Taking your show on the road

An ultralight notebook and a 3-pound LCD projector are all you need to deliver your pitch with an added punch.

This is not your father's overhead projector!

More than a dozen years ago, I made the Grand Tour of airport hotels presenting computer seminars. My equipment at the time was state-of-the-art: a double-scan CGA Toshiba notebook and a Sayette LCD panel that I'd place on the hotel's overhead projector to display text and low-resolution graphics in a yellow-toned monochrome.

But technology marches on, and the mobile computer professional can now take advantage of advances in computer-based presentations. These include the ability to make last-minute changes and to carry a whole suite of presentations in a single laptop. An ultralight notebook and a 3-pound LCD projector are all you need to deliver your pitch with an added punch.

In addition, other new tools make presentations even easier to deliver on the road.

For example, many projectors from Epson and other manufacturers now let you store your PowerPoint files on a PC Card--the storage format formerly known as PCMCIA--and then slip the card into the projector at show time. You don't have to fuss with your laptop, fight with an octopus-tangle of cables, or struggle to remember what keystrokes turn on your notebook's external graphics port.

This approach also has advantages in corporate settings where you may want some control over presentation content. You can have your graphic arts department prepare the PowerPoint files, then distribute the cards to the people who take them into the field.

What if you want to leave your projector behind, and just rely on the client's system? If you've got a Handspring Visor PDA, then you can use Presenter-to-Go from Margi Systems, of Fremont, Calif. This US$300 expansion card for the Springboard slot lets you connect to a projector that supports XGA resolution images. It comes with software that lets you convert PowerPoint shows to a format that can be downloaded to the Visor. Presenter-to-Go has its own 2MB memory where you can store presentations; you can also store them in the Visor's memory. You're limited to 256 colors, and you don't get any motion or animation effects, but speaker's notes and slide titles are preserved in the translation process. You can't edit the slides once they've been downloaded to the PDA, but you can hide or resequence them.

If you're a Pocket PC user, there's currently no equivalent to the Margi product because Microsoft hasn't updated the Windows CE Pocket PowerPoint program for the Pocket PC platform yet. However, the iPresentation Mobile Player from Presenter, of San Jose, Calif., lets you show PowerPoint slides on your Pocket PC. This program, available as a free download, can show only presentations that have been formatted by the iPresentation Authoring tools, but you can include audio and video content as well as slides.

Actually, Presenter's iPresentation suite is really designed to help mobile presenters get rid of their computers entirely, or even stay home. The software lets you upload a presentation to the company's server, and even add audio narration for the slides. Once it's saved, you receive a URL for the presentation that you can e-mail to clients, who can then view the presentation when it suits them. You can even add the link to your Web site so customers can watch a presentation about a product or service. There are other ways you can use iPresentation services, including teleconference presentations in which the presenter can interact with the audience. The Presenter site has a number of sample presentations on a wide range of topics, including one by Bill Gates.

So next time you decide you need to hit the road to make your pitch, reconsider the bulk and weight of a notebook and a projector. You now have a number of choices that let you put your presentation in your pocket and travel light.