Comfort monitors are the presenter’s friend. Mostly. Many large conferences provide a comfort monitor, in front of the speaker, showing a full representation of that which is projected on the main screen. The technical setup of comfort monitors especially data displayed and position of the device may not be ideal. A comfort monitor is provided for the comfort of presenters. Don’t let it become a discomfort.
Some technical knowledge is important in understanding the complexities of comfort monitors. A standard computer has a single monitor (screen). It will display the desktop and allow scrolling through open programmes (as “windows”) until a presentation is put into “play” / “present” mode. This will then be the only thing visible on the monitor. It is not possible to interact with the presentation software (or any other programmes) without exiting this mode. When an additional, external monitor (display device, cable or projector) is connected to the active device the default setting is for both monitors to display the same view. This is called mirroring. When “present” is selected, the programme will run full screen, on both displays. This is the default for many auditoria, lecture theatres and teaching rooms. The downside is that it allows the whole audience to see “behind the curtain” if the computer is not in presenter mode. It will display the whole desktop, USB devices being searched and moved, files being edited or worse. A superior setup, and one likely to be experienced at conferences is that the secondary monitor (in other words the main screen of the auditorium) is unlinked from this mirroring using system settings in the computer itself. The desktop of the operating computer is seen then only on the computer monitor and the auditorium screen will either display a presentation in play mode or, if that mode is closed, a default graphic or blank screen. A comfort monitor is the third screen in this setup. The default setting for a comfort monitor is to mirror the auditorium screen.
The Good Presenter should face the audience for the maximum possible time. It is acceptable to glance momentarily at the comfort monitor. This must not become the focus of attention particularly if the monitor is set low and outside the normal line of sight. Never use the comfort monitor for presenter notes. If notes are selected the presenter will simply read them and the audience will be disengaged. Worse still is the possibility that the anxious presenter arriving at the event may discover the comfort monitor set up does not show their protective blanket leaving them totally exposed.
Presenting from one’s own laptop connected to a projector, it is possible to use the laptop as a comfort monitor. To enable this the “display settings” within the system preferences of the computer must be altered. Importantly this can only be done with display cables connected. Within most presentation software there is a “Presenter tool” that can customise the display showing current slide, subsequent slide (or step) and time. The comfort monitor setup at The Big Presentation may not always permit this facility if set up as a slave display of the main screen of the auditorium. Early arrival at the event allows for such eventualities to be addressed.
Comfort monitors are there for the comfort of presenters but must be appropriately set up and positioned. Don’t let the setup, use or position of such monitors lead to discomfort.