How Choosing the Wrong Portable Projection Screen Fabric Will Ruin Your Presentation

When it comes to choosing a portable projection screen, the fabric is often overlooked. Sure, you look at the gain (which is the reflection value) and you make sure it’s a matt white one.

But apart from that, do you know what makes one different from the other?

I know, it’s hard to tell from a small thumbnail on-line, but the fabric type used can differ completely. And that’s because manufacturers try to optimise their screen for either portability or planarity.

First, let’s look at why they matter.

Portability matters because this is the sort of screen that’s going places. Because of that, you don’t want to haul around with a heavy load. You want a light-weight screen that doesn’t have you sweating before your presentation or movie starts.

Planarity matters because you want your screen to be perfectly flat. A distortion in the fabric thanks to wrinkles or V-shapes in a sagging fabric distract from your presentation or movies at best. At their worst, these distortions make a presentation unreadable.

Some manufacturers aim for a screen that performs well when it comes to portability. They employ a paper-like fabric that’s very thin and weighs next to nothing. The result: you’ll be very happy carrying around this sort of screen, because it’s very light.

However, this screen doesn’t score well when it comes to wrinkles and distortions. Especially the edges tend to curl forward. Plus, when somebody walks by, the screen moves, because the sheet is so thin and there’s almost no tension to it. An air-conditioning unit or a draft might have the same effect.

To avoid this some manufacturers use a different fabric. It’s heavier, but it does perform better than the paper-like fabric. And with the advent of high-definition images in home theatre and professional presentations, this is now more important than ever.

This thicker fabric is between 0.3 and 0.4 mm thick and scores better on planarity. And, because they are heavier, they suffers less from drafts or people walking by.

So which should you go for?

Well, the thicker fabric weighs about 400 gram per square meter. That means you add about 1600 grams (or 3 lbs) for the largest size screen if you go for the “heavy” fabric. For a screen that only weighs about 6 kgs ( about 12 lbs), it might add a lot if you look at the percentage increase. However, it will be next to impossible to feel a significant difference when you carry it.

Now, if you can avoid ruining your presentation by projecting onto this heavier fabric, you know what to go for.

That’s because you have to realise why you are giving a presentation or watching a movie. You want a convincing presentation or the best possible cinema experience.

So when you’re in the market for a portable screen, you know you should stay away from the foil-like fabrics and go for the heavier fabrics that offer the best projection surface.

Because next you’re presenting or watching a movie, you’ll be thankful for it.

Business Writing, Presentation Skills Training Brings Out the Effective Communication Thinker in Us

Writing: An Opportunity, Not A Chore

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Joan Didion, author

The lady’s right on the money. I drive the point home in all my business communication (writing skills and presentation skills) training: Writing is thinking. Don’t view it as a frustrating technical exercise in grammar, a series of hurdles to trip over as you dump your jumbled thoughts on a blank legal pad or screen, hoping that they’ll eventually come together in some loose confederation.

Writing allows you to think — really think over time — about what you know and what you might need to find out before you put your thoughts in some logical order. Please indulge me as I offer an example close to home:

I have a 19-year-old son named Will. He’s a promising sophomore baseball pitcher at a fine public liberal arts college in Maine. (Fortunately, he’s adopted. Had be been our biological child, he’d probably be third-string Chess Club.) Will is a decent student — nothing exceptional, but shrewd enough to use the English language in ways that satisfy his professors.

When he was in high school, we used to talk back and forth about his pitching tactics, which I found riveting because baseball is far and away my favorite sport. But talk is usually spontaneous and anecdotal, and doesn’t always frame itself into a context that takes in precedents and projects future behavior.

Now our contact is mostly by email, which turns Will into a practical (non-academic) writer who knows that the usual abbreviated electronic lingo young people pass back and forth won’t work for someone of my generation. So now when I ask him how baseball practice is going, he has to think, which led last spring to the best “conversation” we’ve ever had about pitching. Here’s what he wrote after I inquired about a practice session:

“I was receiving a lot of advice and help from older guys, so I needed to filter the stuff that was going to help me and the stuff I could fix another time…I just kept the fastball knee-high, outside corner, which has got me here. I have also gained enough confidence to throw inside…I messed around with some grips, so now I have a tailing fastball and a running fastball, sort of like a cutter/forkball…My changeup sucked yesterday…I need to work on the grip and [get] more practice spotting it.

“So to answer your question, the last guys I started with curves or outside or inside fastballs. Then worked a harder fastball up in the zone or maybe another curve outside. Then I would just blow one by or maybe throw a deuce [curve] that would fall in for a strike. They were all strike three-looking, so they watched the fastball or then watched the curve.”

Never before in the six or seven years he’s been pitching competitively has Will put so much thought into any discussion we’ve had on mound tactics — itself a form of on-the-spot analysis matched in sports only by golf when it comes to creative judgments. (Again, the crucial element is having the time.) The writing challenge allowed him to put it all together and think about where he is and where he wants to be.

Email does the same for all of us. It turns us into writers, an unmatched opportunity to show just how smart we really are.

Stop Yelling At Me

That’s right. I’m not looking to buy a used car at unbelievable rock-bottom prices or send in $19.95 for an amazing gadget that’ll suck food residue out of the bottom of the dishwasher and double as a self-administered dental hygiene device. Shouting may work (it must work; else why would they keep doing it?) for car pitch men or guys with British accents hawking the latest techno-mop on cable TV, but that doesn’t mean you have to yell.

No, when it comes to presentation or public speaking skills, what I teach in seminars is straightforward: Be yourself.

I recently sat through a breakfast meeting presentation by a renowned local motivational speaker who irritated the stuffing out of me. So excited was he about his secrets of small business success that his voice quickly turned into a hoarse rant well beyond the acoustical limits of a medium-size church hall.

It didn’t stop there. As he turned to and from a flip chart in a frenzied rush, he couldn’t keep his hands from jerking up in tandem with every point he made. Inside 10 minutes, he was reaching for a handkerchief to wipe perspiration from his face on what was a cool late-summer morning.

As you may have guessed, I was distracted and lost track of his message. The gestures, the pace, the visible results of exertion, they all kept me from listening closely to what were probably valuable lessons about management.

(By the way, I do give him credit for using the flip chart. Had he throttled back on his tone and gestures and kept eye contact around the room, we would have followed him with eyes and ears as he turned to the flip chart to make key points. That’s a far cry from PowerPoint, where the lights go down, eye contact fades into the gloom and the speaker stands there, transfixed by the need to keep turning away from us and reading from the huge, domineering screen.)

The key, again, is to be yourself. Not too long ago, I guided a VA hospital CEO in the Midwest through a videotaped “60 Minutes”-type interview, with a few “gotcha” questions thrown in for good measure. Being a quiet, almost bashful professional, she found that she could relax and speak in a normal tone of voice that projected self-assurance and competence. The result pleased her and she came to accept and control her natural nervousness.

How to Design Engaging Presentations

The lights are dimmed. The auditorium is full. The big screen is filled with bright colors. Then here it comes, the never-ending list of bullet points, which the presenter is reading to you one-by-one. And you? Your eyes are feeling heavy. Your head is dropping slowly, but then jolts up like a yo-yo! Oh, the guilt and shame we feel for falling asleep on what could have been an awesome presentation. We’ve all been there. Once you see the first array of bullets hit the screen, you sink into your seat and brace yourself for a brain-numbing ride. Or maybe this is sounding too familiar. Maybe YOU were the presenter! Queue the dark organ music!

But that doesn’t have to be you! Last year, a good friend recommended a book called “Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery” by Garr Reynolds. It’s an easy read and it absolutely revolutionized the way I think about presentations, and subsequently design presentations. An engaging presentation is truly an art that requires the right mix of slides with the right presenter. Here are six tips on presentation design that I learned from the book and have put into practice. If you think these tips are helpful, I encourage you to buy the book. It will go deeper into delivery techniques and in-depth design strategies complete with before and after slides. You can get it on Amazon for about $20.

Tip 1: One point, one slide    
A single slide shouldn’t carry the weight of the world. You should be able to make your point in about 6 words and perhaps a strong visual. If the visual is strong enough, there is no need for words. And to prevent the scenario in paragraph one of this how-to, don’t write your narrative on the screen…that’s what you are for. Remember that people can’t read and listen at the same time so don’t create an environment that challenges them to do so. If you do need to have more text on a slide, use the 1-7-7 Rule:

  • Have only one main idea per slide.
  • Insert only seven lines of text maximum.
  • Use only seven words per line maximum.

Tip 2: Create a handout
Now that you are down to one point per slide, you are probably wondering how your audience is going to know all there is to know about your topic. Enter the handout. This handout will not be a 3-up or 6-up handout that is generated in PowerPoint. It is a narrative document that contains all of the key facts and figures that you discuss during your presentation. This will allow your audience to pay attention to you and not scramble to take notes that they probably won’t be able to read once they get back to their office.

Tip 3: Go big on imagery
Don’t be afraid to flood the entire page with a single image. It provides depth and visual interest. This will also force you to stick to one point per slide. And each slide doesn’t need to have the same header and footer on every page during a live presentation. This is a presentation after all, not a document. For those of you who are guilty of using PowerPoint Presentations as corporate documents, maybe the next how-to I write will be on designing electronic business documents. Hint: If you’re slide presentation has a lot of content that requires multiple paragraphs and several bullet points, you should probably use a word processor. This’ll ensure that your reader will understand the content, without the presenter being present.

Tip 4: Simplicity is king
The great Leonardo da Vinci said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Think of creative ways to display your charts to help clarify the point, but keep it simple. You don’t need background image fills with a 3-D pie chart fading into the horizon line. A simple flat pie chart can often do the trick. And don’t be afraid of “white space.” Just because you have a lot of space on your slide doesn’t mean that it all has to be used.

Tip 5: You are the main attraction
The center of attention should be the presenter. Be humorous and entertaining. The slides are meant to support what you are saying, and not the other way around. You are the star of the show! You know that you have a powerful and engaging presentation if you can hold your audiences’ attention without slides. If not, you may want to re-plan your presentation. Which leads me to the last tip.

Tip 6: Plan your presentation
People like stories and have learned from parables for centuries. People need to understand facts and figures in context of the larger story. Take some time to plan and prepare your story. Consider using a storyboard to help you lay out the visual idea and key message. I’ve created a simple storyboard for you to print out and write on.