Firefighting, Leadership, Tech Zone

Presentations 101

By John M. Buckman

Even the most well-planned presentations can fail if you don’t have a handle on the technology. First and foremost, never trust infrared remotes. They tend to work perfectly when you’re practicing but not during a presentation. A low-tech solution that works well for all but the largest rooms is to use a long cable (15 feet or more) to connect your notebook to a projector and a six-foot cable to connect your mouse. This setup keeps you close enough to see and navigate the presentation on your notebook screen, but it also lets you move around the room.

If you have a current notebook PC running Microsoft(r) Windows(r) XP, you probably have dual-monitor support, meaning you can run the presentation from the external video output while viewing your notes or the slide sorter on your notebook’s screen. Just make sure you rehearse before the presentation, because you can fall out of sync between presentation and notes if you press the wrong buttons.

If a slide advances before you’ve finished explaining it, move on. The audience has already seen the visual. Wireless mikes are a proven technology that let you move around easily. Remember Leslie Nielsen’s wireless-mike bathroom scene in The Naked Gun? Find out where the mute or on/off button is located on the remote.

Other keys to a successful presentation involve practice more than technology. If possible, add six points to the size of all fonts on your master slide, meaning the headings and key points should be 42 to 48 points, not 36 points. As a rule of thumb, an 8.5- by 11-inch printout of a slide should be readable from 10 feet away. If not, size up.

Resist the temptation to use cut slide transitions, animation (type flying in), or sounds. These get tiresome in a hurry. Similarly, go easy on using a laser pointer, and don’t point it at your audience (more for your safety than theirs).

Prepare for natural disasters, such as dropping your laptop 10 minutes before the presentation. Burn a copy of the presentation to a CD, or off-load a copy to a flash memory card such as Compact Flash, SD, or Memory Stick, which any notebook with PowerPoint(r) (the de facto default for presenters) can read. Or put the presentation on a PC card, external hard drive.
Presenters often blow past their last slide and end up with a blank screen or the Windows(r) desktop. Add a final slide that recaps the title of your talk, your name, and your e-mail address. And add a slide with just the background after that.

John M. Buckman is chief of the German Township (IN) Volunteer Fire Department in Evansville, Indiana, where he has served for 22 years, and the immediate past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He was instrumental in forming the IAFC’s Volunteer Chief Officers Section and is past chairman. He is an adjunct faculty member in the National Fire Academy residence program, is an advisory board member of Fire Engineering, and lectures extensively on fire service-related topics.