Client Control of the Presentation (or Not) -

Client Control of the Presentation (or Not)

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One of the oldest questions in staging is Who gets control? When were doing a small rental for a corporate presentation, the answer is obvious. Ninety percent of the time, the presentation consists of an unrehearsed PowerPoint presentation, with little that has to be timed with it. If thats the case, you just give the presenter the mouse or remote control and let them go. It may be handy to help them with things like making sure the show is set up to end on a logo or blank slide, and doesnt exit automatically to the operating system when theyre done, but basically they have the wheel.

But things get more complex when youre staging a larger corporate show. Often, in larger shows, there are many elements to be synchronized with the presentation, such as video rolls and lighting or sound cues. Even in midsize shows, there are usually videotape rolls to be cued and switched. In these instances, giving the presenter direct control of their on-screen content can be dodgy at best. But prying the mouse out of the presenters hands can be like the proverbial pulling of teeth. Todays presenters (especially younger ones) feel comfortable with the mouse, and often use it as a safety blanket. They like controlling the show. Thats often unfortunate, because it causes them to periodically focus on the presentation system rather than the presentation itself. They aim the remote control like it was a Star Trek phaser, or concentrate on the podium monitor while they jump a slide, not realizing that it makes them look detached or at best unorganized. And yet the modern presenter feels comfortable with operating the computer, and so tends to hide behind it.

But truly seamless presentations only happen when: [1] They are thoroughly rehearsed (rare in corporate presentations, especially ones with multiple presenters). Or [2] Control is centralized where it should be-at the tech table.

Enter the hybrid cueing system.

Several of todays cue systems allow for optional PC control, in addition to the usual cue lights and tone. My current favorite, the MasterCue 5 from Extend Electronics, allows for the recording and playback of keystroke sequences from the remote. This allows us to let the presenter have a simple RF remote with forward and reverse, directly controlling the PC. In addition, it allows me to have an operator watch the incoming cues, ready to take over or switch to the backup (manually controlled) system at any time. Normally, I suppress the reverse control so that
it lights the cue light but does not reverse the computer, requiring the operator to execute any reverse cues.
A setup like this gives the presenter the feeling of control he or she needs, while allowing the technical crew to maintain the ability to override to
produce a smooth show.

The use of a hybrid system does more than smooth out the show however--it helps me gradually wean the client away from the mouse, into a world of smoother productions--once they understand that a professional operator can indeed follow their cues as well or better than they can control the show themselves.

Theres one level of show, however, where this doesnt work, the nightmare show I refer to as the laptop parade. This is the one where half a dozen presenters each insist on using their own laptop for their presentation. Its a twilight world of forgotten power bricks and RGB dongles, mismatched video drivers and unlinked files. Weve all fought this fight, where efforts to consolidate the shows onto one machine are met with but Bob uses Quicktime and I use RealMedia or the equivalent.

In this instance, it will be rare that a single cueing system can be adapted to the parade quickly enough for PC control. Rather than allow them to take the laptop to the podium, I usually attempt to stand my ground and insist on a light and tone based cueing system with RF remote, and a two-tech team for PC operation. In this lineup, one tech is operating the current presentation, while the second is in the green room with the next presenter, reviewing the presentation, making sure its set up correctly and that we have the appropriate breakout cable set up and know how to activate the RGB output port. When the presentations switch, so do the techs--the green room tech becomes the show operator for the presentation hes just familiarized himself with. This works as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but the laptop parade is the type of show I work hard at avoiding. Mostly, I spend a significant amount of time attempting to gather the presentations in advance and adapt them to a single machine.

In order to accomplish that, I usually remind the key contact for the show of the inherent dangers of the laptop parade, such as loss of a machine, theft, machine failure, or forgotten adapters.
When that doesnt work, I just watch for the cue light.
Standing by.


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