Murphy's Law states: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." This is especially true and especially painful when there is an audience involved.

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This blog was active from April, 2008 to July 2012.
It is no longer being updated but will continue to be maintained for reference purposes.

Blinded by the Light

Despite what the title leads you to believe, this isn’t part two of last week’s “letting loose with the laser pointer” post. This week I’m going to talk about how a room’s lighting scheme can render your visuals invisible.

I don’t want to overdramatize the way it went that morning. None of the things that went wrong were that big of a deal. It’s just that I was running a little behind. Everything had been going well. Then one of the laptops failed. There’s nothing quite like getting the much dreaded blue screen of death in this situation. Okay, no problem, we had backups. Switch the bad machine out with a good one. Boots up. We’re good, just a small, unwelcome adrenaline jolt. Who needs coffee?

Not so fast. Now the remote control isn’t working. Jiggle connections, check the dip switches, reboot the laptops, change batteries. Okay, one of those things fixed it. Anyway, the speakers have been prepared to deal with a remote failure during their presentation so we’re good. Everything’s working on the back end. Now it’s time to take care of the rest. In other words, the projector and the actual image I’m projecting.

What's wrong with this picture? Whoops, when did that happen? At some point, while I was busy putting out those other fires, someone came in and changed the room lighting. We had spent more than a few minutes earlier that morning making adjustments so the room would be be dark enough for the slides to show well, but also bright enough so the audience could take notes and not fall asleep after the lunch break. Unfortunately, The-One-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (the client team’s head honcho) thought that the room was now too dark and had ordered that some be adjustments made. Problem is, one of the recessed lights that went around the parameter of the ballroom was now shining directly onto the screen, almost completely drowning out and making unreadable anything being projected. It looked a lot like the screen in the picture up there to the right. This issue is not unusual in a ballroom configured with the screen in one of the corners. Earlier, we made a point of turning all these lights off because it seemed that the chandeliers and the wall sconces would provide sufficient light. And since all of those recessed lights were on the same circuit, I couldn’t turn off one without turning off all the others. This particular ceiling was 12 feet high, there was’t a ladder handy and time was getting short. How the heck was I going to deal with this?

I know what you’re thinking, just break out the BB gun. One quick, quiet “plink”, a little discreet sweeping up. Done.

Unfortunately, that’s one of the few pieces of gear I don’t haul to meetings with me. However, having been in this situation before, I knew of a better solution that would be almost as quick and wouldn’t make the hotel staff nearly so angry. It’s a light bulb changing pole and every hotel with high ceilings should have one.

The call went out to the maintanence department. A few minutes later the offending bulb was removed and we were good to go. Like I said, none of this was particularly earthshaking or heroic. It was just a little more stressful than it needed to be because we were so close to show time.

Now that you’ve seen the light, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If you get to participate in a pre-meeting site visit (always a good idea), try to get a sense of what the room’s lighting issues might be and begin thinking about how you might deal with them.
  • Once you’re on site for the actual meeting, take a few minute to have the staff show you how the room’s lighting controls work. Knowing what the system can and can’t do will often save you a lot of grief. Just as important, you won’t need to waste time searching for the appropriate staff member to make adjustments when time is short.
  • Consider getting your hands on your own light bulb changing pole. They are cheap, light and easy to transport. The hotel maintenance staff might not alway be as available for you as they were for me that morning.
  • Finally, don’t consider any part of your setup finalized until you’re sure The-One-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed isn’t going to weigh in with some adjustments.

Remember, of all the things you need to control in order to have a successful presentation, light is one of the most important. Especially if the presentation depends on the visuals as much as on what’s being said.

Related Resources:

  • Control of Ambient Light: “Controlling ambient light is crucial for maximizing the contrast in the video image. Video has a limited contrast range compared to film, and suffers much worse in the presence of ambient light on the screen.” This page has a good mock up of how ambient light can affect slide readability.
  • We usually don’t have much say in what type of screen we will be required to project on. However, picking the appropriate screen for the conditions in a particular meeting space is an art as well as a science. This Wikipedia page will give you a good sense of the many factors involved in this decision.

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