On the Road – Part 2

George Gavrilita L2, Italy

George Gavrilita L2, Italy

Last week we started talking about preparing a seminar in special conditions: breathtaking settings in Japan and the Philippines, but time-constraints, lack of internet-connection, and sometimes even a laptop. In this second part we’ll finish the true story of a presentation that still made it, thanks to a simple and flexible method.

Step 6 – Pictures

It’s hard for the audience to listen to someone talking and reading at the same time.

It’s hard for you to properly describe a scene, or a graph, or a picture using words.

Do the world a favor: put many, big, pictures on the slides, and as little text as you can (but when you do, make the text big as well).

Once you’ve rehearsed some and your structure is pretty much defined, you have on paper and in your head a pretty close image of the finished deck of slides. Make a written list of all the pictures you’ll need, and download them all in one go. For this seminar, I used 47 different pictures. Think how much faster it is to just stay in Google Image and download ’em all, rather than create new slide, go back to the browser, download, insert, write caption, new slide…

Philippines, El Nido, Hotel California. There is internet only in the lobby, but it’s OK, because finally I found a place far enough from civilization to not have air-con anywhere.

“I can turn on fan for you sir…”

“No thank you”, thinking to myself that I’m in Philippines for the warmth, if I wanted to cool down I would’ve gone to GP Greenland.
It’s not the fastest Wi-Fi ever, especially for high resolution pictures, but one after another, I tick off all the characters of the show, Hulk, Anakin Skywalker, Rocky Balboa, Riccardo Tessitori…

Puerto Princesa Underground Cave

Step 7 – Assembly

If you’ve followed the steps so far, you realize I’m describing a shift of mentality, from “Preparing the presentation”, to a list of actionable items, that can all be done independently from another, and have different requirements. I’ve worked in a park, on a metro, on a plane and on a boat. I used internet only twice, and first for research: if I never got internet again (which was not out of the question on Palawan), the pictures, and the slides, are optional.

“OMG you’re talking about presentations without presentations! The end of the world as we know it!”

That’s incorrect, Me from the Past. A presentation is not equal to slides. It’s the sum of a person talking, slides, and a handout. In the worst case, I’d rather be a well-prepared speaker who keeps people’s focus for 30 minutes without any slides behind me, rather than saying little for 30 minutes, displaying pictures. It’s not like they invented Instagram or 9GAG for that. Do not use this as a justification for showing up to the Conference without a slideshow. After you’ve been up for 5 minutes, it’s pretty clear to everyone if you did at least steps 1 to 5, or you scribbled stuff on a napkin that morning.

However, if you did things well, everything just falls together in place. You have the structure and all the pictures, so I am now giving you permission to create the slides. Since you have the structure, you can do any similar slides at the same time, copying and pasting and modifying only a tiny detail. Rather than being lazy, this actually means you’re being consistent throughout your presentation, and it’s much faster than inserting title, background and description every time.


Philippines, somewhere in flight over the Sulu Sea (yes, like the character from Star Trek). When the fasten seat-belt sign turns off, I turn on my laptop wanting to finish putting together the slides. But I look outside the window, and the sea is just gorgeous. So I keep staring outside until we’re in the clouds.

There are priorities in life.

Step 8 – Perfecting (Rehearsal Part 3 of 4)

If you got this far, you should be proud. Steps 8, 9 and 10 are the extra mile you can run for you, the audience, and everyone else.

Perfecting specifically refers to you running the show. You can rehearse now with the slides in front of you, changing the slides with a clicker. Whenever you notice a typo, write it down on paper, but move on. Then correct all the typos together.

To present like a real pro, you should actually be able to advance your slides without actually looking at them, only turning around occasionally to check. You can alternate dark colored and light colored slides to better keep track of progression Another option is to have the laptop down in front of you, or on the side.

You can measure how much time it takes to say it all, and every section. Say you have four parts: if an interesting debate starts at the end of the second part, you should encourage it, because that’s the time and place and you created the conditions. What you said triggered a reaction in people, and that’s not easy to achieve.

Don’t ruin your success by telling the third and fourth part according to script, going 10 minutes overtime, making them skip the break, or delaying the whole conference. Going overtime is the most unforgivable seminar sin. You are twice prepared: first, you not only master the content as is, but you’re also able, for each section, to deliver a short version (50% roughly), or just the core message (20%). Second, if people really want the long version, they can ask questions, or refer to the handout.


Philippines, Manila, Ninoy Aquino Airport. The night before my Puerto Princesa – Manila flight landed with one hour delay, at 10PM. Still, I went out with local friends and went to sleep at 2AM.

Wait a minute, I smell déjà vu here. Long story short, I was still very late when I started preparing this, and didn’t get to use any of my own advice in this last section. But as they say, plans are not made to be followed, but rather to see how far you are from the desired outcome, and to try to fix it with more insight.

Step 9 – Helpfulness (Handout Part 1 of 2)

Often, you will not be the only presenter of the day. Sometimes, you will be the best, or have the most interesting thing to say, however that doesn’t magically make your minutes last longer. You did a better job with 20 extra minutes – That Don’t Impress Me Much. If you want to prove a point, be more confident about your topic and don’t go over time.

Trick yourself into doing this: you’re given 60 minutes. If the Conference organizer is good, that doesn’t include break time, but sometimes it does. Err on the side that benefits the audience, and take 10 minutes away for break.

Then there’s questions, and it’s the same as the debate: keep your eyes on the prize, and don’t mess it up at the end. If you did a good job, people will want more. Don’t take away from them the opportunity to ask questions “because there’s no time life left”. That’s 10 more minutes.

Therefore, build your talk to last 40 minutes, and as I said before, be ready to say it also in 20. If you forget something, it’s not a big deal. If it didn’t matter, nobody’s ever gonna care. If it did, they’re gonna ask you or find out in the handout. If dog is man’s best friend, the handout is presenter’s best parachute.

When you get off stage, your ideas don’t have to die with you. They can live on. Trust this saying: verba volant, scripta manent, what is spoken flies away, what is written stays. Put it on paper. We’ll show you the best way to do it on this blog in upcoming articles.

Philippines, Calamba City, Riverview Hotel. As soon as I arrive, I ask the receptionist to print me 40 copies of the handout. First activity together is lunch, for which 90 minutes are allotted. I finish eating, and I go back to my room to rehearse one last time. I don’t know it perfectly, but I am confident on the topic, and in the mood to make people laugh and think while laughing.


Step 10 – Re-usability (Rehearsal Part 4 of 4)

What can one wish for more than enlightening others and acquiring immortal glory in the process? Why, enabling others to do the same.

You see, when I do research for my seminars, I’m “lucky” that many haven’t read yet our blog, so when I download the slides, everything I need to know is there, already inside the PowerPoint file. However, if you ask me to send you the slides of this seminar, you’ll find a total of 150 words over 100 slides, of which 20 are the word “DQ”. If I don’t write down/type and send you my presenter notes, you wouldn’t go far.

It’s also the case that people don’t like rehearsing, especially when they’re not the creator and only the interpreter. They think they can actually open the attachments a week before the conference and “give it a look”. That’s why I keep statistics of how much time I use on each task, so next time I can tune the process, and see what can be improved. If you’re the planning type, you can invest 30 minutes first and estimate how many hours you’ll need to finish it, and plan it over the next week, based on your other commitments.


China, Hangzhou, Zhejiang University Yuquan Campus. I never managed to write down notes because of time, but then again I had to. This seminar was also presented by Loco in Bangkok, by me and Anna Cotti in the updated form “Beyoncé at Gran Prix Gotham City” in Bologna, and maybe by others in the future. I thought having to waste time writing down presenter notes was a chore, but then I realized that if somebody asks for one of your seminars, it means you’re on the right path. It means you got at least the general ideas behind this article, and people want to share your work because it’s something to be proud of.

Sometimes, you even end up writing an article about it.

Is this an interesting read? Do you also have something to say about slides and seminars? We are always looking for feedback, but even more for collaborators! It doesn’t matter if you want to help writing already scheduled articles, or share entirely new ideas. Contact George or Ivan, and let the Judge Community know what you think.