18 October, 2013

Doing presentations? Replicating your desktop or extending it?

In the previous post I've stated that I'm a big fan of keyboard shortcuts. I'm also a big fan of working on multiple monitors. I find that it does wonders in almost any work type to have windows open on different displays.

Since pretty much everyone I know is replacing their old desktop PCs (if they even have them anymore) with laptops, the whole thing becomes even simpler. Pretty much every laptop has some sort of video-out port. It will either be VGA, or some version of HDMI or Display Port. And practically every laptop that I've seen allows for a separate output on this video-out connector.
This means that if you own a laptop and have a workspace that you use all the time, it makes a lot of sense to put a monitor there. Especially since you can get a 24" full HD monitor for less tan 160€ these days.
And turning this functionality on is usually as simple as using another keyboard shortcut (Windows+P).

In any case, what is also interesting is that if you attach a projector to your laptop, it's like having an external monitor. I don't know why, but apart from some of my colleagues, who do presentations for a living, almost no one ever uses ability to have separate desktops on laptop monitor and on the projector.

There are a lot of reasons why it makes very good sense NOT to show your desktop during presentations:

  1. Primary desktops are often messy and un-professional. What I mean with this is that there are often a lot of icons there. Shortcuts, documents,... In some cases it's nothing special in other cases there may be a document or two with sensitive names and you may be showing them to the whole auditorium.
  2. IM and email pop-ups. Unless you're extremely conscientious you likely don't close your IM programs (Skype and the like) before you start a presentation. If you are showing your primary desktop, then you can at least expect to see people who just signed-in to pop up there. Or, there may be an embarrassing beginning of a message or email that shows up briefly. Not really how you leave a good impression on your audience.
  3. Reference look up. Obviously, when you're presenting about a certain subject, you know EVERYTHING about it, right? But what the audience may not know is that some of your knowledge is due to the notes and reference documentation that you have on your own screen, while they're looking at your presentation.
  4. Power Point Presenter view. If you're using Power Point as your presentation software of choice, then Presenter view is something that you absolutely have to use. While slides are being shown normally on the projector, you can see your current slide, notes as well as previous and a few next slides on your laptop screen. Perfect in order to keep your flow going through the presentation.

So, is there any reason NOT to extend your desktop? As it turns out, there is at least one that is valid and another that sucks, but is realistic:
  1. You're doing a demo of a product. Such presentation can be problematic, if you're sitting in front of an empty primary screen and the product that you're demoing is projected behind you. Then you either have to crane your head back or even turn your back on your audience. And both of these things do nothing to enhance your presentation. So in this case seeing the same thing on the projector and on your laptop can be useful.
  2. If you have a crappy presentation tool that doesn't behave well in two-screen mode. So far I've only seen one such tool, but my hatred towards it is not diminished by that fact. I'm talking about a product that looks slightly like Acrobat Viewer but is in fact not. It's called Lock Lizard and is a tool that allows for presentation of copy-protected content. The tool is crap in more than one sense, but it really excels in how it doesn't work if you want to use it in extended desktop deployment, while presenting. So unless you really go out of your way to trick it, you simply have to revert to single desktop mode.

My conclusion here is that multi monitor environments rule! It doesn't matter if we're talking about a standard monitor or a projector, most of the time it makes excellent sense to extend your desktop. And it Just Works™.