Monday, November 13, 2006

Using technology in conferences presentations: some advice

With the SBL Annual Meeting on the horizon, here are some thoughts about the use of technology in conference presentations. These emerge partly from the fact that I am trying to make my mind up about whether to use powerpoint or not in my paper, and this is the advice I am giving myself:

(1) Only use powerpoint if it will enhance your presentation. It is quite possible that the presentation will detract from your ability to communicate clearly and effectively. What are you hoping to achieve by using it? Do you need to show images or diagrams? Is there some kind of representation of the data that the visual aid of powerpoint will help?

(2) If you use powerpoint, or any other projections from a computer, keep in mind that when you get there the technology may not work, even if you are well prepared and if there is a technical person on hand and everything else. Sometimes, nay often, an unforeseen technical hitch occurs. So if you are planning to use powerpoint, make sure you are not reliant on it. Make sure that you have a back-up plan, e.g. hand-outs are always worth preparing and seldom go wrong. Think of that happy comfort of knowing that you have your hand-outs all ready in your suitcase, and that all you have to do is make sure that the suitcase makes it with you. (And speaking of that, make sure you have your electronic back-up in your hand luggage or better, on the net, for when your suitcase goes missing).

(3) If you are planning to use your laptop for powerpoint, take a USB cable with you. You may get to the room and find a projector, a wire and no way to plug it into your laptop.

(4) Have a back-up plan in case your laptop goes on the blink. Take your powerpoint presentation on your flashdrive too, so that you can plug it into a PC in the room, or someone else's laptop, in case of difficulties. And take your presentation on a CD-ROM too just in case neither laptop nor flashdrive works with the PC in the room.

(5) You may lose your CD-ROM and flashdrive, so make sure that you have also loaded your presentation somewhere on the net, either by emailing it to yourself, putting it on Yahoo!briefcase, or whatever.

(6) If you are not using unicode fonts in a presentation that needs the fonts to be displayed correctly (e.g. if using Greek or Hebrew), make sure you embed your fonts in your presentation. This is especially important for (4) above, where you are using your flashdrive or your CD-ROM for the presentation. You do not want your carefully planned Greek diagrams to be gobbledygook because you've used a nice Greek font that isn't going to show up on the room's PC.

(7) If you are planning to use your laptop, make sure that you know how to toggle between your laptop monitor and the projector. Don't expect someone else present, even a techie, to know how your laptop works; that's your responsibility.

(8) Arrive at least twenty minutes before the session you are speaking in begins so that you can introduce yourself to the chair, warn him/her that you are planning to use some technology, and get everything set up and tested. Remember that even if you are last in a two and a half hour session, you may not have a minute to sort out your technology during the session, so it is essential that you arrive in plenty of time before the beginning. That way you know well in advance of the session starting whether or not the technology is working. You then have time either to relax in the knowledge that all is well, or to find time to compose yourself in the knowledge that it is not.

(9) If the technology is not working, grit your teeth and get on with your presentation without mentioning it. Ideally, do not mention it at all. If you must, mention once and once only that you had prepared a great presentation. If you do have to do this, use humour and don't be resentful. Your audience may feel a bit sorry for you if you can't show your powerpoint, but that's the end of it. They will not appreciate it if you keep going on about how great your presentation would have been if only you could illustrate it properly. After a while they will stop feeling sorry for you and will start feeling embarrassed before you.

Now this probably sounds horribly neurotic, but every one of the things mentioned above are the result of my own direct experience, either presenting, chairing or participating in sessions using technology, and I offer them in the hope of sparing someone somewhere some anxiety.


Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Mark, very entertaining and helpful paranoia. This confirms my decision, made earlier today, to forego PP and to stick with handouts!

AKMA said...

I don't know about the PC side, but I'm not aware of any projectors that a USB cable would run. Don't y'all use the more complicated adapter doohickeys (or adapters that are different, but equally complicated) as we Mac users?

Judy Redman said...

Several other points:

Even if you are using Unicode fonts, always embed your fonts in your presentation. There is no guarantee that the computer you might be forced to use has any non-Latin fonts installed on it.

Check ahead of time with the organisers about what you might need to do if you are using PP - I was once told that no, I couldn't use my laptop because that would mean uncabling the computer in the lecture room, which required unlocking a cupboard, which...

If you have a Mac, make sure that you pack the adapter that allows you to connect your laptop to the standard data projector cable. I believe they come standard with Mac laptops. If the venue has a PC in it, they probably won't have an adapter.

Another option which means you don't have to carry large numbers of pieces of paper in your baggage is OHTs. Most venues have overhead projectors and OHTs allow you to point to the bit you want to emphasise rather than saying "as you will see in the second column, third line down..."

Doug said...

As very general points for most presentations I'd add
1) Despite your (1) many people benefit from visual reinforcement of points made, so that even if the talk is not particularly visual, it may still benefit from visual reinforcement
And two particular bugbears --
2) Don't mix and match your transitions too much. Visual gimickry distracts rather than enhances.
3) Apart from an initial check, have confidence in your equipment and don't keep turning to the screen, but keep looking at the audience. Academics still unfortunately used to reading papers sometimes transfer this "skill" to reading presnetations by looking behind them!