Rock Your Presentation with the Right Tools and Apps

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Rock Your Presentation with the Right Tools and Apps
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At some point in your career as a student or professional, you’re going to have to give a presentation—and when you do, you want to be prepared with the right content and applications. Whether your demo’ing software or explicating Melville, a computer hooked up to a projector can either give an audience a great audio/visual experience, or a bullet-studded snoozer. Whether you’re using a Mac or Windows, PowerPoint or Keynote, or simply presenting straight from your web browser, there are a few power tips, apps, and tools that can make your slideshow or demonstration smooth, entertaining and memorable. Photo by jurvetson.

Ditch the Bullet Points

beyondbulletpoints.jpgIf you’re doing a straight PowerPoint or Keynote slideshow, do your audience a favour: forget bullet points. While they’re easy to write and easy to read off your screen, they’re hard on your audience. Pick up a copy of Clif Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points and make yourself fill in the template he offers for download, to structure your presentation into an engaging story, not a lifeless collection of bulleted lists. See our original review of Beyond Bullet Points.

Pre-program Typing with Text Substitution

If you’re showing off software or doing any sort of interactive demonstration that involves typing, don’t waste your audience’s time watching you fumble with the keys because you’re nervous under the pressure of your their collective gaze. Pre-script any text entry you have to do using text substitution, with free software like Texter on Windows, TextExpander on the Mac or Snippits on Linux. Not only will your audience be impressed with your efficiency (and lightning-fast typing), they’ll love you for being prepared and keeping things moving along with ease.

Zoom and Call Out Sections of Your Screen

zoomit_sm.pngWant to show off a detail in an image, enlarge a small video or draw on screen like a football coach choreographing a play? There are a few ways you can zoom into and freehand draw right onto areas on screen while you present.

  • See closeups of screen areas with ZoomIt (Windows)—free software with configurable keyboard shortcuts zooms in on areas on screen and draws on it with different-colored pens.
  • Zoom into any area of your Mac’s screen—using an accessibility option built into OS X, zoom into an area of the screen, no additional software required.
  • Call out anything on your screen with Highlight (Mac)—draw on your Mac’s screen.

Tip: consider screencasting these types of show and tell techniques to ensure no operator error during the live presentation.

Dim the Background Clutter

cluttercloak.pngWant your audience to focus on the foreground application, dialog box or maybe just the video playing in the middle of the screen? Both the Clutter Cloak for Windows and Doodim for Mac are free apps that can darken everything on-screen except what’s important.

Increase a Web Page’s Font Size

If you’re presenting a web page with text on it, assume it’ll be illegible to your audience unless it’s enlarged. In Firefox, a simple Ctrl++ can increase font size after a page is loaded; even better, preset your presentation pages to more legible sizes using the excellent NoSquint Firefox extension.

Before You Leave the House: The Hardware Checklist

This should go without saying, but I showed up at my last public speaking gig without my Mac’s DVI to VGA adapter. So before you head out to your presentation, make sure you’ve got:

  • An extra ethernet cable (as lengthy as possible)
  • A DVI to VGA adaptor to hook up your laptop to the projector (if necessary)
  • A thumb drive with your presentation file stored on it

More Presentation Power Tips

A few more tips for making your presentation great:

  • Split the screen and use your computer as a giant clock or to simply display the notes view of your slide show
  • Get your PowerPoint keyboard shortcuts straight
  • Publish and share your slides with SlideShare
  • While you should be prepared for your venue having faulty or no internet connectivity at all, you can host and give your presentation on the web with Google Documents (now with Presentations), Zoho Show or Preezo
  • Check out Merlin Mann’s roundup of tools he used to perfect his recent Inbox Zero presentation

What are your favourite presentation tricks and tips? Let us know in the comments.

Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, is getting better at presentations. Her weekly feature, Geek to Live, appears every Saturday on Lifehacker AU.

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