The first time I burned my fingers changing out a lamp in an overhead projector was a salutary lesson for me. From then on, I always carried a glove in my presentation bag. Over the years, the contents of my bag have evolved to reflect the technology that I am using and every now and then, I sit down and strip out items that I no longer use. But it’s still a fairly long list – not that I’m a nerd or anything like that, I hasten to assure you. I guess this all comes down to (a) how you present, (b) how often you present and (c) where you present.
(a) I use my own kit when I present. Always. I am unfailingly, cravenly, nice to conference organisers and to the AV staff at any venue at which I am presenting; but I always quietly insist on using my own laptop and remote. For me, that’s a MacBook Pro running Keynote, with my own preferred fonts, and all kinds of Quicktime Codecs for the embedded movies I use in my talks. My talks can’t be exported to PowerPoint and the visuals lose a lot of their impact when I am forced to present a PDF version or a slideshow of JPEGs; this is why I quietly explain to the organiser that this is why it is better to just let me use my own kit. Tapping my equipment into the local AV setup is usually very simple, but I bring my own cables, extensions and adapters just to make sure:
  • 10 meter VGA cable (this means I can have my laptop out in front of me and can use the Presenter Tools to full advantage).
  • Various VGA adapters to allow for extension / connection with the projector cables.
  • 10 meter sound cable for speaker system (for small venues, I bring my own speakers) with various adapters so I can connect in to the local amplification.
  • 10 meter power cable with 4-gang sockets.
  • Duct tape to secure all the cables.
  • My own remote control with fresh (and spare!) batteries. I alternate between the Kensington remote, which is chunkier and feels nice in my hand and, for larger venues, the Logitech one which has greater range.
(b) I present quite a lot so, statistically, the chances of something going wrong during one of my talks is growing by the day. As a result, it would be fair to say that I try my best to be prepared. A lot. Thus, in addition to the items listed above, I also bring:
  • Spare fuses for all my equipment.
  • A set of screwdrivers.
  • Gloves for handling hot lamps (I have been known to remove bulbs from light fittings near screens too …)
  • A spare projector in the boot of my car in case the projector provided is damaged or of too low a quality. What is it about hotel conference centres? Don’t they realise how important a decent projector is? I presented in one venue last year in which the projector resolutely refused to project any yellow hues.
  • For a major presentation, I would also have a backup laptop with the presentation tested, locked and loaded on it.
  • A PDF copy and a JPEG copy of my presentation stored in my Dropbox and on a USB stick – these can be used in full screen mode on any computer.
(c) Where you are presenting can have an enormous impact on the way you present. Is it a meeting room, a boardroom or a ballroom? Your flipchart schtick may not go down well in a cavernous environment, so it is always worth visiting the room you are going to present in or – at the very least – getting the organiser to email you a scale diagram of the room with power, light, network, sound and projection facilities highlighted. Even then, I would get along early and check out the space. (horror story below *)
  • Amplification. Small rooms won’t need this, but larger audiences suck up a lot of sound waves, so you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the sound setup. Far too many conference facilities have only a fixed-mic-on-a-podium setup. Don’t let this come as an ugly surprise to you – if you need to be mobile for your talk, let them know early and get clarity about the equipment they are going to use. I bring my own well-worn, wireless lavalier mic with me and this can usually tap into the local setup, but sometimes it doesn’t. Find out in advance.
  • Light – are you going to be talking to a small bright room or to a ballroom that has been plunged into darkness with only a dazzling spotlight trained upon you? This is not so good if your preso style requires lots of interaction and on-the-spot surveys by show of hands. Again, find out well in advance and tailor your talk accordingly.
  • I try to avoid using the internet when I am presenting as there are so many potential pitfalls. If there is a piece of video I want to show to an audience, I download it, convert it and embed it into my slides (this obviates the need to change apps in mid-flow). If I want to show a website, I take screengrabs and use those. If I do need web access, I usually go for a hard-wired connection and bring my own long CAT 5 cables. The web is a dangerous place in a live preso, don’t make it the cornerstone of your talk – here be dragons!
* Horror Story: I presented at a major conference in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, just after it opened. The conference room was basically a section of corridor with a bar at one end, a screen at the other, and a fabulous view of the hallowed turf of the stadium through an all-glass wall. Every presenter at the conference was going to be using slides, so the room and the projection facilities were very much front-and-centre. 

Light was quite a problem and when I got into the venue the night before, I got the organiser to show me how to use the blinds to kill the direct sunlight that would be streaming into the space the next morning. We also needed to get a maintenance engineer on a long ladder to remove all the lightbulbs that were bathing the screen, completely washing out all the presenters’ slides. Then we checked the projector. Both it and the screen dropped from the ceiling via remote control – all very posh and high-tech. The problem was that the room curved off to one side, following the elegant lines of the stadium. I projected a tester slide, this is what I should have seen:
This is what I saw:
Unbelievable! Some genius had not allowed for the slight curvature in the room when fitting the projector; and it looked to me as though the projector had never been tested, or even used, before. It took the maintenance guys over 90 minutes to sort this problem when their duct-tape-and-hope-for-the-best approach did not work. The staff could not have been more helpful and friendly, but I am very glad I did not discover these problems on the morning of the conference.