11 Tips and Tools for Avoiding Presentation Disasters

Afraid of Murphy's Law—especially when you're giving an important PowerPoint presentation? Avoid disaster by using these tips and tools.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
April 01, 2013

Journalist and entrepreneur Mitch Racliffe said, "A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history—with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila." Even when you haven't made any mistakes, the unexpected can, and usually will, occur at the most inopportune time: when you're delivering a high-stakes presentation to a prospective client, or at an event such as a trade show.

Don't be caught off guard. Here are some helpful tips and tools to help you deal with these potential problems so you can focus on your company message.

1. Know how to recover a corrupt PowerPoint file. Just before your presentation, you might discover that you're unable to open your PowerPoint file. This can easily happen with very large files. Echo Swinford, Microsoft MVP, provides step by step guidelines on what to do if this happens to you. Print the article and keep it with your presentation material, as you never know when you might need it. There are also third-party recovery tools that can help you if you're unable to recover a corrupt PowerPoint file, including Kernel PowerPoint Repair Software, Stellar Phoenix PowerPoint Repair, and Unistal PowerPoint Repair Tool.

2. Pack a PowerPoint Viewer. If you're not using your own laptop for the presentation, make sure that the presentation laptop supports the version of PowerPoint you used to create your presentation. A simple way to avoid any unpleasant surprises is simply to download the free PowerPoint viewer onto a flash drive to take with you.

3. Don't rely on Internet connectivity. Internet connections aren't bulletproof. If you need to display information from your website, or any other website, be prepared in case the Internet connection is interrupted during your presentation. A simple solution is to create a few slides with screenshots of all the pages you need for the presentation. One of the easiest ways to capture screenshots is by downloading Skitch, a powerful, free program. Skitch will even allow you to annotate the pages to add useful information (and it provides a video demonstrating how to use the program).

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4. Know which movie file formats to use. It pays to become knowledgeable about which file formats don't work with PowerPoint so you can convert your video file to avoid a nasty surprise. This list from Microsoft tells you which video file formats will work with PowerPoint. If the file format is not there, you will need to convert your movie file to a format that PowerPoint supports. One quick way to do this is to use a free file converter such as Zamzar. Upload your movie file and convert it to an acceptable format such as MPG.

5. Eliminate color illegibility. You may be surprised to discover that the font color you used for your presentation doesn't display well on a projector. This is often the case when marketing departments use, for example, pale color fonts to match the color of the logo. You can use the Color Contrast Calculator to find out if the colors you're planning to use on your slides provide enough contrast to be clearly seen by the audience. 

6. Avoid animations. You may find yourself running out of time and having to speed up your presentation. In that case, the complex, slow animation you had planned will slow you down. We look foolish standing there watching for an animation to take its course. Better to limit the use of these animations or avoid them altogether.  

7. Use your own remote. It's surprising how many people still advance slides by using the down arrow on the computer. A remote gives you power to move around and focus your eyes on the audience rather than on your laptop. Invest in a remote you can carry with you. When they rely on whatever remote is at the venue, speakers often fumble, go backward instead of forward, and fiddle with it until they get used to it. This chips away at your presence. Don't forget to pack extra batteries for your remote.

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8. Know the electrical voltage and outlets used abroad. If you're presenting abroad, come prepare with the right adapter or plug. Electrical Outlet gives you a handy list of electrical outlets used worldwide.  

9. Disable notifications and sleep mode. Even though we're all aware of this, it's easy to forget this step. Deactivate screen savers, Skype, instant messages, email alerts and other pop-up windows. They make you look unprepared. Also, disable the sleep or standby mode on your laptop. This WikiHow article will show you how to disable automatic sleep. If you're using Windows 7, you can also use the Windows Mobility Center to adjust your settings to Presentation Mode. With one click, you'll prevent your laptop from going dormant in the middle of a presentation and all system notifications will be turned off.

10. Beware of labels on DVDs. If you plan to show a DVD that you borrowed from the library, don't. The adhesive label is more than likely to create problems. The same applies to a DVD you create. Use appropriate markers for writing on DVDs and know where to write to avoid problems.

11. Use several backup methods. It pays to be paranoid when it comes to backing up your important presentation: Don't rely on just one backup method. Use two flash drives to back up the PowerPoint file, as these devices aren't infallible. Consider also backing up your presentation online by using an online storage program such as DropboxiCloud or SlideRocket.

Murphy's Law of Thermodynamics tells us that "things get worse under pressure." We can relieve this pressure by knowing how to stop presentation demons in their track.

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Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

Photo: Thinkstock