My #1 Tip for Keeping Presentations on Track

Combatting Audience Distraction and Driving Engagement with Apple’s Touch Bar

I was shocked to learn recently that the Apple Touch Bar –  you know, the shortcuts at the top of your MacBook that are constantly changing and trick you into turning up the brightness when volume is what you really want – will be four years old this October. FOUR years. It’s hard to believe.

Do you remember how polarizing the Touch Bar was when it was released? Be honest… Were you in the “total gimmick” camp or were you a true believer? How about now? Have you changed your opinion? Will you insist on having the Touch Bar on your next MacBook? Why? 

Personally, I was on the fence at first. It looked cool (of course), but dropping the physical ESC key? Really? That’s a bold move. Doing away with the function keys I get, but the ESC key? I did question that decision. But then I started using the Touch Bar and before long I hardly noticed. 

I made the call to upgrade myself and the entire pre-sales team at Incorta to Touch Bar-equipped MacBooks shortly after they hit stores. But it wasn’t the general utility of the Touch Bar that won me over. There was one specific feature that made it a must-have: In Keynote (or PowerPoint if that’s your jive), the Touch Bar lets you seamlessly jump between slides on the fly. 

We’ve all been there before: It’s ten minutes into a presentation and you’ve already lost half of the room. You need to change course, or even just move faster. You start skipping slides. There is no way to pull it off without being noticed. Even if it’s the right call, it still looks like floundering to everyone else in the room. Just like that, you’ve lost your edge. 

Unless, of course, you have the Touch Bar. In that case, there’s no more frantic skipping – you just select the slides you want to discuss as you want to introduce them. Say, for instance, an architecture question pops up and you want to answer it right then and there, even though the architecture slide is still 10 clicks away. No problem – with the Touch Bar, you can jump right to it and say, “Perfect timing! That’s my next slide.” (Because let’s be honest, every slide is your next slide after all.)

My design for a global Touch Bar which has Keynote controls and Zoom meeting controls active the entire time.

Yes, I know what some of you are thinking… I can hear it now: “What’s the big deal, Matthew? Can’t you just do that using multiple displays and presentation view?” 

Technically yes, but it’s not the same – not even close. The multiple displays approach adds complexity to the configuration and can get really messy, especially when you need to drop out of a slideshow to give a live demo. First you lose track of your mouse pointer because it’s on a separate display. Cue fumbling. Meanwhile, your entire desktop and any windows you have open are on live for everyone to see until you get back on track.  And then – after the demo is complete – you have to switch back to the slideshow and re-enter presenter mode. Here is where a presenter’s mistakes can get really distracting: click the wrong button and your speaker notes go live on the screen instead of the actual slides. Now you really have everyone’s attention – just not where you want it. 

Please don’t be that person that steps through the slides in this mode. We are trying to read everything but your content.

Another option for jumping between slides is dropping out of presentation mode, selecting the slide you want, and then re-entering presentation mode. Props to those who can memorize every slide number and jump around using shortcuts instead of the mouse, but let’s face it: it’s hardly ideal even then. Don’t underestimate how much this can kill the flow of your presentation. Like it or not – and quick as you may be – it will distract the audience. Try it for yourself if you don’t believe me. Watch all of the squinting eyes strain to see how many slides you have left… They can’t help it – but you can. 

Ultimately, one of the most important parts of a presenter’s job is keeping the audience’s focus and attention. And while this has always been a challenge for presenters, it’s becoming way harder – and more important – today as more and more presentations are being delivered virtually in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thinking about how to capture and keep your audience engaged can no longer be an afterthought. The stakes are too high and recording is all too common. It’s a new frontier and success demands creativity, thoughtful planning and a relentless focus on execution. 

Look for every advantage you can get. In my experience, the Touch Bar is one of the greatest tools for the job and I highly recommend it for anyone who regularly leads presentations. In addition to the reasons above, the Touch Bar also gives you the power to become a more agile and engaging presenter as well by giving you complete control over your slides. With the Touch Bar, the “next slide” in your presentation is not whatever comes next in your slide deck – it’s the next slide you want to discuss with the audience based on what is happening in the room from one moment to the next. 

Are you a master of the Touch Bar? If so, I need your help: I want to set up global Touch Bar controls that span multiple apps, but can’t seem to figure out how to do it. I deliver a lot of presentations these days using Zoom and Keynote, for example. Over the course of a presentation, I want to progress through slides in Keynote using the Touch Bar and have the ability to mute/unmute myself on Zoom without having to switch between separate Touch Bar applications. Does anyone know how to adjust the settings so that the Keynote slide sorter and the mute/unmute controls for Zoom are available on the same Touch Bar screen and always in front of me? That would be perfect. (If this is not possible today, then @Apple: Please, please can we have this?) 

What other uses have you found for the Touch Bar? Leave a comment or send tips my way on Twitter @LayeredDelay.

Published by Matthew Halliday

Co-founder, EVP of Product Strategy at Incorta. Passion for design, UX, data, stories, and making beautiful things.

One thought on “My #1 Tip for Keeping Presentations on Track

  1. I was wondering what ever happened to Layered Delay.. can’t believe it has been 6 years. As for touchbar, it gets a little quirky when you run windows on Mac through a VM, so I try to keep it simple. You will be amused (or disappointed) to know I resurfaced your “Tale of Two Systems” slide after a long hiatus. My excuse is that good graphic design stands the test of time.

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