Multiple screens for your conference presentation

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Leaders are catalysts

In two weeks the All Things Open conference will be taking place in Raleigh, North Carolina. Penguins from all over will be gathering together to share ideas. And as one of the presenters this year, I started wondering, in what ways can you open source a conference presentation?

To help me answer that question, I turned to the wisdom of my geek friend Dottie Brown, who at the age of 97 took the beginners Seniors Computer Class I teach in Takoma Park, Maryland. Dottie used to drive a Ford Model A car, but recently she was using Verizon FIOS with the donated computer I dropped off at her house. When I last visited her, she asked me to recommend a tablet she could buy. “Television is so boring. How can I possibly watch television when I'm not on the web?” she told me.

Dottie passed away a few months ago, and our geek friendship was a special one. We laughed a lot together, and I listened carefully to everything she told me because I knew she was giving me a century's worth of wisdom.

Phil Shapiro showing Dottie an eldery lady how to use computer

The same multi-screen principle that Dottie spoke about in regards to watching television applies when thinking about conference presentations. Even the most spellbinding of presenters can sometimes bore an audience. But what if there were two or three extra screens at the front of the room? One screen could have a LibreOffice presentation with 200 to 300 tweet-sized thoughts on it. One of the attendees of the presentation could be handed a remote clicker to move through those slides at a pace that seems appropriate to that person. I'm a fan of the Logitech R400 Professional Presenter Remote Control, which sells for about $20 to $30 on eBay. This remote presenter tool works great with LibreOffice and has a 15-meter range. After the presentation, the USB receiver is stored right within the remote, which is a fine design.

So, this second screen could engage the audience throughout the presentation, but how about having a third screen with a back channel where audience members can share their thoughts with each other and with the presenter? I did some research on possible web tools for this and TodaysMeet seems to be one of the better tools out there right now.

Given that penguins are a participatory bunch, having a single screen for a back channel could possibly be too noisy. Perhaps having two screens for a back channel would work best, with half the audience assigned to one screen and half to the other screen.

These extra screens at a conference presentation could theoretically be projected screens, but more practically it might make sense to have actual, large LCD monitors or LCD televisions acting as monitors. You can find good deals on refurbished LCD monitors at and Amazon. Typically, you would want conference screens to be 27-inch or larger, unless you were presenting at a smaller conference or meetup.

Dottie can be sure that when I try out a multi-screen presentation at a conference, I'll be proudly showing the photo of her and I working together. Her great geekiness lives on.

Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 30 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use 27 Linux stations.

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