Operational Excellence with Technology

Presentation Hacking, Part 1

More and more, making presentations is part of business life. Whether it’s a salesperson doing a sales presentation, a training session, or your kid’s homework at school, there’s likely to be a PowerPoint involved. Without debating whether PowerPoint is the best idea in any of those applications, let’s just assume you’re going to use it.

If you are doing a public presentation, you’ll often end up in a hotel conference room. Several years ago, one of my selling points as a speaker was I brought my own projector. Back then a basic projector rental from the hotel was $400 to $500 per day! While prices have come down somewhat, it still is relatively common for a hotel to charge $200 a day for a projector and screen.

If you are going to be doing several presentations a year, it might be very cost effective to get your own projector.

Basically there are 4 metrics you will evaluate projectors on:  resolution, brightness, weight, and cost.  They will play off each other--spend enough and you can have high resolution, bright and light.  But I’m assuming you don’t want to spend a fortune.

Resolution is typically one of 2 or 3 values, SVGA (800 x 600), XGA (1024 x 768), SXGA/WXGA (1280×1024, 1280 x 800).  In the past the biggest advantage of XGA was it was the same resolution as most notebook computers of the day, making it easy to connect the projector to the laptop.  Now laptops tend to come with widescreen displays so they are all over the map from 1440x900 (the laptop I’m typing this on) to 1024x600 (the 2 pound netbook I carry when I travel).  I’m not convinced that presenters using PowerPoint need higher resolution, even SVGA, which is dirt cheap They commonly sell for $399), will work fine.

The good news is almost every laptop computer, even the tiny netbooks, now support multiple monitors (e.g. the LCD built into the laptop and an external monitor) at different resolutions so having the same resolution really isn’t the issue it used to be.  It’s worth learning how to use the multiple monitor support.  The only real trick is to make sure the external monitor resolution is set to exactly the native resolution of the projector.  Most projectors will accept just about any resolution, but they fudge the image to fit their resolution and that ends up being fuzzy.  The exception to my any resolution is ok is if you are teaching Compumaster, then you need XGA to have enough resolution to demo the software.

Brightness is the other “technical” specification you need to worry about.  It is measured in lumens.  The brighter the projector, the less you have to worry about room lighting.  Before I got a Plus U3, my projector was only 400 lumens, I could make it work for large groups (200-300 people) but the room needed to be almost dark.  The U3, at 800 lumens, works if I can darken the area around the screen, but it can wash out.  I also have a 2000 lumen Panasonic which works pretty much in any room.  It’s almost impossible to buy a new projector with less than 1,000 lumens, 2,000 is becoming the standard.  The good news is if you stick to PowerPoint, and work hard to keep your contrast as high as possible, you can get by with a much lower brightness than if you are trying to project Excel, which has low contrast.  The bottom line, the brighter the projector the less you have to worry about room lighting.

Weight is the third metric.  The difference between 3 lbs and 7 lbs might not seem like much, until you haul the big one through airports regularly.  The lighter U3, and smaller by 50%, projector fits in the backpack I carry my computer in.  The 7 pound projector requires its own case.  That can mean the difference between a carry-on suitcase and a laptop case (with the projector) and having to check luggage.

Cost is what it is.  Expect to pay between $750 and $1,000 for a decent projector.  Ironically replacement bulb prices have stayed the same at about $350 while projectors have gone from $3,000 to $750.  So remember to turn the projector off when you aren’t using it (e.g. lunch) and let it cool down really well before putting it away.  If you want to save some money, look for a refurbished version of the projector you want.  Those are usually projectors that didn’t work when the purchaser got them, were returned to the factory, fixed, and can’t be sold as new, even though for all practical purposes they are.

Based on what I saw at Infocomm last year, if I were going to buy a projector today I’d seriously look at the Casio Super Slim projectors introduced last year (  They are light, small, and bright.  You can get a 2,000 lumen XGA unit that weighs 5 pounds and fits in a backpack for about $750.

By the way, if you are a Mac person make sure you have your video adapter “dongle” that matches your laptop. Mac’s have several different video connections depending on age and model of laptop. I’d even suggest a spare stashed in your case, just in case you lose one. And I wouldn’t plan on the hotel having the right adapter. I’ve seen a lot of speakers who have Mac’s in a panic just before their presentation when they realize the standard VGA cable for a projector doesn’t connect to their computer without the right adapter.

In the next article we’ll look at more tools for your presentations.

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