide heading, another for subheading, and a third for for body text.
  • Make sure objects and text columns are properly aligned and distributed on each page.
  • Dark backgrounds are not good behind smaller text, and are definitely a problem in printed copies. Go for a light background instead.
  • I argued that serif fonts work better for large fonts in on-screen presentations. If you use PowerPoint as a word processor, try switching small body text font to a serif, for enhanced legibility.

Have a look at a nicely formatted brochure that carries the look you aspire to in your presentation text document. It could mean you must deviate from the standard 4:3 presentation aspect ratio, but PowerPoint and Keynote work well also with a vertical (portrait) A4 or letter page format.

Screen aspect ratios

16:9 and conference booths: over the past decade computer monitors have moved from the 4:3 format with us from IBM mainframe times, with punchcards of 80x25 characters, to 16:9 aspect ratio, closely resembling a cinema screen.

16:9, or a wide screen aspect ratio, is more natural for the eye to follow on video footage. For presentations however, it is not always perfect, even if you are presenting on a plasma or the LCD screens of small conference rooms. A wide screen requires you design slides that force the eye to move horizontally across the slide, and restricts design freedom. Images have to be cropped awkwardly to fit the horizontal stretch, squares and circles leave the screen empty, titles become incredibly long to read. Where possible, I stick to a 4:3 aspect ratio slide design.

Trade shows and conference booths are the exception. PowerPoint or Keynote are perfect applications for design slideshows that auto play on an LCD screen hung on the back of your booth. Since no one is there to explain slides verbally as the presentation unfolds automatically, you can use that extra vertical screen space to add text you’d normally never add to a live presentation.

Videos can easily be embedded in a presentation

Embedding videos in a presentation

As file size limitation fade, it becomes highly feasible to incorporate video in your presentations. Companies often spend highly on commercial, animated corporate videos. These work great on a website, and can be nicely fitted in your presentation in HD format.

To do this is very easy, simply drag the video file into your PowerPoint or Keynote slide, resize the video player to fit well on the page, and select a good thumbnail picture for your clip. This embeds the entire video file into your presentation, so if file space is an issue use a different embedding approach, by linking to a video hosted on YouTube. Keep in mind yo may face connectivity issues during your presentation, and Youtube may not be available to you when you need it.

Sometimes you cannot use a video in a presentation. Refer to our discussion about time gaps for webinar uploading and downloading. So it can be a better policy to summarize your video in five to ten screenshots and pasting these in to your presentation. Have them all on one single page, or make a number of consecutive slides that retell the story of the original video. 


Many stock photography sites also offer stock video footage for presentations. I find these videos less useful. Clips of trees swaying in the wind, or people pacing down a busy street, can add much file volume but little value to your story. A still photograph will do fine.

The film industry has not yet discovered the potential contained in licensing movie sections to be screened for small audiences.

Some film strips are perfect material for presentations, for example Tom & Jerry chases, or Tom Cruise screaming “Show me the money.” But its illegal to present clips you find online in your presentations. Watch out for copyright. If you find a clip on YouTube that has a creative commons license, extract it from the site easily using Keepvid.


Video is still underutilized to deliver the presentation itself. If you are emailing your story to a potential sales prospect or investor you do not know well, adding a short video can significantly add to the impact of your slides.

People get a hint of who you are as a person. This is especially important for investor pitches where team formation is considered.

A video can, in partly, replace verbal explanation the email recipient may be missing.

Videos tend to be short and to the point, and are better rehearsed than presentations thanks to the re-wind option that you lack on stage. Because of the effort that is put into them, two minute clips are highly effective for getting your message across.

If you are interested in experimenting with video as a presentation delivery vehicle, try the site

Tablet presentation software is getting there, slowly

Tablet presentations

The iPad and other tablet devices create a whole new category of presentations. iPads are great for informal one-on-one presentations. They can also be used as a replacement to laptops for projecting slides onto a projector, via a cable, or wirelessly via the Airplay protocol.

Things move rapidly in this field, but  here are some of the tools I use to present with tablets (November 2012):

  • Software: the first thing to worry about is the software setup for your presentation. Apple Keynote is integrated across laptops and iPads, you can buy it from App store here. Microsoft PowerPoint does not yet support a tablet version, but you can present PDF slides using iBooks or Adobe Reader, or a specific presentation app such as SlideShark.
  • Fonts: tablets increase the problem of fonts described for laptops. If you use PDF format for your tablet presentation, this is not an issue, but I recommend using the set of absolutely basic, safe fonts available on any device, such as Arial, for example.
  • Animations: while these work well in Keynote or SlideShark, they do not appear in PDF format, so replace them by build ups across multiple slides.
  • File management: tablets are tricky in file management, especially if you just incorporated some last minute changes on your laptop and need to get the deck quickly on to your tablet. Take extra time to prepare the technical setup for your tablet presentation. Create a separate page for the presentation app to locate it quickly, make sure the presentation file is installed and opens up correctly, skip through every single page to make sure no unexpected glitches occur with fonts and animations.

Tablets offer other applications for presentations. In a regular on-screen presentation, you hardly ever use hotlinks. It is simply inconvenient to put your remote control on the table, take the mouse, and start clicking objects on your chart. The iPad changes this, and it is very intuitive to interact with the screen, either in one on one meeting, or as you hold the iPad in your hands while delivering a talk in front of a larger audience.

An interactive presentation on a tablet moves your show to the new arena of interactive software applications. Think of a pharmaceutical rep visiting a doctor. An interactive tablet presentation can be great for answering questions, showing additional data, and if you hook it up to an order management system, you can complete the entire sales process from within the device. I find there could be a great future for these application types, and it opens up a whole new area of software where good slide design becomes very important.

Tablets can also be a great way to run nonlinear presentations, where slides are not chronologically ordered. In dual screen mode, as the tablet shows a different screen from the one your audience see, you can go back and forth between slides without disrupt your audience’s viewing experience, in the slide sorter or light box view.

What do you think of Prezi?

Nonlinear presentations

Prezi: Prezi is a tool that enables you to design a presentation on one unlimited canvas. When presenting, you tell it to zoom on that parts of the canvas you want. All Prezi presentations are edited and presented int the cloud, and files reside in the Prezi data center.

I am often asked about my opinion about Prezi. Like everyone else fed up with Death by PowerPoint, I really want to like Prezi, but there are a few glitches that need to be ironed out.

Nonlinearity only works in certain settings, and a big audience presentation is not one of them. When you have 20 minutes to present to a large audience, you want to take no chances, at all. You carefully crafted a storyline, thought hard about the order in which to deliver your punchlines, pretty much like a movie director determining the exact sequence of scenes. Opening this up to a random sequence is too risky. 

In a highly interactive setting, nonlinear presentation may work well. A one on one with a potential investor, a lecture in front of students who ask lots of questions, a discussion with stock analysts who want to discuss company economics in detail. A Prezi-style presentation could be used in situations where the presenter is absent, for example in a website where the visitor is invited to explore information online and find their topics of interest.

Zooming is really powerful if you use it for... well, zooming. For example, delving into an increasingly detailed technical diagram, discussing fractals or molecular structures, or experiential books often made for children with nested images within images, where zooming in on the bus shows the add with the beach zoomed into a boy reading a book with an astronaut flying to the moon. If you use zoom effects just to create a spectacular page transition effect, they are not useful, and may even cause your audience motion sickness, as the presentation objects bounce over the screen in Prezi. It is sad to see that most Prezi presentations use zooming just for this purpose.

Finally, Prezi has some limitations on use of fonts and colors, and it can be hard to create good data charts. I hope Prezi will solve such issues and succeed to become a viable alternative for PowerPoint or Keynote.

Note: comments on Prezi as of June 2012

Quick sum up

Technology has become an integral part of the presentation design and process. Spend time to get it right.