Don’t let technology fail you and your presentation!

July 5, 2018 Koffi Alain Sessi

When you have been sitting in technical or non-technical presentations as much as I have, it’s inevitable that you will witness some epic failures. Technologies are amazing at how they turn tedious, repetitive, and error-prone tasks into reliably repeatable items. At the same time, you can always count on them to fail. These failures have never proven a matter of if, only when.

Technology failures come in many different forms. Your trusty computer, which has faithfully served you for years, all of a sudden refuses to start. The replacement computer can’t open your file and is giving you an error. The file is on your computer, but you can’t open it. You forgot the safe copy of the file at home. While all of these scenarios I laid out here may not happen simultaneously, they do occasionally occur. So the question becomes, what do you do when one these catastrophes strike? Or better, how do you prevent these failures from ruining your party in the first place?

The answer is quite simple. As the presenter, you need to develop a process with a built-in series of failsafe measures and redundancies when your precautions don’t work. Let’s look at some practical steps you can take to minimize the impact these failures will have when they occur.

Version control

If you are like most people, you start and finish your presentation in the same file. This is a problem because when something terrible happens to the file, you lose all the time invested in designing the slides, which can sometimes number up to 20 hours. I recommend adopting a process of version control that insulates you from catastrophic losses. Every time you open a file, the first thing you need to do is use the “Save as” command to give the file a new version number.

You can adopt any naming scheme you like. For example, my version control system has three stages. Stage 1 is the initial development, stage 2 is the polishing, stage 3 is for testing and revisions. My scheme looks like this: name_of_project_stageNumber_versionNumber.pptx (ABM Q2 Report 1.0.pptx). Adopting a naming scheme helps you keep some sanity in the management of your files.

For files you just created, give them appropriate and meaningful names. A file named Untitled16 will become ultimately unhelpful a few weeks after you create it because you will not remember what information the file contains. Naming a file as soon as you create it is not just good practice but it also provides you with extra details. Data science folks refer to those details as metadata. Once you have implemented version control, your next step is to develop storage strategy.

Storage

After a number of hours, you finally got to the end of the design process. Your slides are ready. Now you need to think about how you are going to store it to guarantee easy access when necessary. In the age zeros and ones, I contend that nothing is safe if not saved at least in three separate locations.

You need to save your slide deck on a portable drive, on the computer you are going to use for the presentation (if you are using your computer), and in the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or other Online file storage systems). If you have enough space on your phone, I recommend saving the file on your phone as well. By doing so, you are hedging your bet against the inevitable. The idea here, really, is that you will always have a working version of the file when you need it. You can think of this approach as a business continuity plan (BCP) if you are business minded.

Font Folder

In the design process, you may decide to use a particular font family that you find pleasing to the eye. There usually is no problem if you are presenting from the computer you used to design your slide deck. However, if you are not, your design will look completely different if shown on a computer that does not have the font family you’ve used in the initial design.

You can prevent this either using ubiquitous and universal fonts or font families. Fonts or font families such as Arial, which comes with every computer sold in the world today will do just fine. Your other option is to save the font family in a folder and place that folder in the slide deck’s folder, so everything is nit and tidy. The rule of thumb is always to keep the delivery system in mind when laboring intensively over the visuals and the typographical content of a slide deck.

The few steps explained above will help you avoid preventable technology failures. What about technology failures that exist outside of your control? Even for these types of failures, there exist mitigating steps that you can take, but that’s a story for another day.

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