Check Your Tech

Posted on by Drew in advent speaker tips.

The world of tech can be fraught with dangers just waiting to trip up the unsuspecting presenter.

Like it or loath it, presenting is an increasingly technical exercise. Having one person be able to communicate to a big crowd is something that has always benefitted from a degree of technology. The Ancient Romans built entire buildings just for the purpose. Jesus went up the mount. Today we have computers, projectors and PA systems.

In order to make sure we remain masters of the tech and not slaves to it, it can really help to make some basic preparations and checks in the lead up to your presentation. Technical setups can be as varied as the audience themselves, so it pays to know what you’re dealing with.

Before preparing your slide deck, check ahead with the organiser to see what aspect ratio the projectors will be. For events with big auditoriums and a slick A/V setup, these will usually be widescreen 16:9. If you’re presenting somewhere more lowkey such as at a meetup or in a hotel conference room, these could easily be old fashioned 4:3. I’ve even presented at an event in a big cinema that had ultra-widescreen projectors. If you find out before your format your slides, you’ll not be left scrambling to make last minute adjustments.

Also find out what sort of connection you’ll need to make to the projector. This is usually HDMI, VGA or mini DVI these days, but check to make sure either you or the host has the correct adapter for your computer. (Hint: you should just have every adapter, and bring them all with you!)

Another question to ask of the organiser is if they’ll be any confidence monitors on stage, and if so, what will they show? Usually a confidence monitor will show you exactly what’s on the projector screen behind you, enabling you to know what the audience is looking at without turning around. Sometimes these might be able to show your presenter notes, or even both, depending on how advanced the configuration is. If you lean heavily on a presenter display, this can be useful to know. If you’re particularly worried, check that the stage configuration will let you see your notes. Sound obvious, but if you need them, don’t take that for granted.

Increasingly I see presenters making use of audio and video in their slide decks. When so much reference material exists as media that can be played back, it makes total sense to play something rather than describe it. Not every venue will be wired for sound, so it’s definitely something you need to check with the organisers first, and again confirm what sort of connector you’ll need. (They’ll usually expect you have a standard 3.5mm headphone output.)

On the day, you’ll want to make sure you run a quick check of the audio at the venue to make sure playback is working and is set up to be at the right volume.

On the subject of sound, it can help to know if there will be a mic available (obviously crucial in large venues, but not common in smaller ones) and if so what style of mic will it be. The three main types are handheld (like a singer), lapel clip (like a TV newsreader), and the head-worn style which is sometimes known as a Countryman.

Why is this useful to know? Notist co-founder Rachel Andrew once arrived to present at an event with an injured arm in a sling. Should be no problem, right? No problem until the venue gives you an handheld mic to use. Try holding a mic, using a clicker and drinking from a water bottle all with one hand! If your presentation involves you needing to operate props, operate your computer, or if you have any sort of mobility restrictions, it can be good to check whether or not you’ll have your hands free of microphones.

The world of tech can be fraught with dangers just waiting to trip up the unsuspecting presenter. Be the suspecting presenter and save yourself trouble with a few preparations beforehand.

Advent speaker tips: this is part of a series of tips for public speakers that we’re posting throughout advent. Check back daily during December for more.

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