I spent part of last week onsite at a client’s office helping the in-house presentation specialist (let’s call her Rhonda) with a huge pitch deck. As so often happens, the content wasn’t quite finished, so the slides were still in flux and a 4:00 am print deadline loomed. (Yes, I said AM.)
Slide review was slated to start at 2:00 pm. Rhonda and I knew it would run long, and when it didn’t start on time we were even more panicked. Luckily we’d decided on a game plan earlier that day: we’d upload the PowerPoint file to my SkyDrive account and take advantage of the simultaneous editing capability it enables.
So that’s what we did. I opened the file in SkyDrive, which initially opens it in the PowerPoint Web App. Then I chose Edit in Microsoft PowerPoint so I could take advantage of the superior editing capability of PowerPoint on my computer.
Rhonda did the same on her computer, so we both had the same file open in PowerPoint 2010, each on our own laptop. Mine was also hooked up to the conference room projector and I drove the slide review, making changes on the fly so the presenters could see the content changes they requested. Rhonda cleaned up behind me, performing more extensive formatting as needed. We synchronized at regular intervals.
Slide review ended around 10:30 pm. Working simultaneously on the file via SkyDrive, we were able to finish our work and prep the presentation for print with two hours to spare! Yes, it was 2:00 am when we finished. But we did finish, and to be completely honest, I’m not sure we would have met that deadline if we’d worked in a more traditional manner.
What we learned
We did figure out some best practices.
The first is, save often. Saving is how you synchronize changes made on the individual systems to the master file on SkyDrive. After you synch, the changes show up on the individual systems. The more changes you’ve both made, the longer it takes to synch the file. If you’ve got a bunch of presenters waiting for you to show them their next slide, you don’t want to have to sit there and wait for the thing to save. So hit that Ctrl+S combo frequently.
The second is also save often. This lessens the chance that you’ll have conflicting changes to resolve. Hassling with those while an audience looks on is kind of a pain, but it’s a necessary pain. (Luckily our presenting colleagues were very patient with us because they knew we were pulling a rabbit for them. Not everyone will be as understanding.) For example, we had some hidden slides in the back that Rhonda had gone ahead and formatted. When the speakers determined they definitely didn’t want one of them, I deleted that slide. PowerPoint wasn’t sure whether we wanted to format the slide or remove it altogether, so this was marked as a conflict, prompting us to review those specific changes and make a decision. Saving often seems to minimize these types of conflicts. (Communication helps, too, of course.)
The third is, take turns when you save. PowerPoint and SkyDrive seemed to be more responsive when one of us would save and then the other, rather than both of us saving at the same time.
The fourth is, use a wired connection. This speeds up saving and synching and is generally more reliable than a wireless connection.
The fifth is, be prepared. We pulled this off pretty much on the fly, but if you plan to build simultaneous editing into your workflow, my advice is exactly that – plan ahead. Make sure everyone who will access the PowerPoint file has a Windows Live ID, knows its password, and has logged in and accessed SkyDrive ahead of time. Make sure they know how to open the file in the PowerPoint Web App and choose Edit in PowerPoint. If you can, upload a test file and have everyone make a few practice edits and save to synch. Intentionally create some conflicting changes and practice resolving them so you’re not caught flat-footed in front of an audience.