How to prepare your USB flash drive for presentation emergencies

Please note this article was written in 2010, so some specific suggestions may not be applicable today.

Technical emergencies for a presenter using a pc come in all shapes and sizes.  Most presenters like to travel with their notebook computer and connect it to the projector in the meeting room, conference center or classroom.

But what if your computer fails or breaks?

Most presenters also carry a USB flash drive (also called pen drives or USB sticks) with a backup copy of the presentation. An excellent idea. This, of course, assumes there will be another pc available (with the same operating system as yours)  that can be connected to the projection system.

Should you feel safe with a backup copy of your slides on a USB stick?

I have found that this is not always sufficient.

Carrying your PowerPoint presentation on a memory stick may not be enough to recreate the presentation “system” that you have on your laptop.  Your laptop is configured to correctly show videos of different types (Windows Media, Quicktime, …), play DVDs, and has a copy of your presentation software that is aligned with your presentation.  Someone else’s pc may not be configured to play the QuickTime videos you want to show, or the DVDs, or may not have PowerPoint installed. Classrooms frequently have old notebook computers connected to the projection system, with older operating systems that may not have the features you have on your pc.

Luckily some programs can be quickly installed.

This is the case with the Apple QuickTime Player and the Microsoft PowerPoint viewer.

But… have you ever considered that the pc you might be using for the emergency might not have administrative rights, and therefore it will not allow software installation? What happens then?  Will you find a technical support person in time to change access rights to the pc and who will allow you to do this?  Probably not, if it’s an emergency situation. I have seen this happen, so you need to be prepared.

I have recently coached a customer who needed to prepare PowerPoint presentations and who also wished to travel only with a USB flash drive, but be ready for all kinds of emergencies. The solution I developed for him consisted in customizing his USB pen drive with portable programs. Here are two useful programs that run from your flash drive:


VLC is a well-known media player that comes in a portable version.It supports various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, XviD, WMV, mp3, ogg…) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.

PowerPoint Viewer

Microsoft offers free PowerPoint viewers for versions 2003, 2007 and 2010. The 2010 Microsft PowerPoint Viewer can also view presentations created with previous versions.  Unfortunately, though, the viewer cannot be installed to a portable drive. It must be installed on the target pc and requires around 270MB of hard disk space.  There is a workaround for this if you have a version of PowerPoint on your pc (which you should, if it’s your presentation software): use the “Package to CD” command in PowerPoint 2003 and 2007.  The resulting installation also has the advantage of taking much, much less space (approximately 6 MB).  A similar feature exists in PowerPoint 2013. Look under File→Export→Package Presentation for CD.  The viewer does not support all PowerPoint 2013 features, so try the package before venturing out for your next presentation.

Many other programs can be run from flash drives. is an open and free platform with many programs designed to be installed on USB memory sticks or other portable memory devices.  It even has a menu system to make them easily accessible. It’s worth taking a look!  A program to unzip files, an antivirus program, and a personalized browser could also come in handy.

To avoid other types of technical problems when presenting, take a look at my free checklist: “15 Secrets for Impeccable Presentations.” No registration is required, but the tips can save you from disasters that might occur during your next presentation.