Presenting with the Tablet PC

It always takes time to understand how to use a new technology – and my Tablet PC is no exception. I have tended to see the tablet facilites as a cool feature with limited use. But recently, I found a way to use it that takes advantages of the new features – partially inspired by John Seely Brown‘s “handwritten” Powerpoint slides.
Yesterday, I did a presentation at a Concours Summit at Gleneagles in Scotland. Like most presenters, I use Powerpoint from a laptop, and then use paper flipcharts to capture what the audience says and to facilitate interaction. That combination is not ideal: With electronic slides, you easily get bound to one particular sequence and pre-defined content, which is not very flexible. With paper flipcharts, you typically have to stand over on the side, with limited space for writing, and the audience, if large, can have problems seeing what you do. My idea was instead to use the Toshiba Tablet PC, with Windows Journal as an electronic flipchart. Aside from larger projection of what you are writing, it means you have captured the notes directly.
To make it work, I had to fiddle with some details:

  • when in tablet mode, the Toshiba has three programmable buttons available – and I set them to “arrow up” and “arrow down” (to flip Powerpoint slides) and the middle one to alt-ESC (to jump between Powerpoint and Journal). (Incidentally, I tried with alt-TAB, which is what I normally use to jump between applications, but Powerpoint will screw that up when in presentation mode)
  • set up Powerpoint in presentation mode, changing the cursor to a pen with some vivid color, such as red
  • get a lectern, so that the laptop is at a comfortable level for writing – you need to see the audience, not lean over your computer
  • set the screen to landscape mode, and pay attention to orientation, so that the picture does not end up upside down or sideways on the large screen
  • close down all other applications except Powerpoint and Journal
  • lock the on/off button to avoid accidentally hitting it and suddenly shutting down the computer
  • PRACTICE! (to make it look natural)
The main advantage of doing presentations this way is that you naturally (at least after a little practice) get into a more relaxed way of presenting, using the pen to circle details on the slides, and flipping over to Journal to capture notes and make drawings or diagrams to illustrate points that you don’t have in your presentation. A side benefit was that I could quickly tidy up the notes after the presentation, print them as a PDF file, and e-mail them.
The whole exercise worked well enough that I will do presentations that way in the future. It makes for a much livelier and more flexible presentation style, and can be a way to generate interaction with the audience. While the technology initially may get a little in the way, since it is unfamiliar to the audience, Journal and the tablet PC writing tools are sufficiently similar to paper writing that the “wow” effect quickly subsides.
And, of course, it looks cool. That’s not unimportant….


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