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...
Sunday, February 17, 2008 2:29:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Do you have a separate account for presenting?

120DPI is a good tip. Do you recommend tools like Zoomit?
Sunday, February 17, 2008 3:00:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Awesome post!

I'm about to get my software to the demo stage, so these are some great tips!
Sunday, February 17, 2008 9:57:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Thanks for the nice checklist!

If your notebook has enough power it is usally a good idea to run your demo in VMWare or VMWare Player.
This has the advantage that you can easily reset it to a defined state if you are running your demo multiple times. You also don't have to change most of the settings (wallpaper, taskbar, etc.) forth and back.

Monday, February 18, 2008 1:17:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Another one in the non-visual. Speak slowly. If you sound to yourself as if you are speaking normally, slow down again. Unless you think you are speaking too slowly, others will think you are speaking to quickly.
Monday, February 18, 2008 2:34:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Close all applications, that might pop-up an window, e.g. IM clients, Mail Notifications , Reminders etc.

It is very distracting to have a pop-up during a presentation.
Monday, February 18, 2008 6:28:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Great post Daniel,

I would add a couple of things:

BEFORE you do your demo whilst you're doing your final run throughs do all the things you mention. That way you avoid have code dropping off the RHS of the screen when it didn't before or worse dropping off the bottom and you not being able to show what you wanted, or constantly having to scroll up and down which is really annoying.

Secondly, don't forget to adjust your font size ideally to Lucida Console 14 (nice and readable) in all the IDE windows you can including Tool Tips, Output, Watch Windows if you're going to use them. SQL guys too don't forget to resize Query Results both Text and Grid.

Other than that - spot on matey!


Dave Mc
Monday, February 18, 2008 7:34:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Great list. I like to crank all fonts within individual applications up to about 16 or so. This may also be achieved using Display >> Appearance >> Font Size (Extra Large Fonts).
Monday, February 18, 2008 8:59:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
* If you're going to show an Office app (pre-2007 I suppose) or Visual Studio directly, trim down your toolbars and combine them on as few lines as possible, to give more room to the actual document area.

* Turn off email, IM, other pop-up driven software.
Monday, February 18, 2008 12:03:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Get a screen capture program, like Camstasia. When you do your final run through, record it. Then, when all heck breaks loose in front of 200 people, borrow another laptop and show the movie of your demo.
Monday, February 18, 2008 1:29:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I use Linux for presentations so, I'll add my input for it (though some stuff is good for windows too).

Use Adobe Acrobat for presenting slides. ctrl-L pops it into fullscreen mode. It's often distracting when powerpoint pops into "edit" mode in a presentation. Everything exports as PDF nowadays. Acrobat is also very lightweight.

Use alt-tab to switch between apps. Stop using the mouse in demos. It's distracting for the presenter and the public. It also wastes time.

Run a local CVS server for demo code. Tag the code for a given state. So, each presentation can start from the same baseline. If you screw up your demo, you can still go back to a working one.

Just get rid of the task bar (pixels are a premium on the projector). Run apps in fullscreen mode. Like other posters said, shut off mail/IM/and any other apps not related to the presentation.
Monday, February 18, 2008 2:11:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Some of your advice can be quite dangerous.

a) Make sure you've tested your app at 1024x786 first. Or if using code samples, make sure they still fit on the screen.

b) A lot of apps respond poorly to a change in DPI, better to test using that DPI completely and well in advance, not the morning of the presentation.

I would also propose the following tips:

a) Don't use your own desktop when doing the demo, have a custom user/desktop with bare bones, and test with that one first. That way you won't mess up your environment.

b) Use a separate bootable drive, or a disk image, or a virtual PC instead of your normal desktop environment. The big advantage here is that you have a dedicated environment here with no unknown factors, and if things go bad (app crashes) you can revert it to a known state rather quickly and effortlessly.

c) Have a rundown of your application, and all supporting docs such as powerpoint presentation and (very important) screenshots on a thumb drive. That way if your notebook dies during the trip, or in the middle of the presentation, at least you still have something to show.
Monday, February 18, 2008 5:29:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Make sure you test your demo with changed font size and DPI. Not all programs play nicely with changed settings and you may end up with dialogs which have elemets like button not visible or things cut-off.
Monday, February 18, 2008 5:32:00 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
First (unless disallowed by corporate security policy etc):

Create another user account (eg DemoUser) on the local machine, and log on as that user for your demo.

Then you don't mess up your normal working environment, and nearly of those settings will remain intact for the next demo.

(Lots of variations on a theme with specific config for having the account admin/non-admin, permissions over you main user's local source control working folder or not, etc)
Tuesday, February 19, 2008 1:40:17 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Nate: Glad it was useful – good luck.

Matt: Thanks, I have heard that tip before and it looks like it works for some people. I personally don't have a separate account for presenting. It sounds good on paper, but I do so many presentations ( >60 sessions per year and add on top of that prep time) that my separate account would end up being the main one, I guess... For example, for a short period I used a separate laptop for presentations and in the end it became my main one because I was spending so much time on it.

Ben: Regarding separate account, see my reply to Matt. Regarding ZoomIt, if I was to use a zooming tool that would be the one I'd use. It's beautiful (anyone that hasn't used it go download it now)! Again, I personally don't use it much though; I find that most presenters that use the zooming feature overdo it due to its coolness (or they just like showing off) and I don't want to end up like that and make the audience dizzy ;-)

Dick: Good point - I did not mention that because it is part of a separate post I have in the works on "how to record screencasts".

furtive: You are correct about the DPI comment. My approach: NAME and SHAME. I will go out of my way in a demo to show dialogs of the product that do not work - seriously. It is a sin for a dialog in this day and age not to work on high DPI. And, yes, that includes 2 dialogs in VS2008. So, only if your demo is unshowable revert to High DPI off. I was going to write that "it is obvious that you are going to test your demos at DPI and 1024x768" but actually you are correct to point that out based on my experience attending some events. Also you make good points on the backup front, which I haven't addressed at all here. Regarding the separate user/machine, see my reply to Matt.

Dave: Yes, it seems obvious but you are right, it cannot be stressed enough: change the config on your machine before preparing for the demos, not just before delivering them. Good points on the fonts, I have a separate Visual Studio post in the works that I think you will like ;)

piehead: Yes, I have a separate post on how to setup Visual Studio. To address here the specific item you bring up, I recommend 2 toolbars in Visual Studio and judicious usage of Shift+Alt+Enter. RE: the popups, as per my reply to bhaskar.

bhaskar: I agree and I have walked out of a presentation where someone received email and opened it to read it while presenting! Hopefully following item 6 on my list will address this.

Jeff: Yes 14-16 hits the spot if the screen and room were designed to match. I have never tried the "Extra Large Fonts" (maybe because High DPI does the job for me) but I may give it a whirl.

BlackWasp: Whilst of course I agree with you and I really like the way you phrased it, I must admit that I am probably the fastest talking presenter you'll ever encounter (by design). I am a non-native English attendee's nightmare ;)

Stefan: Thanks. There is only one link in my post and if you follow it you'll see my experience the last time I used a virtual image. Maybe that would be different if I had a super fast machine but I don't believe I'll ever have a laptop with enough resources to spare... time will tell.

willCode4Beer: We'll have to mostly agree to disagree :-)
Adobe Reader is an app I truly loathe and there is no way I'd give it up for PowerPoint. That other presentation app on the Mac looks very cool though, wouldn't mind some of the transitions it features.
If you use Alt+Tab make sure you do it nice and slowly. I am actually a big advocate of using the mouse in presentations instead of keyboard shortcuts because then the audience can easily follow what you are doing. In fact, I forgot to mention in my post above: Make the mouse pointer "Extra Large" and always "speak" the shortcuts that you are using.
Disagree on the taskbar. Like I said: don't even set it to auto hide because it is distracting. Don't get rid of it, because I want to be able to see what you are running at a glance (including that app you just F5'd form VS).
The source control tip seems great. My only issue with that is that I never demo applications that have enough code to warrant that approach. If someone does though, that has to be an all time superb tip – thanks for sharing.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008 1:59:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Great tips Daniel. I wish someone would automate a lot of this for me. Perhaps the seperate account is a starting point, and/or Vista's presentation mode that never quite delivered as I expected...

Good post, Daniel!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 8:12:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
These are all very good tips. I dont do much presenting to others in person but now that I started doing the "screencast thing" i am learning a lot.

One tip that crosses the boundary of live vs. screencast is the need to prepare well for your demo. I cant stress this enough: Make sure that you have enough prepared ahead of time that you can focus on teaching the topic and not wasting time staging things or typing basic code samples.

You're there to deliver a message and that should be the focus, not to show off your ability to type and talk :).


Sunday, February 24, 2008 11:06:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
One trick I use to run the software/app I'm demoing as a high priority NT process. It'll starve the other processes on the system a bit but if you're using only one app, there'll be a visible speed-up
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 1:03:06 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
AlfredB: I agree, "presentation settings" on Vista never delivered (I never use that feature)

Dmitry: It's like magic tricks. The 3 rules of magic is: practise, practise and practise (yes, I used to be a magician)

Sriram: That's brutal - I like it :)
Monday, June 16, 2008 7:38:00 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)
I use linux as well and I agree with the PDF presentation style. Also makes a nice handout.

I use multiple desktops one for presentation, One for app demo, One for Code. That way your not alt-tabbing a bunch. Also, ask your audiance to close their laptop lids! It's a distraction to those around them. Esp in a dark room.

And using compiz on a projector is really cool. And it keeps peoples focus as you do the next cool thing. Plus it has really good zoom controls use it on bits of code you want to highlite.
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