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Welcome Indezine Readers

Thanks for stopping by.

Links for subscribing to Breaking Murphy’s Law via email or and RSS reader can be found to the left.

To get an idea of what this site is all about and how it came to be: I fought the law…

Publishing schedule: I usually publish the main post Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. Over the weekend I’ll post a link roundup called “The What You Might Have Missed List.”

Comments are always welcomed and encouraged. You are also welcomed to contribute your own presentation disaster story by clicking on the Contact link above.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (07/27/08)

(Diigo bookmark list)

Speak Schmeak: Don’t waste time talking about time — “She didn’t say it just once. In the course of her 20-minute presentation, she mentioned that she didn’t have enough time about five times.”

Loot Ninja: Konami Exec Fails at Her Own Game — “This lady is a Senior Product Manager, but has some of the worst microphone skills I have ever seen. She starts her talk by calling the crowd “lame”, that should get everyone into it. … Overall this lady needs to be booted from public speaking and never allowed to play a video game in front of a crowd.”

The AV Report: Would You Like a Mac Dongle With That? — “When I asked three (3) Mac users if we could try a Mac to run the slides from, not one of them were able to do it because they didn’t have their Mac VGA dongle with them! It’s just one more item to add to a checklist, but often forgotten about. I’ve seen three versions of this dongle/adapter – DVI, Mini-DVI and Micro-DVI! Which do you have?”

Shane Gibson: Blogathon 2008 – Entry #1 – Murphy’s Law — “What this means is if you are going to a clients office to demonstrate software or a web application we must assume and prepare for the following circumstances.”

Pro Humorist: Presentations: Fast Tip — “If you get the two muddled up, as people invariably do, then you’ll find yourself having to get permanent marker off whiteboards. Not fun.”

Face2Face: Privacy? What’s that? — :Cindy relates the tale of an association that found something from their meeting on YouTube that they really, really didn’t want to be out there for the world to see.”

Man In The Mirror: Check This “Avoid At All Costs” List.

Mouse Trap

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a time when the simplest of technologies, something we rarely give a second thought, gaffer tape, unexpectedly failed to do its job and caused a great deal of trouble. Geetesh Bajaj (an Microsoft PowerPoint MVP who also runs the incredibly useful site Indezine — “a platform for PowerPoint presentations, presentation software, image editing and clip media”) has been kind enough to share another story that again strongly suggests we need to think about even our humblest tools a little more often and a little more rigorously:

There are many things you can do to avoid presentation disasters – yet there’s always something new that you learn each day.

When I got a new MacBook Pro with OS X Leopard, I knew I wanted to use this machine for my next presentation. Now my next presentation happened to include a training session on Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 and my entire audience was working on a Microsoft Windows platform (and not the Mac). Unperturbed, I installed a copy of Windows Vista on a new partition created by Boot Camp. Everything worked great – I also had PowerPoint 2007 working on Vista and it seemed to be working so much quicker than my older laptop. When everything works so flawlessly at the first go, you know there’s something wrong you have missed out somewhere!

Well, that something ended up being the right-click option. The MacBook Pro has no right-click button. I could plug in a regular two-button mouse but it seemed too much to do when I already had the receiver for my remote plugged in – and for some reason, the mouse and the remote were not too happy with each other. It wasn’t a happy thought to use my older laptop again – and at this point of time, the older machine seemed like an archaic dinosaur that was so slow (funny how perceptions change in one day).

Trust me – it’s not too easy to do advanced tasks in PowerPoint 2007 without the right-click – and even Shift + F10 wouldn’t work as a right-click here – the equivalent on the MacBook Pro was Fn + Shift + F10. By the time I managed to press all those three buttons, my cursor was elsewhere.

Luckily, the Internet saved me – a quick search got me pages where there were many, many users who faced the same problem. One user recommended a free program called Apple Mouse – this lets you Ctrl-click to simulate a right click. One quick download and five minutes later, everything worked great again.

So what’s the lesson I learnt here? That’s got to be that one needs to test all the obvious and unobvious issues before using them in a presentation environment. Imagine you are presenting now, and switch on your laptop and do all tasks you might have to do later. Even if you are in another city, time zone, or continent – it’s a good idea to use the same combination of presentation, laptop, and remote to test the flow. And even if the projector may be different, do plug it in if you have access to one.

We normally check the projections, the room, the lighting, even the cables and the sound systems. But for all you know, there might be a problem area that’s not as obvious! And maybe that’s staring at you now.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (07/20/08)

Overnight Sensation: Three Ways to Improve Your Speech Delivery — “In general, as part of your speech preparation, try to anticipate the things that can adversely affect your speech. Knowing that computers and projectors are prone to technical glitches, wait staff don’t always remember to not clear plates while you’re talking and audience members may not always be respectful can help you adequately prepare for potential problems.”

Art of Speaking Science: What if you can’t pronounce their name?

Zallas Technologies: Will You Pass the Flinch Test? — “There is a little test that professional buyers give to every salesperson. It is a test to see if they are confident in the price they presented. They call it the flinch test.”

Make Your Point with Pow’R: What obvious answers are you overlooking? — “As presenters, we get so used to the routine that we overlook the obvious and jump straight into complex solutions for simple problems.”

Software Safari: User Conference Overload: Bad Software Conference Activities We’d Like to See Disappear –If your people are giving presentations like this, you’re asking for problems.

The world’s worst wet T-shirt contest

Laura Bergells has been active in internet marketing since before most people realized that marketing on the internet was possible. She’s given many presentations and has witnessed many more. Her highly-regarded blog, More than PowerPoint… has been going strong for five years now. She also happens to be a really terrific storyteller and was kind enough to share the following beverage meets business nightmare:

Years ago, my boss nervously entrusted me to give an important presentation. My boss was nervous for two reasons:

1) I would be presenting our project for final approval to the ultimate decision maker — the VP of Investor Relations at our company’s our largest client.

2) I have a flamboyant style and goofy sense of humor.

Now, I hadn’t yet met the VP, but knew her by reputation. She is impeccably poised and polished – a highly sophisticated intellectual.

Of course, I know there’s a time and place for goofy humor — and this wasn’t it. Nonetheless, my anxious boss saw fit to lecture me:

“She doesn’t suffer fools, Laura. So reign in your personality. Dial it down. This is our only chance, so don’t blow it.”

Armed with that oh-so special warning, how could anything go wrong? Jinxed, I tell you!

I drive 2 hours for the meeting. When I arrive, our client is on the phone & tells me she’ll be with me in five. I walk down a narrow hall to find a washroom to refresh myself.

As I do, a man with 2 steaming coffees in his hands walks briskly towards me. However, his head is turned over his shoulder and he’s yelling to someone far behind him.

Twelve ounces of scalding coffee hits the front of my white blouse. I howl in pain and run to the washroom as the man tries to initiate a conversation about how sorry he is.

I could care less about how sorry he is. I have bigger issues — burning skin, ruined shirt, no change of clothes, miles from home, an important presentation to deliver in 5 minutes, a nervous boss, and a VP who doesn’t like fools.

With all of my problems spinning in my head, I spend 5 minutes in the washroom failing to repair the damage to my skin and blouse. I come out looking like a try-out for the world’s worst wet T-shirt contest.

Taking a breath, I march into the VP’s office. I grin idiotically through the pain and cheerfully announce,

“Well, I’m back!”

Her mouth drops. She asks what the hell happened. When I explain, she is filled with nothing but pity for me. She even offers to loan me one of her shirts (She’s 5 foot-nothing, I’m 6-foot-one. I thank her, but explain that it probably wouldn’t work out.)

I go on to give the presentation, looking like a hot, disheveled tramp instead of a polished professional.

I made the sale.

Pity sale! But I deserved it!

And more importantly, the woman and I are still friends to this day.

Turns out that yes, she’s a polished, sophisticated intellectual — but she’s human, too. People tolerate mistakes better than our frazzled imaginations let us believe.

But since then, I’ve learned to ALWAYS travel with a change of clothes…just in case!

Since I’m more involved with the AV-slash-stage-crew type stuff, I tend to focus making sure the presentation files and the equipment is backed up in case something happens. Have to admit I haven’t given much thought to backing up wardrobe. But if my presenters are operating in an environment where there’s no such thing as a “pity sale” I guess I need start thinking about it. Having a wardrobe malfunction of any kind can seriously throw the confidence and perceived credibility of even the most experienced speaker.

Thanks again, Laura, for being brave enough to share this story with us. I’d like to remind the other readers of this site that they are welcomed and encouraged to submit any stories or anecdotes they have relating to presentation disaster or presentation disaster narrowly averted. You can be fully credited or remain safely anonymous, whichever you prefer. Come on folks, we all know you want to tell somebody what happened. Just click on the “Contact” tab above to get in touch.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (07/13/08)

Nicholas Bate: 9 Things Not to Say in your Presentation — Brilliant.

The Eloquent Woman: testing the kindle on the lectern — “Here’s what I learned about what you should expect when using this new device in a live setting, from preparatory steps to actual use.”

Speak Schmeak: When audience members attack — “Do you ever feel like an audience member is attacking you when they ask challenging questions during your presentation?”

Linkedin Answers: Care to share your most embarrassing, awkward, or unusual speaking experience?

Law.com: Peaks and Valleys of PowerPoint Presentation — “What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made (or seen) in a presentation using Microsoft’s PowerPoint?”

Corporate Presenter: TV Presenters and animals — “Ouch!”

Presenter Gold: White Death on the Podium — “And yet in a presentation situation, many of us put black text on white screens. I want you to think for a moment about what that’s doing to the audience. It’s been described as trying to read the lettering on a switched-on light bulb.”

Live Musician Central: Settle Your Nerves – Dealing With Stage Fright — “I’ve played with guys that were throwing up before every gig because they got so nervous.”

Services Safari: Delivering a Great Keynote Presentation Part 1 – The Delivery –“I know a person’s a bad speaker when I can imagine my 14-year, with absolutely no advance preparation, could be way more entertaining with the same material.”

Nury Vittachi: — I got the public speaking blues — “I know about these things. Somewhere on earth there is an “Institute of Introducers” at which citizens have all detectable grey matter surgically removed. They are then released back into the wild as certified Masters of Ceremonies.”

Web Strategy by Jeremiah: Fail Fast — “I screw up a lot, always have, always will, but what matters is what I do next. My first presentation to a Forrester client was a total F-up.”

Indexed: A real spectacle. –“Sweating, staring, crowds.”

Make Your Point with Pow’R: Pre-Presentation Speaking — “Remember to speak before your presentation. In some cases, even before you arrive at the venue.”

Jessica Hatchigan’s speechwriting blog: Time Matters: Scheduling Your CEO’s Speeches “Do you have the option to choose the time of day your CEO will deliver his/her speech?”

Great Public Speaking: Public Speaking : SEATING TIPS

Linkedin Answers: The Un-Planned question – the impromtu – throws the best of us, but what are the toughest situations you find yourself confronted with?

9 Months to birthing my BESTSELLER!: Two Words that Make Most Audiences Cringe! — “Which brings me to the last lesson. Do Not, I repeat DO NOT do what I did (you’d have to be really brave or crazy!) Do not use language that will turn some or most of the audience against you!” (Slightly NSFW image)

Charli Jane Speaker Services: Top 10 ‘do nots’ when working with meeting planners.

Sticky Situation

In the Hyatt pool circa 1992The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is one of my all-time favorite meeting venues. The first time I ever traveled for business was to attend a huge annual sales convention being held there. My wife and infant daughter (that’s her in the photo) were able to accompany me. I was fresh out of college and found the place seriously impressive. Since that memorable first business trip, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a bunch of meetings at world-class venues and I may have become a little jaded, but I still consider it one of the best hotels anywhere; bar none (the coconut shrimp they serve at Hemingway’s would be enough to get my vote. It seems like it was the only thing we ate the last time I did a meeting there).

As you can probably tell, I have many great memories of this hotel both as an attendee and a meetings professional. This post will not be about any of them.

– – – –

The hotel’s conference sales manager made sure to point out the perfectly tasteful carpet that had just been put down throughout the entire meetings area. Trying to distract myself from imagining what it would be like to be sitting by the pool, I guesstimated just how much the rug had set them back. It was a lot of square footage. Given the sizable investment involved, as well as the wear and tear these carpets are exposed to, it’s no wonder they aggressively protected them with some sort of heavy duty stain repellent. I believe they said Teflon.

TapeSince nothing sticks to Teflon, it makes a great stain repellent. Unfortunately, there is something that gets used at just about every meeting, conference and seminar that really needs to stick to the hotel carpet for it to do what it’s supposed to do. Something we all cherish and hold dear to our hearts — gaffer tape.

There were fifteen breakout rooms at that meeting. Each one was stuffed with round 10-top tables. Each room had a projector and a small sound system. Each room saw a ton of traffic as the attendees rotated through from room to room and back and forth, to and from plenary sessions in the main ballroom. Thousands of chances for folks to get tripped up by VGA cables, extension cords, microphone lines. Ordinarily not a problem if the gaffer tape is doing what it meant to do. Major problem when it’s not.

Several mic stands were toppled. At least one projector almost got pulled off its cart. More than one person tripped and ended up flat on the floor. We kept going back and adding on layers of tape. In some places, the tape spread out a foot on either side of whatever wire it was attempting to keep down. We rerouted the cables around the perimeter each room whenever possible. We spent way more time that week dealing with that stupid tape than we really should have needed to. It took time and resources from other things we needed to take care of and everything else ran much less smoothly than it should have. Something we rarely need to think about became a major problem.

The biggest hassle came while we were breaking down and packing up. The tape that didn’t stick to the carpets stuck very, very well to itself as it got accidentally pulled up, rolled up and tripped over during the course of the week. It was the same exact mess you get when some rookie pulls up a cable without pulling the tape off first — sticky side to sticky side, just about impossible to pull apart. Only in this case, there wasn’t a rookie to sit in a corner to fix the mess with scissors and a knife. We ended up just shipping it all home and dealing with it back at the office.

No matter how much experience you have and stories you’ve heard, it’s important to remember that not everything can be anticipated, known about and prepared for. And sometimes it’s the simplest, most basic element of your setup that can cause the biggest problems.

Related resources:

Your turn:

Have you ever been completely blindsided by a tool, technology, methodology or process that was so simple and basic you never expected to have a serious problem with it? If so, please share what happened as a comment to this post so we can all benefit from your experience.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (07/07/08)

Post-vacation Edition

Back from a week down the Jersey Shore. Perfect weather, not so perfect internet access. Here are some items you might have missed left over from before I left. I hope to be back to the regular posting schedule later this week.

SpeakerSue Says: The most embarrassing web presentation ever — Some great tips for avoiding common web presentation disasters.

Nicholas Bate: 30 Minutes Before your Big Pitch to 35 People — Great ideas for a pre-presentation checklist.

Speak Schmeak: Be a host, not a guest: :”Checking out the venue in advance is frequently overlooked by beginning speakers, and here’s why it shouldn’t be.”

Laptop Magazine: Common (But Avoidable) Presentation Disasters — “A technical problem is almost guaranteed to occur during a big presentation. Here’s how to handle the most common issues.”

Great Public Speaking: DON’T GO TO THE BATHROOM — I don’t think I would have allowed the AV staff to get away with this. I know I never would have taken it upon myself to move a speaker’s stuff around if I was the AV person.

Authenticity Rules: Concentrate Your Training Room — Don’t let the energy dissipate.

Public Speaking Sucker: Five Ways To Snap Your Audience Members Awake If They’re Dozing Off.

Memo to C-Level Speakers: Turn Your Script into a Roadmap of Ideas — These ideas can also help you format your script so it doesn’t cause difficulties during your presentation.

Live Music Central: How To Handle Jerks, Be Professional — Meant for musicians but interesting perspective for presenters.

Geek News Central: Hilton Hotel Chains Internet Access and other Issues! — Gotta have internet and a desk. Might want to keep out for the promised future reviews.