Make your next presentation equipment-free

I speak at a lot of high school events and conferences.  And whenever the organizers ask me if I need anything for my talk—a whiteboard, a chalkboard, an overhead projector, a laptop, a screen, a can of Red Bull, whatever—my answer is always the same.

“Nope—I’m all set!”

Unless the room and crowd are large enough that I need a microphone, I go AV (audio visual) free for all my presentations.  Here’s why I think other counselors and educators should, too.

1. More equipment means more potential for problems.

Every piece of equipment you need for your presentation is just another chance for something to go wrong.  What if the bulb burns out in your projector?  What if the cables aren’t long enough to reach from the power outlet to your laptop?  What if the motor in the screen shorts out and you can’t lower it for your presentation?  What if the pens for the whiteboard have dried up?  I’ve seen all of those things happen to speakers. And instead of calmly and confidently starting their talks on time, they were flustered, late, and had to open with apologies to the audience.  I’m not just being a technophobe here.  If it could happen to Steve Jobs, it can happen to me (and to you).

2.    No equipment makes you a low-maintenance speaker.

The more you need, the more work you create for the person who invited you.  I don’t want a counselor or conference organizer to regret inviting me before I even show up.  And I’d rather the organizers spend their time promoting the event than worry about getting me a ground floor room opened for me at least 30 minutes beforehand with a screen and an overhead projector with laptop capability positioned no farther than 10 feet from the nearest power outlet.  If they can just get the room open and deliver a crowd, I can take it from there, which brings me to…

3. No equipment puts you in control.

Without any equipment, the only thing I need to worry about is the one thing that matters most—the quality and content of what I’m going to say.  I know that no matter what happens, as long as I take care of my responsibility to deliver a good talk, everything else will be fine.  And instead of spending half an hour before the talk making sure my AV equipment works, I can find a quiet spot and review the talk one last time before I’m on.

4. Equipment almost never improves a presentation.

In the history of public speaking, no audience member has ever left a presentation saying,

“I really loved the bullet points on slide 18!”

And yet at so many of the conferences I attend, the speakers are totally dependent on their PowerPoint slides.  Instead of looking at the audience, they look at their slides.  Instead of speaking naturally and sharing relevant examples, they read from their slides and expect the audience to stay interested.  AV becomes a crutch rather than something that improves the talk.  The more you rely on the slides, the less likely the audience will be to listen to you.

5.  You’re good enough without the AV.

If you’re invited to speak to a group, it’s not because they like your technology; it’s because they believe you’ve got something interesting and useful to say to their group.  And they’re right.  So give yourself enough credit to be able to say it without the help of technology.   Trade all the time you would have spent finding the right clip art for your slides and practicing timing the talk with the PowerPoint and spend it on proving to the organizers they made the right choice.  You’re good enough on your own.

If you absolutely insist on using technology, here’s a tip.  Start by preparing your talk without all the technology.  Make it as good as it can possibly be on its own.  And be ready to deliver it that way.  Then add in the technology if you’re sure it’s necessary (it’s probably not, but if you’re going to do it, get the talk right first).  That way, if something goes technologically awry, you can fall back on your original version of the talk, equipment-free.


  1. says

    Rob- I love and follow Godin’s take on handouts–create one, tell people at the beginning that you’ll give it to them at the end, then let them sit back and enjoy your talk. But I don’t use anything else in most cases except when teaching English teachers how to help kids with college essays, in which case I do bring sample essays.