The best presentation remote available now.

It has been years since my last presentation remote review, so it's a good time for an update.

A good remote is a valuable tool for anyone giving a presentation. Even though it feels safer to present from behind a podium with your computer, don’t do it. It is much harder to connect with your audience from back there.

So if you are out on stage moving around, you need a good remote to control your slides. But which ones are any good?

Recap: What to look for in a presentation remote.

A good presentation remote should be three things: reliable, simple, and small. Your technology is the last thing you want to worry about as you tell your story. It needs to just work. 

The only controls you need during your talk are Forward/Back and Black Screen. Any extra buttons, controls, or mini-joysticks are just accidental-presses waiting to happen. Simpler remotes are better.

Additionally, you should be able to gesture naturally during your talk. If it looks like you're holding a magic wand with LEDs on it, your audience might pay more attention to it than you. Smaller remotes are more ergonomic and less distracting. And a presentation remote should never have LEDs. Ever.

The best presentation remote is not...

Unfortunately most of the presentation remotes available today are not very good. It seems manufacturers have added more buttons and features to compete with one another, but those features don't make the remotes any better at their job.

The top remotes sold on Amazon right now are the Logitech R400 and Logitech R800 —  but, despite their high rating on Amazon, I do not recommend either of these.  They both look good, are well made, and feel nice to hold, but they have terrible button placement and compatibility problems with Apple's Keynote software. 

The Logitech R400

The Logitech R400

All of the buttons on the R400 and R800 are arranged where your thumb naturally rests as you hold the remote. It is easy to feel the difference between the large Forward/Back buttons without looking, but it is not as easy to feel the smaller buttons that are directly below.

One of those lower buttons (the one of the left) is the "End Slideshow" control that immediately kicks you out of your presentation. That is not a button you ever want to accidentally press during your story, but its placement makes it almost inevitable that you will. Do a quick search of the Amazon reviews for the word "accident" and you can read the stories. 

Additionally, the "Black Screen" and "End Slideshow" buttons both don't work properly with Keynote on a Mac. Yes, there are ways to make it work by modifying your Mac's keyboard inputs with special software — but who wants to do that? And what do you do if you are ever presenting from a computer that is not your own?

The Logitech R800 has two additional features over the R400,  a countdown timer and green laser pointer. A countdown timer on a remote is a good idea in theory, but I put it in the category of extra technology to worry about during your presentation. If the timer is set incorrectly, or if you accidentally press the timer buttons while you are presenting, it just creates problems. Timers are great to have, but they don't need to be built into your remote. And a green laser pointer, while cool and different, is not dramatically better than a red laser pointer in practice.

My favorite remote is...

So after using several of the best sellers on Amazon, I still recommend the same remote I did years ago — the simple Kensington Wireless Presenter. It's small, reliable, and extremely easy to use without looking. It also works properly with both Keynote and PowerPoint (both Mac and Windows) without needing special setup. 

The  Kensington Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointe r

The Kensington Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer

I have presented with one of these remotes for almost a decade and have never had a problem with accidental button presses. In fact, it has never done anything unexpected. It just works. 

The newest models are better than ever because they are made from a material that feels nicer to hold and they now take AAA batteries instead of a watch battery. There are two versions available, one with a red laser pointer and one without. I recommend the one with the laser, but either will do the job.

The Kensington Wireless Presenter is neither the most feature-rich remote, nor the most expensive. But from my experience, that is what makes it (still) the best presentation remote you can buy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about tasty soundbites

The best presenters strike a balance between being thorough and being memorable. Unfortunately as people become experts in a topic, they often throw the memorable part out the window. Or worse, they think being more thorough will automatically make their presentations memorable.

Experts don't understand that being memorable plays a major role in the effectiveness of a presentation. Your presentation is never about you — it's about your audience, always. So if aren't thinking about how to make your talk more memorable, you might as well ignore your audience altogether.

Neil deGrasse Tyson gets it. He's an expert astrophysicist who is also one of the most well known scientists in the world (especially among non-scientists) because he is extremely memorable. At a recent event at the American Museum of Natural History, he ruminated on the art of speaking in memorable soundbites.

"And I thought to myself… even though they are interviewing me in my place, it's actually for them in their place, and in their place soundbites rule. … So I said, rather than have them soundbite me, why don't I hand them soundbites? They can't edit that."

This is similar to a presentation tip put forward by Carmine Gallo in his book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. He suggests creating Twitter-friendly headlines throughout your presentation — repeatable one-sentence summaries that capture your message. In other words, soundbites. So what does a great soundbite look like?

"[A few] words that are informative, make you smile, and are so tasty you might want to tell someone else — there is the anatomy of a soundbite. And don’t think that soundbites aren’t useful if they don’t contain a curriculum. A soundbite is useful because it triggers interest in someone, who then goes and puts in the effort to learn more. … Take the moment to stimulate interest, and upon doing that you have set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven because that soundbite was so tasty — why do you think we call them bites?"

If you are not already a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, you should be.

Source: Maria Popova on her excellent site Brain Pickings.

Your last slide: It's not over until...

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I recently saw the CEO of a well known children's entertainment company speak and it reminded me of a crucial presentation tip: Your last slide is not the end of your presentation.

This executive's delivery was top notch with warm storytelling and great visuals. He came across as a likable guy and left his audience impressed. Unfortunately, that positive picture completely changed during the Q&A.

It wasn't an official Q&A with microphones in the aisles — just an informal meet-and-greet at the bottom of the hour. I'll assume he was in a rush to leave because his tone was alienating and brash to the people who came up to ask a question. This ruined the whole impression of his presentation for everyone who stuck around.

Your last slide is not the end of your presentation. How you present yourself before and after your slideshow matters just as much. You can rehearse your slide delivery over and over to be warm and likable, but if you come across as a jerk once the slides finish, you will still be seen as a jerk.

Memory ships.

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Pictures make presentations better. Here’s why.

A nautical metaphor.

Imagine a big wooden ship sailing into a stormy harbor. The waves crash as the sailors work to secure the ship against the dock. The more ropes the sailors can cast, the more securely the ship will weather the storm.

Think of the ideas in your presentation as ships docking in the stormy harbors of your audience’s minds. The more associations you can make with your ideas — the more ropes you can cast — the better they will be remembered.

The metaphor isn’t too far off from the actual biology of memory making. The more relationships you can associate with an idea, the more neural connections are formed and the more rooted it becomes in your memory. Most mnemonic devices play on this, getting you to associate additional objects or sounds with the thing you’re trying to remember.

Slides give you the opportunity to tap into parts of the brain words alone can’t reach — the picture parts.

Think of the visuals in your presentation as additional ropes to cast. It’s one thing to talk about your idea, it’s a better thing to show it.

Make a memory.

You can see this idea in action in the example slides below.

The slide on the left is a typical text-heavy presentation slide. It's the speaker's talking points in bulleted form. It contains everything the speaker is going to say, but doesn't do much to make it more memorable. You could easily take this slide out and the presentation would be no worse without it — in fact, it may even be marginally better.

The slide on the right is the exact same content, but it uses a picture instead of words to relate the message. The speakers talking points have not changed, they're just now being spoken instead of read. The audience has an extra trigger at their disposal, a visual cue, to make the content easier to remember.

Which slide resonates more with you?

It can feel risky to not include all of your content on a slide, to go with a visual instead, but your presentation is made stronger because of it. At the end of the day isn't that the point?

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TED Talk: Are we in control of our decisions?

Check out this great TED talk from Dan Ariely about human decision making. I personally love this kind of research. Though it can be a little disconcerting, it's fascinating to learn about the brain and how we're not always in as much control of our perception as we think.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist and the author of Predictably Irrational. From a presentation design standpoint, his talk is a perfect example of how a data-driven speech can be made captivating when combined with the magic ingredients — 1) good storytelling, and 2) visual slides.

Dan is one of these rare academics who bridges the gap between academia and the general public. His research is cutting edge in the scientific community, and he is able to share it (both writing and speaking) in a way that engages just about everyone.

I've had a chance to hear Dan speak in person several times and can say his presentations are always crowd pleasers. Enjoy!

Dan Ariely TED Talk

Typical PowerPoint bad for brains

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It’s not rocket science.

It turns out there’s a scientific explanation for why we don’t remember much from a bad PowerPoint presentation.

Scientists studying "cognitive load theory" at the University of New South Wales in Australia have published a report that has shaken up the way the world looks at presentations and learning.

Their research suggests the human brain is good at reading, good at listening, but not very good at doing both simultaneously.

Presenting someone with the same information verbally and visually (e.g. reading from a bad PowerPoint slide) makes absorbing the information much more difficult. Our brains can only take in and remember so much at once.

Professor Sweller, a researcher in the study, said, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched. It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form.”

He has a good point. Public speakers have been putting audiences to sleep with PowerPoint for years, but that doesn’t mean we should ditch the application all together. After all, it isn’t fair to blame the tool for the craftsman's mistakes.

Don't make 'em choose.

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Effective presentations never make life harder on an audience.

Professor Sweller offers good advice when he recommends we speak to diagrams instead of bullet points, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Keep the text on your slides to a minimum, phrases that only take a few seconds to read. Instead of bullet points, use diagrams and images as the backdrop to your story. When you’re presenting a longer quote, don’t be afraid to stand silently while the audience reads the quote for themselves.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is this: Never force your audience to choose between listening to what you say or reading the text on your slides. You can’t expect them to do both, and you might not like what they choose.

Source 1 Article : Source 2 Article : Source 3 PDF

Stop talking to yourself.

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Keeping that fourth wall down.

When a character in a play steps out of a scene and reveals his or her awareness of the audience, it’s called, “breaking the fourth wall”. The fourth wall is the imaginary wall that normally separates the characters on stage from the audience in the theater.

In a presentation, you should be breaking the fourth wall the entire time. After all, you’re directly addressing an audience.

In fact, you never want to build a fourth wall during a presentation. That is, you never want to ignore your audience and start talking to yourself.

It sounds funny, but people talk to themselves during presentations all the time. We've all seen it, and most of us are guilty of having done it. It happens most often when something goes wrong.

Stop yourself from muttering little comments under your breath (e.g. “Oops. Hold on. What just happened?”). As awkward as it can feel on stage, it looks much more professional to pause silently for a few seconds when you need to regain your bearings.

Avoid talking about your presentation tools (e.g. “How do you use this remote?” “Is this video working?”). And, most importantly, don't face your slides as you talk. Your slides didn't come to see you speak, your audience did.

Learn to always keep your audience in mind, keep that fourth wall down, and you'll immediately see a major improvement in your presentation delivery.