Posted in Getting published, Presentations quality, Speaking in public, Tips
In an ideal world scientists prepare their conference talk way ahead of time. In a realistic world they prepare their talk one or two days before they get on the plane. Or they do it on the plane. In earlier days, when a presentation was done with the help of overhead projectors, transparencies that were very clearly made while being in the air were referred to as “air-plane transparencies”. These slides showed all the signs of shaky fingers. In this post I will tell you something about my last-minute preparations for my latest presentation.
Laptop with a screen crash
I used to present my talks using a Dell laptop. Reliable, sturdy and so heavy that additional physical exercises were not necessary. About two weeks before my conference in Crete would start the unexpected happened: my laptop had a crash, that is to say the screen stopped working and even hooking up an additional monitor did not save me. I only lost about a few hours of work. I always backup my data regularly so this little damage was a reward for my consistent backup procedure.
I hate to use the laptop conference organizers provide so I needed desperately a new laptop. After consulting colleagues I opted for a Hewlett Packard 2530P. Expensive, but lightweight and a really long-lasting battery. It took me a full day of Internet searching to find a company that could deliver within a few days. Although my appetite for the Windows operating system has long been gone, a one-day crash-course in a new laptop with Linux was the last I desired. So I had to deal with Windows Vista. I feared for the worst, but the operating system is by no means as bad as people claim it is.
Software needed for preparing presentation
I am the kind of person that at the very last minute, that is to say at the conference site, wants to include a or edit a figure. This versatility means that I need a lot of software installed. Certainly a few graphics editing programs. So I installed a few days before the conference besides Microsoft Office 2003 and Office 2007, a Corel suite, the newest Adobe suite (including PhotoShop, Illustrator, Acrobat Pro) and a number of viewers (including Ghostgum’s postscript viewer) and for mathematical formulas Scientific Word, MathType and an – old version of – TexPoint. For a number of reasons I need PowerPoint 2003 (explained in my book). Installing all these programs took another day (that I could not use to prepare my talk). My friends often ask me why don’t I have other people do the installation. People who ask this type of question clearly know nothing about computers.
Living in the wonderful world of Windows I know how to deal with idiosyncrasies like the ever popping up erroneous error:
Failure with wmf pictures
I already had started preparing my talk on a desktop computer. When exporting a formula or a graph into a bitmap format one usually has a number of possibilities, like jpg, bmp, tiff, gif, png, wmf. I used the default which turned out to be the wmf format. I was extremely lucky that I had to give a presentation for our group meeting, exactly one day before I had to leave for the conference. This talk gave me the opportunity to test my new laptop. It turned out to be disaster. Pictures of the wmf format do not convert fonts in bitmaps. And indeed a major part of my formula’s, displaying beautifully on my desktop, did not show up at my laptop PowerPoint presentation, although I had saved the presentation with the option of embedding fonts checked. So the night before my plane left I had to redo all formula’s. I had chosen for a cheap charter flight which meant that I had to get up at four in the Saturday morning.
Early in the morning and the pdf disaster
I had to give my talk at Monday morning. I still had not finished my talk. To complete the presentation and to rehearse somewhat I got up at five in the morning. The hotel had a horrible slow internet connection. So I could not use anything from the internet. I needed to introduce some graphs in my talk. Copies of all theses and all papers as source code and as pdf were on my laptop. What I usually do is to view the pdf version of the paper that contains this figure. Find the figure. Blow it up as large as possible, for acceptable resolution. Put a rectangle around it and copy it to the clipboard and paste it to the presentation. The following disaster occurred: the newest Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat Pro have lots of problems (mind you this is a laptop with all updates installed). In my case it took longer than a minute to open up any pdf file. Everything was slow. So no time left for rehearsing. The problems with Adobe are known, but this professional company does not seem to bother to repair their products. When I told this later to one of my students he told me that all scientists should use Foxit. It is a superb, fast free pdf viewer. This is what I use since then.
Early in the morning and the PowerPoint disaster
I always use progress slides, slides that tell the audience where I am in my presentation. These slides use bullets. They are shiny balls as gif/jpg files. With PowerPoint I can easily insert them, but only as fast as the inbuilt underlying Visual Basic macros allow, and that is very slow. I noticed an hour before I had to give my presentation (I had already decided to skip breakfast) that I had not yet changed the bullets of the subjects I already had presented at that point in the presentation into “checked” symbols. I do have the “checked symbols as file. So I begun changing them and by doing so PowerPoint crashed. Happily Autorecovery is better these days and in addition I save regularly. The crash turned to be consistent. Saving and reopening and trying to introduce the “checked” symbol again, let again to a crash. So I abandoned it. And hoped that the file was not so corrupt that it would fail during my invited plenary presentation with a few hundred people in the audience.
The conference was great by the way. But how can I ever escape from this hectic practice? It is not good for my health. I hope you do better