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Giving presentations

Buying a data projector and using it well


If communicating or selling is part of your job, you're almost certainly going to find yourself giving presentations. The key to a good presentation is still the human being - but he or she is expected to come armed with PowerPoint slides, and a means of displaying them.

The price of data projectors has been dropping quote dramatically in recent times, and their capability has been improving - particularly in terms of ease of use.

You can find perfectly capable projectors for well under the magic �1,000 barrier. They are using lighter components and are becoming a practical, lightweight tool for on-the-road presentations.

And as a useful side-effect, the same projector can often be plugged into your TV or DVD setup at home, for those occasions when plain old widescreen just isn't enough.


The brighter the projector's lamp, the better the image. It will look stronger, and therefore more punchy, especially if the ambient lighting isn't great.

Quote�Longer-life bulbs are probably worth the extra cost.�End Quote

Lamp output is rated is ANSI lumens, and most data projectors start at around 500 lumens. This really requires the room lights to be very low or off, so for maximum flexibility on a budget go for a projector rated at 800 or 1000 lumens. Larger and more expensive projectors are rated at 2500 lumens or higher. As a rough guide, 1000-1200 lumens will do for a small room with ambient light. A 3000-lumen projector will handle a convention centre.

Bulbs tend to be tungsten-halogen (the older, cheaper option) or metal-halide (more expensive but brighter and with truer colours). They're also fiendishly expensive - with replacements costing �200 to �400 - and they may last for only about 1000 hours. Longer-life bulbs will give 2000 hours or more, and are probably worth the extra cost.


Resolution refers to the number of pixels, or individual dots, that form an image. The more pixels, the clearer and sharper the image. Many inexpensive projectors are limited to what's called SVGA resolution (800 dots horizontal by 600 vertical). This is adequate for the conventional bullet-points work and most PowerPoint presentations. If you want to impress with photographic-quality or moving images, or if you have to display a lot of numerical data, you should go for a 'native' resolution of 1024x768 (called 'XGA' resolution) or better.

Quote�The projector won't necessarily match the capabilities of your computer.�End Quote

Many SVGA units are advertised as being 'XGA-capable'. This usually means a somewhat crude software solution that fakes the presence of the extra pixels and can end up making the image look either slightly blurred or a bit distorted. 'Native' resolution is what the projector is actually capable of.

Be aware that the projector's resolution won't necessarily match the capabilities of your computer. It makes sense to bear this in mind when designing your presentation, and if you really want to see how it's going to look in practice you should adjust your Display Properties to match those of the projector. In Windows, go to Control Panel... select Display, click the Settings tab and move the Screen Resolution slider to get what you want. You can always set it back again afterwards.


Of course, you don't absolutely need a data projector to do a presentation. In fact, some would have you believe that poor use of data projectors, and poor-quality PowerPoint slides, have led to an overall decline in the quality of management presentations. A presenter should be aiming to engage his or her audience, not overwhelm them with complex charts or tables - and certainly not with 'amusing' clipart and animation effects.

Quote�A presenter should engage his or her audience, not overwhelm them.�End Quote

A confident personality, armed only with a flipchart or dry-wipe whiteboard, can lead the audience through a complex subject in a more organic, and ultimately more fulfilling way. And there's still a place for overhead projectors or 35mm slides - although you're inevitably going to look like an ancient relic to some in your audience.

The best presentation will use the best of each medium. Try dropping a few photos, or maybe even some video, into your PowerPoint show. If you have a Tablet PC, you can graffiti your touchscreen to highlight particular points on your slides, as you once did with acetate sheets. And if you press 'W' (for white) or 'B' for black, PowerPoint will give you a blank screen, for you to scribble to your heart's content.

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Caveat emptor

If you're thinking of buying a data projector, take a few minutes to produce a few test slides; then copy them on to a CD and take them along when you go shopping. Ask the retailer to demonstrate their product with your test pack. The slides should include:

A plain centred square. Is the projected image as square as it's supposed to be? Is the colour even and solid?

A plain centred circle. Is the projection perfectly circular? Is the colour even and solid?

A very full slide with a repeated image. Are the corners in focus at the same time as the centre? Are the repeated images of equal size?

A series of solid-colour slides, including black and white. Is the projection evenly coloured, or is there any variation in colour density?

At least one photograph. Is the image crisp and clear? Are there any colour shifts or stripes? Do the pixels appear to separate at the edges of the image?

The same graphic at different resolutions, including a couple at very high resolution. How well does the projector handle the range? How does it cope with image resolutions greater than its own native capabilities?

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