Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Presentation Tip: Be prepared: VGA is going away

For many years presenters have walked into a room and connected their laptop to the projector using a VGA cable. All that will change in the next two years. The VGA port is being phased out by computer manufacturers. In this article I want to suggest what presenters can do now to prepare for this change.

Why are computer manufacturers making this change? It was announced in December 2010, so it is not breaking news. VGA is an analog technology which was good in its time, but better technology is now available. Digital technology provides a better quality image and supports higher resolutions. If you have a flat screen TV, you are likely using an HDMI cable to attach your devices. HDMI is a digital format and it is the primary way that video is transferred between devices and TVs today.

I started to notice the changes that presenters need to be aware of more in the last six months. One of my clients in the media business only has flat screen TVs in their meeting rooms. There are no projectors around. The TVs have HDMI inputs as well as VGA. When I used the VGA connection in one room in San Francisco, it reset the input every two minutes, causing a momentary blackout of the screen. This was very annoying to the audience. When I switched to the HDMI input (my computer has both), the image was higher resolution and rock solid. The first lesson for presenters is that the native digital connection for flat screen TVs will usually work better than the VGA connection which has to be converted by the TV. With more and more organizations moving away from projectors to TVs in meeting rooms, presenters will want to make sure they can connect using a digital connection.

When organizations still use projectors, the new ones they are installing are set up to use HDMI connections. I have had this happen twice in the last six months. One client installed a new boardroom projector, and the primary connection is HDMI. Another client has a portable projector that gives a higher resolution image when connected via HDMI. So even if your room has a projector, chances are that when the old one is replaced, the new one will expect digital connections to give the best image and performance.

So what do presenters need to do? Be prepared to move from a VGA connection to a digital connection. Look at your laptop. Does it have an HDMI or Mini DisplayPort connection? If so, you can output a digital signal that connects to the HDMI input on a TV or projector. If you don’t have a full sized HDMI port, you will likely need an adapter to convert from a mini or micro HDMI to full sized HDMI or an adapter that converts from Mini DisplayPort to HDMI. I have found reliable adapters for a good price at www.monoprice.com. The Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter that I bought works very well. Get the correct adapters now and make room in your laptop bag to carry them so you have them when needed. For those using Mac laptops who have been using the Mini DisplayPort adapter to connect to VGA cables, it is time to get the adapter to connect to HDMI cables. The Monoprice adapter I got for my MacBook Air works perfectly and it cost one-third of the price of the adapter Apple sells.

If you don’t have one of these digital ports on your laptop, you will want to start looking at a future laptop that does. While there are USB to HDMI adapters, the USB speed will likely make any videos in your presentation not run smoothly. Any time you convert from analog to digital or digital to analog you will reduce the quality of the signal due to the processing that must be done on the fly. A much better solution is to plan now for a laptop that has a digital connection built in.

Once you do have a newer laptop, how can you connect to an older projector if the laptop no longer has a VGA port? You will need an adapter to convert from Mini DisplayPort to VGA to bridge the years that projectors will still be using VGA connections.

The transition from VGA to HDMI connections will take place over the next few years. Presenters need to start preparing now to be able to connect to both during the transition. Get your adapters or cables now so you don’t run into any connection problems in your next presentation.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Presentation Tip: Stop judging a presentation by the number of slides in the file

When you open a PowerPoint file that has been sent to you, where do you look first? If you are like most people I speak to in my workshops, the first place you look is the lower left corner to see how many slides are in the file. Why do most people do this? Because they think that the number of slides will indicate how effective the content of the presentation is. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this article I want to explain why you need to break this habit.

When you open a PowerPoint file and immediately look at the number of slides, you have some number in mind that you think indicates a good vs. bad presentation. Everyone seems to have their own number, and many have different numbers based on what type of presentation it is. A project status presentation will have a different number than a sales presentation, which will have a different number than a financial results presentation.

Whatever your number is, you will immediately judge the value of the content before you have ever even looked at the content. If the number of slides in the file is larger than what you think it should be, you immediately think it is a poor presentation, before you have even looked to see what the presenter has included. This seems crazy to me. Why do people do this? Because their past experience is with overloaded slides that are really pages from a report instead of slides intended to quickly communicate important messages.

The number of slides is no indication of the effectiveness of the message the presenter will deliver. Next month I will present my webinar on Using an iPad in Business. I will speak for about 50-55 minutes. How many slides should I use? I bet almost none of you said over 90. That’s right, I use 92 slides and last time I did the webinar we had comments that it was the best webinar people had ever seen. How is this possible? Because of the way the slides are designed.

When you design a slide that has a headline that summarizes the one point you want to make and a visual that illustrates that point, you won’t spend a long time on the slide. The slide only has one message, and once you have delivered it to the audience, they expect you to move on to the next point, which is on the next slide. There may be more slides, but the message is more effective. It is not about the number of slides, it is about how effectively you communicate.

When the slide file is sent by email, it is also easy for the viewer to look at the slides because they understand the message of each slide and can move quickly on to the next slide. I would suggest that it is actually quicker to review a larger number of slides that have been prepared effectively than it is to review a smaller number of cluttered, confusing slides. Isn’t clarity of communication more important than number of slides? I hope so.

It will take time to break the habit that many people have fallen into of always judging a PowerPoint file by the number of slides it contains. When you do, you will find yourself open to judging the content of the presentation and how clearly it communicates the important message the presenter intended. When you design slides so they are easy to understand, you may create more slides, but your message will be more effective. I hope we can get to the day when we judge presentations not by the number of slides, but by the content of the message. Start the change today in your organization.