10 Tips on How to Setup Your Laptop before a Demo

Sun, February 17, 2008, 11:56 AM under AboutPresenting
I've been meaning to post something like this for a while and having just spent 8 (eight) days of training (DPE summit + TechReady 6 + Deep Dive on XYZ), I need no more incentives ;)

I am assuming that we've all been to sessions/events where the presenter switched from PowerPoint to their machine for a demo and immediately our brain goes in overdrive to take in all the colourful input and icons that have just been unleashed on it (completely ignoring the presenter's voice which just fades in the distance, of course). Or maybe that just happens to me ;-)

Well, I am no expert, but here is some advice anyway for those of you giving demos in presentations:

1. Run at 1024x768 resolution during the session/demo.

2. Run at (120) High DPI. I cannot stress this enough. If you are on Vista this requires a reboot but give it a try now and you'll never look back (all icons suddenly come alive).

3. Your Task Bar should only show applications running that are being used in the demo (and the session overall). Any unnecessary application should be closed.

4. Your Task bar should be as small as possible (i.e. only one row). Doesn't matter what size it is when you are working on your machine; taking away pixels from the audience has no excuse when there is absolutely no use for it being larger during a demo.

5. Your taskbar should be at the bottom where most people expect it to be and it should not auto-hide (very distracting).

6. You know those icons on the right of the taskbar (commonly referred to as the systray or just "tray")? If you are not using them for the demo, then kill them. Right click on each one and "Exit". If any don't offer an Exit option, open task manager and kill the offending processes. If there is an icon that cannot be closed for whatever reason and is not used in the demo, hide it (Taskbar Properties->Notification Area). This includes hiding icons such as the volume icon, network activity etc, if they are not used in the demo. For most of my demos I just have the clock (cause I like glancing at it) and the power meter (because I am paranoid that someone will pull the plug and my laptop will die ;-)) – nothing else.

7. You know all those toolbars on the task bar (e.g. Desktop, Address etc)? Get rid of them unless they are used in the demo. The special toolbar is Quick Launch: This is where you may choose to have the shortcuts to your demos (or even just a shortcut to Visual Studio). In that case make sure that all other shortcuts are out of view by resizing the quick launch bar.

8. Hide all the icons on your desktop (right click->View->Show Desktop Icons). The exception to this is when you place the shortcuts to your demos on the desktop. In that case, hide all the remainder icons by moving them into some other temporary folder (and go back to step 7 and hide your quick launch toolbar since you have just opted out of that approach).

9. Choose a standard Windows Wallpaper for your desktop background (the default if possible) – unless you are using your current one as a prop for a laugh etc. You can change it back to a picture of your kids when the session is over. Remember, this isn't about you; it is about what you are there to show.

10. Turn off your screen saver (and don't rely on battery power alone – always plug in your laptop. And change the laptop_lid_close_action to do nothing).

11. BONUS non-visual tip for demos: A side effect of steps 3 and 6 will be that your machine is slightly faster during the demo (where any kind of visible slow down is amplified by the presence of an audience). Open task manager and make your machine even more responsive by killing unnecessary processes (or even stopping services) that you are not going to use in this particular demo. But don't take it to the extreme.

Feel free to add your own tips below if you think I missed any...