I was rehearsing for the Toastmasters International Inspirational Speech Competition, which happens every spring and narrows down the top 100 speakers from around the world from a field of over 25,000. The top 100 then compete for a chance to become that year's World Champion of Public Speaking. I made it through several rounds of competition, and now I was facing five contestants for a chance to become one of the top 100 speakers in the world. Back in my hotel room, Presentation Clock ($.99, app2.me/3884) was helping me time every part of my speech with precision.
Preparing for a big presentation isn't easy. Luckily, I made sure to take full advantage of the technology around me, and I downloaded a few apps to help me along the way. Whether you're trying to become the next world champion speaker, preparing for a high-stakes sales presentation, or simply trying to persuade a reluctant audience to see your point, here are a few apps that can help you present better, rehearse easier, and help make your message more memorable.
$9.99, iPad: app2.me/3885
Prompster turns your iPad into a portable teleprompter, eliminating the need for written notes or flash cards. You can write and edit speeches from within the app and change both the font size and font type. Prompster will scroll your words through the screen at user adjustable speeds, and it will also show you the elapsed time of your presentation. You can tap at any time to pause or resume the scrolling. One cool feature of Prompster is the ability to audio record yourself and categorize each version as a different "Take." The only slight inconvenience is that Prompster only accepts .txt files; you have to convert Word docs before you can use them. Nevertheless, this is a great app for developing, rehearsing, and delivering a live speech.
This app has one sole function—to count down time. I tried this app both on the iPad and on the iPod touch, and the numbers always show up very clearly and make great use of the screen size. You can specify when you want the numbers to change colors (from green to yellow to red) to make sure you stay on time. You can also have the timer make a short "ping" sound when the colors change. This is perfect for when you are up on stage and just need a short audio cue to keep you on track. If you want to take full advantage of the colors as a visual cue, you can set the iPhone or iPad in the back of the room and watch the colors change from the stage. This app is easy to use and effective.
Keynote and Keynote Remote
Putting Apple's own presentation software on this list is a no-brainer. And when you pair Keynote with Keynote Remote, an app that lets you control your Keynote presentation from your iPhone or iPod touch, you've got a presentation powerhouse.
The Keynote app is a basic version of the more robust desktop version for the Mac. The app works best as a viewer for your PowerPoint or Keynote presentations that you've already built. However, you can create and edit presentations from within the app, and you can even include some basic animations, add charts and graphics, and manipulate the font and size of the text. Since the iPad is lighter than a laptop and easier to carry, it is becoming a very popular presentation tool. The Keynote app is an absolute essential for professionals using the iPad to do a fair amount of public speaking.
The Keynote Remote app is a companion to the Keynote software. The app turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a remote that mirrors and controls your Keynote presentation on the desktop, iPad, or another iPhone or iPod touch. You can view your presentation notes along with the upcoming slide from your iPhone or iPod touch and flip slides with a flick of the finger. Both devices must be connected via Wi-Fi, but the app will also switch to Bluetooth automatically if Wi-Fi isn't available. Unfortunately, you can't use Keynote Remote from an iPad to run a Keynote presentation on another device; only the iPhone and iPod touch are supported as "remotes." Nevertheless, having both the Keynote and Keynote Remote apps gives you greater control over your presentation delivery and appearance.
Free, iPad: app2.me/3887; $7.99 in-app purchase for "pilot" role
Idea Flight is a neat concept, but it requires that everyone in the room have an iPad. This app allows one "pilot" to control a presentation that everyone can see on their iPad, and "passengers" can interact with the presentation if it is on Unlocked mode. The pilot can also display the presentation on an external monitor or simultaneously sync up to 16 other iPads. Idea Flight also connects with LinkedIn, so you can see the names, titles and photos of everyone in attendance. You can add files as PDFs or access them through Dropbox, iTunes File Sharing, or e-mail.
$1.99, iPad: app2.me/3212
Penultimate is a note-taking app that helps you stay organized as a presenter or facilitator. The app allows you to write accurately and smoothly with the tip of your finger. Since most presentations are informal and usually include less than six people, you can use Penultimate on the iPad as the actual presentation medium all by itself or by projecting it on a screen. If you like to draw, this app is fantastic for showing off your ideas visually. Penultimate stores your projects and ideas in different "notebooks," and you can buy additional page themes and colors through in-app purchases. You can also export your notes as single-page images or PDFs to anyone.
$4.99, iPad: app2.me/3888
Like Penultimate, PhatPad uses handwriting recognition technology, but it takes it several steps further. PhatPad recognizes words and basic shapes, and gives you the option of turning them into their digital counterparts. The end result is a rich canvas of digital and handwritten words and images. You can share documents via PDFs, e-mail, Wi-Fi, iTunes, or sync them with Dropbox. In addition, PhatPad has a Presentation Mode which lets you create and display presentations straight from your iPad. The presentations are simple slide changes, without the ability to do any complex animations. Nevertheless, PhatPad has an extremely robust interface with lots of features and options to customize each page just the way you want it.
Splashtop Remote Desktop
$9.99, iPad: app2.me/3730
Splashtop Remote Desktop is an inexpensive and fantastic remote desktop app. You can use it to access your own computer and run a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation straight from there. The app is super easy to set up; I had it up and running within a couple of minutes. You need to go to splashtop.com and set up your computer to stream everything to your iPad. From there, you can use your iPad just as a regular desktop, with full access to videos, presentations, images, and sound. I did have a little trouble trying to bring up the taskbar on the iPad (it was on auto-hide), so I recommend turning that feature off on your computer before streaming. This is an easy and inexpensive way to show your presentations straight from your own computer.
$6.99, iPad: app2.me/3889
Like Prompster, this app turns your iPad into a teleprompter, timer, and voice recorder. However, it includes a couple of additional features. For example, you can create and edit speeches from within the app, or import them from Google Docs, Dropbox, or iTunes file sharing. This app also has a Text-to-Speech option (TTS), which reads back the words you've written. You can speed up or slow down the text scrolling on the page but not the audio. I found the voice to be a bit too robotic and soon got tired of it. However, the app is very easy to use and practical. Pinch and zoom to increase the font size, and tap on the screen to change the scrolling speed. You can use Speechmaker to store all your speeches in one place and access them instantly whenever a willing audience lends you an ear.
Free, iPad: app2.me/3890
Prezi Viewer lets you view Prezi presentations that you've already created either online or using Prezi's desktop version. Unfortunately, the app doesn't let you create Prezis, which greatly limits its usefulness. In addition, any videos or PDF files you've added to your Prezi may not appear on the app, which also severely limits its usefulness. Nevertheless, I really love Prezis, and I only encountered minor glitches while playing them back on my iPad. We'll just have to wait and see how the developers improve it with each release.
The first time I used this app, I couldn't believe it was free. It is full of simple tips, videos, and practice exercises to improve your public speaking skills. It's really a presentation reference app divided into six main sections: Structure, Visuals, Words, Voice, Gestures, and Rate Me. Each section has tons of simple lessons followed by examples, audio, video, or a practice exercise. There are also quizzes that test your knowledge of each of the main sections, and a checklist feature that lets you grab tidbits of content from within the app and store it there. This is a wonderful and complete app that will help any regular speaker keep his or her skills sharp.
Changing the way we communicate
Mobile technology is rapidly changing the way we communicate. While great presentations will always remain rooted in strong story-telling techniques, clarity, and authenticity, we can take advantage of these tools to create more memorable messages and connect with our audiences in a deeper way. I used some of these apps to prepare for the Toastmasters International Speech Competition, and they helped me greatly. The imaginary audience back at the hotel room finally became real later that afternoon, and while I didn't become one of the top 100 speakers in the world, I did achieve a proud (and well-earned) second place finish.