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Avoid Embarrassment During Online Presentations

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Webinars, screen sharing, and online presentations have become vastly more common during the past year, partly due to the pandemic. This isn’t yet another article about how to give a better presentation or feel more confident, that comes with time. The more you participate in online meetings, the better you will feel and your confidence will show. The goal of this article is to help you avoid situations that could embarrass you in front of others including friends, family, clients, or even bosses. Follow this advice and you could avoid an unfortunate happenstance that might even cause you to be fired.

Here’s the problem. Even more so than before the pandemic, our Macs feel like personal spaces. Just as you’d add a houseplant and a special photo to your desk at work, you’ve probably personalized your Mac in a variety of ways. Custom desktop wallpaper, for instance, or a screensaver that displays favorite photos.

The goal here is to help you avoid the embarrassment caused by people who are viewing your screen seeing things they shouldn’t see, something that the New York Times has also covered. Some areas of concern include:

  • Desktop & Screen Saver: Jobs have been lost by inappropriate selections for desktop wallpaper and photo screen savers. Make sure, if you’re ever going to share your screen, that randomly chosen desktop pictures and folders of screen saver photos don’t contain anything that could be problematic. To be safe, choose an Apple-provided desktop picture and a pattern-based screen saver in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver.
  • Icons on the Desktop: We all toss files on the desktop, but if preview icons or even filenames could cause trouble—you might not want your boss seeing Resumé.doc—corral them in another folder before you share your screen. Also note that many videoconferencing apps, including Zoom, can limit their screen sharing to particular windows rather than the entire screen, which prevents people from seeing your desktop.
  • Web browser tabs: Limiting screen sharing to a particular window won’t help if it’s a Web browser window with multiple tabs. Even if you avoid accidentally navigating to a tab with NSFW content, its title alone might be problematic. For safety, always start a new browser window when sharing Web content.
  • Open apps and documents: As with icons on the desktop when sharing your entire screen, you may not want just anyone seeing what other apps and documents you have open. Again, stick to sharing a specific window. To avoid mistakes when selecting the window to share, we recommend hiding or quitting all unrelated apps before sharing your screen.
  • Document comments: When collaborating on a document, some people are less than politic with their in-document comments. If comments are visible when you’re sharing a document with people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, hard feelings could ensue. Make sure to hide or resolve such comments before sharing.
  • Notifications: Even if you have hidden or quit Calendar, Messages, Mail, and similar apps, their notifications could still appear at an inopportune time. You might not want colleagues to know about an ob-gyn appointment, meeting with a potential employer, or racy conversations with a coworker. The solution is Do Not Disturb, easily enabled from Control Center in macOS 11 Big Sur and by scrolling up in Today view in Notification Center in earlier versions of macOS. Also, although it won’t help with online screen sharing, it’s a good idea to enable the “When mirroring to TVs and projectors” option in System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb.

This may all sound a little overwhelming, but there is one trick that will help you avoid most of these problems at once. This is what I personally do when I am hosting a webinar or even recording my videos. I create a new user account dedicated to screen sharing, presentations, and recordings. This is done in System Preferences > Users & Groups. In that user account, you can be sure to have innocuous desktop pictures, screen savers, clean Web browser windows, and permanent Do Not Disturb. The hardest part will be figuring out the best way to share documents you use in presentations between your accounts. You can try the /Users/Shared folder, or an external drive (how I do it). Then, before you start a call when you’ll need to share your screen, choose your new account from the Fast User Switching menu from the right side of the menu bar (set up that menu in System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Options).

One final piece of advice. When you’ve accomplished what you need to by sharing your screen, stop sharing it and switch back to video. That way, you can’t accidentally do something in the shared window that might be embarrassing. Similarly, when a meeting is over or you’re dropping off for a while, it’s best to leave the call. Stopping video and muting audio are good tools, but it’s easy to click in the wrong spot accidentally and think you’re safe when, in fact, your mic or camera is still live.

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