A good reason to use a remote for your talk is to avoid needing to be tethered to your laptop or using a combination of a laser pointer while being tethered to your laptop.
It’s really up to you whether you want to use a remote or not. I personally move around a lot when in front of an audience so I really need to use a remote because it lets me move between slides easily rather than needing to move back to my laptop every few minutes.
Before we delve too far into this topic, let me tell you a story about a time where using a laser pointer (a common feature in many remotes) resulted in a truly unexpected outcome:
My wife travelled to Bali a few years ago for an all girls holiday. Prior to the holiday we’d chatted regularly about my developing passion for public speaking. My ever loving wife knew all too much about the presentations I did for work and the new techniques and strategies that I was developing to improve my presentations.
While travelling, she came across what she thought was a simple laser pointer similar to those that she had seen her own colleagues use during presentations back home. It certainly wasn’t cheap (which is unusual for Bali….), however she thought it would be a cool souvenir to bring back as a present for me. When given this amazing present, I thought this laser pointer was exactly as she described (“it’s just like the laser pointers that everyone’s using during their presentations!”). Well sure enough, I gave it a quick power up to test it and off it went with me to work.
Did I mention that laser pointers from Bali are often confiscated as dangerous items when brought back into Australia? Well I was using it for the first time during a presentation. At first I thought “what a great tool, this is really helping me” however part way through the presentation the “on/off” button became locked to “on” preventing me from turning it off. It became quite distracting so I put the pointer in the lectern facing inwards so the light wouldn’t distract me or my audience. After a few minutes I see what appears to be smoke coming from the lectern. At the time I was looking out towards my audience so dismiss the sign of smoke as a trick of my peripheral vision. A short while later however, a whole lot of smoke comes out of the lectern along with small licks of fire. I quickly realise that this is no trick of my peripheral vision. We have an actual fire right in the middle of my presentation. It doesn’t take long before a diligent employee is running towards me with a fire extinguisher in hand. The fire is quickly extinguished however, my speech was ruined beyond saving. My boss was not impressed…. (We discovered later that there was an electrical fault in the pointer of dubious origin and manufacture which had caused enough heat to build up in the pointer to set fire to some papers in the lectern. A lesson here is to only purchase items from competent manufacturers).
My wife had a good giggle at my misfortune but was kind enough to buy me my first real presenter remote. From here I discovered the beauty of being free to move about the stage via the use of a remote. And that brings us back to the topic at hand.
So how should you use a remote and which remote should you choose? I’ll tell you my thoughts in this post.
Advice on using remotes
When you’re in front of your audience, just act normally. Avoid holding the remote in front of you and don’t make it appear to be a prominent part of your presentation. You just need a quick tap of a button to go forward or backward in your presentation. There’s no need to telegraph your button press to your audience. Don’t forget to practice using your remote. Even though it’s not rocket science, you do have to feel comfortable with it so you don’t lose your train of thought while you’re switching slides and it needs to appear as a natural part of your presentation rather than something that you fiddle/ fumble with from time to time.
Use the laser pointer only when actually required (such as highlighting critical data or key points). You want the audience to focus on you as much as possible rather than staring at your Power Point slides. Your audience will lose focus if you make them spend too much time staring at your Power Point, even if you use a ton of pictures and other entertaining information. They need to spend most of their time focusing on you and what you have to say to ensure you can effectively communicate your message.
Remotes to Avoid
First of all, don’t use the Apple remote. It has a great form factor, so it’s tempting, but it requires line-of-sight to your laptop. Even if you plan on standing behind it, you won’t be lined up with the IR receiver (and the latest MacBooks don’t even have an IR sensor either). Every time I’ve seen someone try this it’s been a disaster.
Second of all, don’t use the Keynote Remote that lets you control your slides from your iPhone. While a good idea, I’ve seen a remarkable amount of people accidentally brush their phone while they’re in the middle of their talk and end up moving slides when they didn’t intend to. You also run the risk of your phone ringing or receiving text messages or email mid-presentation if you forget to turn on flight mode.
Remotes I recommend
The remote to use will be one that has good reach (for those of us that like to walk across the stage or room while we talk), ease of use, and a variety of features that will add to our presentations. Battery life is also of importance for those who conduct long presentations or intend to use the remote during lengthy meetings or conferences.
There are a limited number of remotes that include all of the above features. My first recommendation is the Kensington Expert Wireless Presenter. All the necessary controls are there, buttons to advance slides forward and backward, a button to black-out the screen, and the button for the green laser. There is also a joystick in the middle of the 4-way button layout that can be used to control the mouse pointer if the remote is switched into that mode. It’s not something that many would use frequently, however it can be a useful feature. The range of this remote is great at 65 feet and during my personal use (I’ve used this remove for over a year now) I’ve never had an instance where the remote ceased transmitting due to excessive distance from my laptop.
A nice added feature of the Kensington is the 4GB Micro SD card that fits into the wireless USB receiver. I use this to store a backup of my presentation. While I’ve never had to make use of this backup personally it is a nice added feature, some presenters use this as their primary storage location.
A con would be that the Kensington does go through batteries fairly quickly (however it still performs better in this area than most other remotes). I believe that it is due to the green laser, which I tend to use almost constantly while presenting. The laser tends to lose brightness after a few lengthy presentations, and then finally gives out completely. This leads me to my favourite and deciding feature of this remote. All other controls continue to work flawlessly even when the batteries are too weak to power the laser, so when the laser gives out, I can still continue to advance slides and my presentation is not disrupted by a need to either change batteries or revert to advancing slides via my laptop. This little feature has saved me on more than one occasion.
The next remote that I would recommend is the Logitech Professional Presenter R800 with Green Laser Pointer. Ergonomically, the design is excellent. It is small in size, light in weight and just fits in your hand perfectly. Indentations on the various buttons let you easily find the correct button without looking during your presentation. This remote also has a green laser pointer. Like most of these types of remotes, it has a small USB dongle that slides out of the bottom plug it into your laptop and it identifies as a USB keyboard so there’s no extra software to install. Some Mac users have had issues with these remotes identifying as keyboards however workarounds abound for this common issue so this isn’t a problem.
Logitech claim that this remote has up to 100 feet of range however there are various reports that its reach is generally 30 – 45 feet. There are some nice additional features such as a silent timer (the remote vibrates in your hand) for your presentations and an electronic display for battery life. These are certainly useful additions.
Battery life on the Logitech is decent at roughly 10 hours of use however the remote simply shuts down when out of battery unlike the Kensington which allows for buttons to continue to be used while shutting down the use of the laser.
At the end of the day, both remotes are good value for money however my preference is with the Kensington Expert Wireless Presenter for the reasons described above. Don’t make my blunder by toying with an inferior product. Go straight for the one that will work as expected. Hopefully this post will prevent a few mid-presentation disasters and a few very angry bosses…. my colleagues still haven’t let me live that disaster down.