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From a technical stand point, what do I need to show up to a conference with (in general) to ensure that my presentation will go smoothly?

Two things I can think of:

  • Presentation remote
  • Equipment to connect my laptop to the projector

The remote is simple enough, it just needs to work with my computer and be reliable. Connecting my computer to the projector is not trivial since a lot of laptops don't come with DVI or VGA output any more (mine doesn't!). What kind of output do I usually need, DVI or VGA? Do I need something like this which supports all output methods (seems like over kill but might be a good investment)?

Is there anything else to make sure I am prepared to deal with the technical aspects of a presentation?

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    If you have the time, try connecting your computer to the projector at least once before you do the presentation. Even if you have all right adapters, there's always something that doesn't work and could have been fixed by simply invesing a few minutes beforehand. – David MR Apr 22 '13 at 4:51
  • This book will prepare you..amazon.com/Life-Is-Series-Presentations-Influence/dp/074326925X/… – zundarz Apr 22 '13 at 20:49
  • I give most of my talks using only chalk on a board, then the most important point is probably to pick the right, readable colors chalks before the talk. – Benoît Kloeckner Mar 11 '14 at 20:45
  • @BenoîtKloeckner I have never heard of a conference providing chalk boards. – Austin Henley Mar 11 '14 at 23:24
  • @AustinHenley: you probably never heard of a pure math conference (except ICM), I guess. My comment was half a joke (I now it is not very relevant to the current question) and half serious (to remind people that different field may be wildly, weirdly different one from another). – Benoît Kloeckner Mar 16 '14 at 19:59
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From less esoteric to more (I've seen all these things happen):

  1. Make sure you know how to "send the image to a projector". Not all laptops do this automatically, and I'm surprised at how many people don't know how to do it. I've also seen people be confused by the mirroring feature on Macs.
  2. Verify that there's a power outlet or some place to plug in your laptop. Driving a projector eats power, and you don't want to drain your battery during the presentation
  3. Turn off screen savers. at the very least it's annoying, and sometimes the screen saver does wonky things to the projector display.
  4. Turn off your notifications (mail, facebook, twitter, skype...). It's amusing for an audience (but not for you) if during a job talk they all get to see a subject header of the form "Interview at University X" where X is not where you're at :)
  5. Make sure you have the right display converters. Usually something that converts your laptop to a VGA is standard. Macs are particularly difficult in this regard.
  6. Watch out for resolution issues. Most laptops are smart enough to drop resolution to deal with a projector, but sometimes they're not.
  7. Keep a backup copy of the slides in a portable format (PDF or PPT) on a usb stick. In the worst-case you can always borrow a laptop (from the previous speaker even) and load up the slides. Dropbox/a web page is ok but not great because it requires an internet connection.

And above all, as David M. R. says, check the setup beforehand if you can. Even that doesn't guarantee a smooth presentation, but it eliminates a lot of the potential problems listed above.

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    Or you get Skyped by a friend during a presentation (I've seen this happen). – Paul Hiemstra Apr 22 '13 at 6:07
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    Re point 4: several modern OS's have a "guest mode" or "guest account", where none of your programs will be configured to poll for notifications. This looks like a good occasion to use them. – Federico Poloni Apr 22 '13 at 7:55
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    Re: #7 - I would also make sure to have at least one hard copy of the slides, and I'd keep a copy on Dropbox (despite the warning). If the projector breaks and your laptop dies, etc., you can always present from the hard copy slides. – Chris Gregg Apr 22 '13 at 8:38
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    Also: use high contrast colors on all slides - otherwise the slides may be hard to see on the projector. – Tomas Andrle Apr 22 '13 at 15:32
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    Re #7: is ppt a portable format? I regularly see borked presentations because they are being shown on a laptop with a different version of Powerpoint. Not to mention machines running OpenOffice and/or Linux. My advice would rather be convert your ppt to pdf for presentation, always. In most cases you lose nothing, in some you lose only the slide transitions (which is a positive thing in my eyes), and only in some minor cases you lose actual functionality. – Federico Poloni Apr 22 '13 at 22:36
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In addition to Suresh comprehensive answer, and understanding you are referring primarily to the technology, would add the following which concerns the presentation:

Do not include media (video, sound etc) in your presentations unless absolutely necessary. If you do, make sure in advance (before the conference or some time before your talk that everything will work. This is particularly true if you need to switch platform from whatever you use to whatever the conference might run (unless they let you use your own computer (which is rare).

Make copies of your presentation in alternative formats. for example. if you make a presentation in PowerPoint, save it also as PDF (and make sure the PDF looks ok). Moving PowerPoint files between Win and Mac can be far from trivial. Not even PDFs are fool proof, particularly if media players need to be involved.

To add a technical item:

Be aware that older projectors may not resolve the color space you have in your presentation. This may render certain colours invisible and make other look identical. Therefore be careful and avoid choosing too many similar colours in plots etc.

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    Good point about the colors. that's often a problem. – Suresh Apr 22 '13 at 11:40
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    +1 for "Make copies of your presentation in alternative formats." I would also suggest having those copies in multiple places. Have your .ppt and .pdf on your presentation laptop, AND on external storage, AND in dropbox. – Carolyn Apr 22 '13 at 19:13
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In addition to Suresh's and Peter's advice, there is one other unlikely scenario to consider. Be prepared to give your presentation without the assistance of technology. Depending on the venue, if the projector fails, it may take longer to get a new one in place than you have to speak. If the talk is for an interview, being able to seamlessly switch to the low-tech version is a big plus for you. If you are at a conference, then the attendees at your session will still get to hear about your work. If the presentation is your thesis defense, then you absolutely must be able to continue in the analog fashion.

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The other answers are all great. Also keep in mind:

  • If you don't know what kind of room you'll be presenting in, keep all the vital info in the slides on the top half or top third of the slide. You never know when you'll get a room where the screen is at the same level as the audience seating. When that happens, no one behind the first row will be able to see the whole slide.
  • When microphones are provided, do a sound check before your presentation starts. Use the microphone.
  • Be prepared to present on a machine other than the one you bring. Have your presentation materials on an external drive AND in the cloud.
  • If you created your presentation on a mac and you'll be presenting on a pc, or vice versa, try to do a practice round on that operating system. Even if both OS's are running PowerPoint, certain features or slide transitions might not be supported.

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