Just in case: backing up with the iPod
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Just in case: backing up with the iPod

So you're going on the road to give an important presentation? What are you doing to backup your presentation visuals? What can you do to minimize the possibility of technical failures derailing your talk? Besides having a hardcopy of your main points (just in case all technology fails), what steps can you take just in case your notebook computer or PowerPoint/Keynote file decides to comply with Murphy's Law...and fail at the worst possible time? Whatever we do, we want to avoid putting ourselves in situations like this poor guy featured in this 1995 Apple TV commercial.

It's great if you can have two laptops connected to your projector, both with your slides open and ready to go. This way if one of your laptop freezes up, you can just switch (or toggle) to the other computer without missing much of a beat. Audiences understand that "stuff happens," and they will appreciate it if you show you've planned ahead and have a backup plan. Wasting time messing around with your computer, restarting, etc. will test the patience of your audience (to say the least).

Above: July 2001, New York City. Here my slides are running off the PowerBook on the left, the Mac on the right is connected and ready if needed (it never was).

If you do not have two laptops or do not want to be burdened with the weight on the road, what can you do? One option is to connect an iPod (which can display photos and has video out) to your projector and run your slides off of it in the unlikely event that your computer or PowerPoint has trouble. You connect your iPod to your projector (or TV) via the composite video cable.

The iPod does not run PowerPoint/Keynote directly, of course. Instead you export your slides to images (or Quicktime) and then import them into your iPod. You can advance your photos one at a time just like in PowerPoint. Go to Take Control of Your iPod: Running Presentations by Steve Sande for more details on how to do it. Engadget also had a post on this a couple of years ago. With the iPod connection kit, I should be able to use the dock and Apple remote to advance the slides on the iPod. I'm heading to Hawaii Saturday and then California later in the week for presentations, so I'll pick up the connection kit and see how it works.

Above: The iPod is placed just out of sight, connected and ready just in case.

Even if you never plan to connect your iPod to the projector, at the very least it's another hard disk where you can store another copy of your PowerPoint file and take it along on the road with you. I also export my Powerpoint/Keynote files to Quicktime and to PDF just in case "all hell breaks loose" and my computer won't work -- any PC notebook onsite should be able to "play" a PDF of my slides on full screen mode.

Export your slides to PDF and you can run it on virtually any computer in full screen mode. Your audience will not even know it's a PDF.

There are myriad things you can do to backup. For me, one benefit of backing up is the peace of mind I get knowing that there is a plan B (or plan C, etc.) just in case. Worrying if the technology will work or not just adds too much stress to an already stressful situation. Anything you can do to relieve that stress is worth the time and effort.

Related video below.


Andrew Turner

Cool! It looks like exporting Powerpoint to Quicktime is only in Office 2004. I found the option on my Mac but not on my PC.

Amit Bendov

I do the same (paper, PDF, Powerpoint) but then back them up to my iPod AND a USB drive, for extra safety. iPods don't always fall in love with projectors, and on the other hand you can always find someone in the audience with a laptop to spare.

Andrew de Andrade

The other nice thing about fullscreen PDF is that you can also get out of the usual aspect ratio of 4:3 very easily. I once create a presentation for a design class where all the designs were related to hexagons. All the slides had a hexagonal shape instead of the 4:3 rectangle.
It was quite hard to manage an on a few occasions I broke the bounds of the rectangle for visual variety, but the different format did succeed in garnering the audience's attention just because it was different.
It is a bit gimmicky, but getting out of the 4:3 aspect ratio can be a great way to add variety.

Heck, if you have a big enough screen maybe you can go for cinemascope ;)

Andrew de Andrade

I wanted to also add that InDesign is the best tool I have found to create slides with an unusual format. It gives you much better alignment tools than Keynote or Powerpoint, which you may need.

Kevin Bjorke

Can export to quicktime be used to create PPT-powered podcasts (potentially with audio)? That would be killer for me, since all my core presentations usually end up on our web site as PDFs already, and often lose a lot in the process.

Ben Buchanan

I frequently have to present when I don't have a laptop, all I know is "the room has a computer". When I do have a laptop then obviously I have a copy on the desktop ready to roll.

In general, I use the S5 format and then backup to USB thumbdrive, CD if going off site and/or it's a big presentation, and a copy on my web server. Now that you mention it, I might throw a copy on the ipod too, but only if I will be taking all the cords.

Because S5 works in most browsers (including IE6 and Safari), at the end of the day all I need is a net-ready computer; possibly actually connected if all of my media fails.

Plus hardcopy, of course.

Duncan Shand

Great post. I'm presenting next week at a Branding Conference in Auckland. Will be all backed up on my iPod - useful and cool!

Martin Beck

Great blog!

Using the iPod as a backup for presentations is a great idea, however I fear that in many situations presenting directly with the iPod won't work. I'm not sure if this is correct, but I think in many cases the beamer is installed anywhere at the ceiling and the only way to connect to it might be the VGA connector installed.
Then, the AV cable will not work or is there a VGA adapter for iPods yet?

If you have direct access to the beamer, things are different and the iPod might be a great backup solution.

I've got another question concerning presenting movies:
Obviously, for animatied slides the only way to show them with an iPod might be a movie, but how do I manage the timing?
When my speech (dependent on the situation) takes a bit longer or is a bit faster than the movie, how do I synchronize the pictures with my speech?

Would it be possible to present a "slideshow" mixed with JPEG images and MOV films, so that the animated slides can be included as a movie but switching to the next slide respectively movie is done "by hand" (button on remote control or iPod)?


Do you have any ideas for a quick fix when you skip ahead too many slides? I hate for the audience to see me working on the desktop & going black screen seems pretty lame too.


David Yau


In some projectors, there is a 'freeze' button. Pressing it, the slide on the projector will stay on the current one no matter whatever you do on the computer. You then press 'freeze' again, and then the projector will show whatever on the computer. i.e. you press 'freeze' on slide 2, you can then skip to slide 10 as you like on the computer. when you press 'freeze' again, the projector will show slide 10.

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