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Obligatory year-end retrospective post 2008

calendarMost popular guest post based on bad search engine assumptions: The world’s worst wet T-shirt contestLaura Bergells was kind enough to share this story that is still getting getting a lot of hits (for all the wrong reasons).

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.

Worst anthropomorphization: Toshiba TLP-X200U: Watch your mouth… –The TLP-X200U uses audible messages to interface with the projectionist.

Unexpected things projectors will be heard saying in the future:

  • “Hey Butthead!!! Yeah, you at the lectern. Time to change my filter.”
  • “You never take me anywhere nice anymore.”
  • “Sorry, I just can’t stay focused today.”
  • “Poor Uncle Sony, they said it was death by PowerPoint.”
  • “Stop pushing my buttons!”

Best product placement: But I can’t find a Pepsi anywhere…

It’s sort of like this: if you need to have Pepsi, and you’re headed for Atlanta, be sure to bring your own. The hard part is knowing that you’ll need to do so.

Post most likely to cause retching when read during lunch break: Don’t Kick the Bucket

They were all pros and they all knew the show had to go on. A number of buckets were placed as discreetly as possible around the ballroom for use while the stage was built and the equipment was set up. The smell was pretty bad he said. The sounds were worse.

Post that caused the most comment conversation (perhaps due to the Star Wars tie in): Jedi Knights With Frickin’ Laser Pointers — This was also BML’s first real post. It’s been all down hill since.

The little red dot slides across the audience like he’s a nervous hit man looking for his target. It’s lucky he doesn’t burn out a couple retinas. Whoops, he’s turning back to the screen. Good thing he’s not a Jedi Knight. That evil Sith lectern would be toast. I could almost hear the sound effects from that scene when Luke…

(sorry, got carried away)

Anyway, I think you see the point. If you’re going to use a laser pointer, use it correctly.

Post in which I use the word “Buttwipe” not once, but twice: Breaking Murphy’s Leg — Mom was so proud.

At a previous job, we had a roll of toilet paper, affectionately known as “Buttwipe,” that was thrown into the box with the rest of the  art department’s supplies and shipped to every meeting we worked. The consequences of not performing this act of raw superstition, though unspecified, were too too horrible to consider.

Looking back on the last eight months and 21 days I’m amazed at all the ground covered and all the topics touched on. I’d like to thank everyone who had a hand in getting this thing off the ground — especially those who linked to it, took time to comment or contributed a guest post. Your support for what I’m trying to accomplish is greatly appreciated. I’d also like to wish everyone a happy New year!

InfoComm survey

The Presentations Council over at InfoComm International is surveying all of us presentation professionals:


Compare yourself with your peers in InfoComm International’s annual Presentation Professional survey. This year it’s shorter, easier and faster to complete. Whether you’re one of many in a corporate setting, or a one-person shop wearing all the hats, see how you compare in the skills you have and the challenges you face.

To thank you for sharing your opinions and experiences, you will receive a free survey report by e-mail.

The survey is at http://infocomm.qualtrics.com/SE?SID=SV_56aKHqv6ZbwQi3O&SVID=Prod . Contact marketresearch@infocomm.org if you have any questions.

Playing Hurt

It’s an NFL playoff game.  It’s a win or go home situation. A player limps off the field after getting hurt. In many cases, it’s no big deal and he can walk the injury off before he needs to be back on the field. Sometimes, it’s obvious that he needs to go to the locker room for further evaluation and may be injured so severely that returning to the game is out of the question.

What happens when the injured player is still able to perform at some level but that level isn’t quite what it should be? How does an ill or injured athlete determine if he or she is hurting the team more by staying in the game than by leaving it?

I came across an interesting blog post comment the other day:

I sliced the tip of my finger off while in Architecture school 2 days before my final review, and had to give my presentation while all doped up. I kept pointing with my heavily bandaged finger, cracking ridiculous jokes, and fortunately don’t remember a second of it other than my prof telling me to go home and go to bed after vomitting in the garbage can. … I really wish someone had videotaped this! To this day, I still have no idea if I actually spoke about the building that I designed or not.

Stories like this beg the question: How does an ill or injured presenter determine if presenting while impaired will cause more damage than canceling, postponing or calling in an understudy?

Some presenters are so fragile that they shouldn’t be put in front of an audience when they have the sniffles. They are so distracted they make mistake after mistake and so miserable they threaten to draw down the energy level of the entire room.

On the other hand, I’ve had the privilege of working with speakers with Olympic-level strength and commitment.

One had been fighting a serious respiratory infection for the last couple weeks leading up to a high-stakes presentation. As he progressed through the PowerPoint, I expected each slide to be his last as his voice got rougher and harder to hear. Toward the end, it seemed to almost give out just before each slide transition. He made it through the talk weakly but flawlessly and then went back to his hotel room and slept for 24 hours straight.

Another co-worker was able to perform at the highest level two days after being hospitalized with a burst ovarian cyst. I’m told that this is something like the presenter’s version of a hockey player coming out of the locker room to finish the game after getting 20 or 30 stitches.

Both of these presenters insisted in fulfilling their responsibilities and, fortunately, everything turned out okay in both for both of them.

Would it have been better if they had taken themselves out of the game?

If you’re working in a team situation, is there someone designated to make the call when it seems like an understudy should fill in for an ill or injured presenter? Someone with enough juice in the organization to bench anyone? Someone who can consider each presenter’s health status objectively and who will be willing to take the decision out of the presenter’s hands if necessary?

Have you ever given a presentation when not at your best and wished you hadn’t? How did that work out for you?

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (12/28/08)



Great Public Speaking: Humorous Acknowledgments To Tough Situations — “There will come a time when you will either be in front of a hostile audience or a hostile question will pop up during a relatively calm presentation. This is a tough situation at best and you have to handle it with kid gloves. Humor can save the day and maybe even help you become President.”

Talk It Up!: Second-worst hotel experience — “I had to call for the following services, which apparently didn’t come with the seminar room: lights to be turned on, projector, ancient projector to be cleaned, water (twice, only brought after I’d begun speaking), water refill, hallway lights to be turned on, bathrooms to be unlocked…”

MSN: Top 10 Tech Embarrassments You’ll Want to Avoid — “The technology-embarrassment stories you are about to read are true. Some names have been changed to protect the humiliated.”

Nick Morgan, Public Words: The problem with modern business presentations is an ancient one — “What’s happening is that both sides of this modern attempt to communicate are being hampered by ancient instincts to fight or flee.”

EventManagerBlog: 75+ tools for your next event — “Here is my gift for the holidays, the largest collection of tools you will find on this blog to organize your next event.”

VGAOK Signal Generator “is a small handheld VGA video signal generator and tester that outputs a simple color bar test pattern for the purpose of checking projectors, cables, monitors, and other related devices … There is not a good small unit for the quick testing done by general AV techs in the many situations in which a display and cabling are supplied, but the source is the clients computer that is not available during set up. This unit allows for a quick verification that you have Red, Blue, and Green Signals, as well as Vertical and Horizontal Sync.”

What we wish Santa had left under the tree...

santaYeah, I know it’s kind of crass to whine and complain during the season of joy, but here are a few things I know a lot of meeting professionals wished Santa had managed to slip into his sack before flying south:

  • A magic coupon for free, fast, robust, ubiquitous Wi-Fi redeemable at any meeting venue.
  • A pamphlet to give to new clients that politely explains everything wrong with this request: “Can you just take a couple minutes to fix up my slides. Nothing fancy, just make them pretty.”
  • A laser pointer with built in vibration damping so the audience can’t see when a nervous speaker’s hand is shaking.
  • A project that, for some mysterious reason, requires the use of 35mm slides rather than digital files to remind us how much easier things are now.
  • Gaffer tape that sticks perfectly to all hotel ballroom carpet but will never stick to itself and get permanently attached to your cables.
  • A device that will automatically turn off all Blackberries in the meeting room so the sound system won’t be afflicted by the “Blackberry Buzz.” It might as well switch all the other cellphones to vibrate while it’s at it.
  • A special alarm clock that one person can set that guarantees everyone on the crew will wake up on time for call and won’t get screwed over by hotel wake up calls that are requested but never made or by hotel alarm clocks that seem designed to be set incorrectly.

And the one I was really hoping for:

A magic spell powerful enough to counter the “Death by PowerPoint/PowerPoint Sucks” spell that just about everyone seems to be enthralled by these days. It’s not the program folks, it’s the people using it. Even a Stradivarius is going to sound lousy if it’s played by someone who has no business being on stage. Of course PowerPoint makes bad slides when the user lacks even a basic understanding of good graphic design practices. Of course presentations that use PowerPoint are going to be boring if the speaker doesn’t know how to speak. PowerPoint is only culpable for making people who don’t have the requisite presenting and/or design skills think that they do.

Your turn:

I’m sure there are a lot of great gift ideas I didn’t mention. What do you wish Santa left sitting under the tree that would make your professional life a lot easier?

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (12/21/08)

snowglobesjaunted: Nothing Cheery About LaGuardia This Morning — “What were we thinking? Some crazy fantasy of Christmas at home drove us to attempt to fly standby this morning, in order to duck both the forthcoming East Coast storm and the just-passing Midwest storm. While there’s still the remotest chance we might be able to get out before our 2 pm flight, it doesn’t look likely–meaning we’ll be spending 8 hours in the airport today.”

Corporate Presenter: How To Be Professional On TV — “Just found this clip on You Tube. The American tv presenter inadvertently uses a profanity but gets away with it. No apologies, no red-faced embarrassment, she was just being professional.”

The Webinar Blog: Turn Off Your Blackberry! — “Everything seems fine during the call. Then I go to edit the audio recording and balance volumes and I find that there is a faint beeping noise being picked up on the phone line. This is a remnant of the wireless signal being received and transmitted by the device. It can get picked up by electrical cables, transmitters, headsets, and other hardware involved in the audio circuitry of your call. It comes across like Morse Code bloops and bleeps.”

TradeshowStartup: Even $137,500 Can’t Guarantee Conference Internet — “Le Web, the annual Internet trade show and conference in Paris spent $137,500 (100,000 Euros) trying to get a stable connection for their speakers, attendees and press room without luck.”

360Conferences: Conference wireless DOES suck — “At the Red Lion in Seattle, we made it clear, “Whatever you think, you’re wrong. We’ll abuse your wifi.” As such, for what we paid, they really did their best. They brought in a tech from the vendor and had him stay the week to be on call. Guess what? Yup, he was called. In fact, he came down in the morning in his PJs to put more access points around the place.”

Globsyn Business School: The Top 12 Presentation Mistakes — Lots of great things to watch out for in this article. “Mistake #1: Overlooking ‘Murphy’ / If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. This mistake basically means that you walk into the room where you’re going to present and something is wrong. LeRoux tells a story about a multimillion-dollar sales presentation to which “Murphy” paid a visit—in the form of missing curtains and a boardroom window overlooking a huge pool surrounded by bikini-clad swimmers (you can guess what the attendees looked at instead of the presenter). / Remedy: Visit important presentation rooms at least a day in advance. If that’s not possible, have someone take pictures from different angles and email them to you.”

BizBash Florida: Quick Poll: What do you have to have with you during your event and why?

Bunker Complex: “This is what happens when I’m slated to present my paper last. I sit and stew over my 3 page summary handout for 2.5 hours until it’s time to bumble and mumble my way through another botched public speaking task. I’m making changes and scratching out sections for a quick and dirty drastic edit as everyone else’s topic seems so much more interesting than mine.”

Execupundit.com: The Unpersuasive — “Your first job is to avoid being unpersuasive. A major mistake is to let a passionate commitment to a particular point of view create an image of stridency.”

Jay Raskolnikov: Lessons from a Two Year Old — “I don’t care what you call it. If you want to communicate with me you better figure out what I call it.”

My Toastmasters Blog: Public Speaking Trap – Losing the Audience after your Killer Opening — “Losing the audience after giving a killer opening is something I see many speakers doing on a regular basis. Whether the speech is given at a convention, a business meeting or a Toastmasters club, it is very common for speakers to deliver a fabulous opening, and then get very, very boring extremely fast.”

managesmarter.com: Debilitating Demo Diseases — “Here is a compendium of debilitating demo diseases that commonly afflict sales, presales and marketing teams when preparing for and presenting demos.”

A few scanning tips: Say No to 72 dpi — “We still frequently hear the very bad advice: ‘Computer video screens show images at 72 dpi, so scan all your images for the screen at 72 dpi’. This is incredibly wrong; it simply doesn’t work that way.”

Overheard on Twitter: The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak…

Presentation @ Sanderson Library not much fun 'cuz just before getting there I tripped on curb & used knees to stop fal l. In major pain now. ~stormsy (Patricia Storms)

Oh man, not feeling so good today. As long as i don't get sick until AFTER my presentation, then ill be ok. ~donnfelker Donn Felker

Cut myself and got blood on my shirt right before giving a presentation to a room full of middle school guidance professionals. Yes! ~GreatScoot (Adam Scott)

just was not at the top of my game today :( migraine in the middle of my presentation. had to le ave and get sick. ~staceyfranks

Got pink eye - doing much better now that I have drops to use. Of course I have a computer class and city council presentation today. ~tashrow (Tasha)

Breaking Murphy's Leg



“Break a leg” is a well-known saying in theatre which means “good luck”. It is typically said to actors before they go out onto stage to perform. The expression reflects a theatrical superstition in which wishing a person “good luck” is considered bad luck. The expression is sometimes used outside the theatre as superstitions and customs travel through other professions and then into common use.

At a previous job, we had a roll of toilet paper, affectionately known as “Buttwipe,” that was thrown into the box with the rest of the  art department’s supplies and shipped to every meeting we worked. The consequences of not performing this act of raw superstition, though unspecified, were too too horrible to consider.

Over the years, Buttwipe (now there’s a word I never thought I would find myself typing) suffered from severe travel fatigue and required a series of shipping tape grafts in order to continue keeping it all together while performing his crucial on-site duties. As that particular art department is no longer in existence, Buttwipe is now quietly retired and living in a  closet, preferring to stay close at home after a being on the road for much of his long, globe-trotting  career.

Although they are basically irrational, superstitions can actually serve useful purposes. They can foster a sense of normalcy in chaotic, uncertain situations and can provide the illusion that there is some small modicum of control in an otherwise uncontrollable environment. They can also build team cohesion and esprit de corps. I have in mind something like Gene Kranz’s white vest in Apollo 13.

FIDO Gold: Looks like Mrs. Kranz pulled out the ol’ needle and thread again…
Technician: Last one looked like he bought it off a gypsy.
FIDO Gold: Well I guess you can’t argue with tradition.
Technician: [Gene puts on a flight vest with an Apollo 13 patch on it, everyone begins applauding] Hey Gene, I guess we can go now!
Gene Kranz: Save it for splashdown fellas…

What superstitions do you or your colleagues invoke in order to ensure disaster doesn’t strike your meeting or presentation? Does it involve wearing a specific article of clothing? Do you need to have a particular type of coffee or eat a certain breakfast the morning of the meeting? Is it something a little more bizarre? Please share it with us in a comment.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (12/14/08)

fail owned pwned pictures

Backstage at BackstageJobs.com: Props are important. Screw them up, and someone could die — “An actor at the Vienna National Theatre slit his own throat in front of a packed house when the fake prop knife he was supposed to have was accidentally switched for a real knife.”

Face2face: Teleprompter problems — “I know the new coolio teleprompters that are clear and posed on either side of the speaker are all the rage these days, but at IAEE’s opening session last night I felt kind of bad for the speakers, most of whom looked like they were trying to keep up with a tennis match, their heads sproinging wildly from side to side.”

Pivotal Public Speaking: Video – Guy Kawasaki – The Art of the Start — “How would you have handled the time problem?”

Overnight Sensation: 10 Reasons Why Someone Might Walk Out of Your Presentation — “It’s every speaker’s nightmare: you’re delivering a speech and someone (or more than one person) gets up and walks out.”

My Toastmasters Blog: Public Speaking Trap – Worrying About Bombing — “If you are speaking to groups of people, at some point you are going to bomb. No matter how good you are, sometimes there are situations out of your control that are going to cause you to mess up, not connect, and lose your audience’s attention.”

Payal: Overcome presentation gaffes with panache — “A gaffe is only as bad as you make it to be. The first step is to accept the fact that things can and will go awry – the computer may hang up, the microphone may disconnect or you may become paralysed with fear. Reconciling with this reality and thinking on your feet will stand you in good stead for setting things right again.”

Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint Blog: The danger of gradient fills — “What this presenter did was to fill every shape with a gradient fill that moved from black at the top to white in the middle and back to black at the bottom. Then he put text in the shape. Of course it was impossible to select a text color that had enough contrast with both the black and the white background, so most of the text was almost impossible to see.”

Slide that stick: Preserving custom fonts when presenting away from your own computer — “One problem, custom fonts are a disaster when used on a machine that is not yours. And you discover it when you click through slide 2 of your presentation in front of  a live audience…”

Linda Seid Frembes: Making the case for compelling content — “Yes, the projector could have been brighter, the screen larger, and the audio system more powerful, but his presentation would have been just as compelling if we had suffered a power outage and he needed to present with just a handful of postcards and a flashlight. Why?”

PowerPoint Ninja: Content Staging: Propel Your Slide Content Higher — “When you’re presenting your slide content, the last thing you want to do is overwhelm your audience with too much information on any one slide.”

Execupundit.com: Imagining Disaster — “Some executives and groups have serious difficulty imagining how things can go wrong. They rose, in many cases, by accentuating the positive and by having ‘can do’ attitudes. Caution can be too easily dismissed as fearfulness. What is later regarded as reckless was once disguised as bravery.”

The Technium: Movage — “Digital continuity is a real problem. Digital information is very easy to copy within short periods of time, but very difficult to copy over long periods of time. That is, it is very easy to make lots of copies now, but very difficult to get the data to copy over a century.”

Don't be "That Guy"

You know the guy* I mean.

The guy who…

  • ©iStockphoto.com/theprint


    insists on making multiple, tweaky, obviously non-essential slide changes minutes before going on (this behavior is very much akin to the way he treats waiters in order to provide evidence of his place in the pecking order).

  • loses temper in an extremely unprofessional way when these unimportant, last minute, “emergency” changes weren’t done right and are projected during his presentation.
  • loses temper in an extremely unprofessional way when something important gets screwed up because of unimportant, last minute, “emergency” changes (i.e., slides in wrong order, old slide not deleted).
  • points out screw up caused by making unimportant, last minute, “emergency” changes to the entire audience and announces, “I don’t know what happened, I guess the AV guys messed up.”
  • comes to the meeting with non-PC and/or non-PPT slides files without letting anyone know in advance.
  • loves unusual, nonstandard fonts, but never bring the font files with him and always forgets where he found them.
  • wanders off with the lavalier mic so the sound guy has to chase him down through the post-meeting crowd, out to the lobby (or in one case, outside to the limo), to retrieve it.
  • shows up at the ballroom the night before the meeting for the final slide review, slightly drunk, very late and more interested in socializing with the other speakers than in rehearsing or finalizing his slides with the graphics tech.

[Disclaimer: the above traits either belong to someone described in a story told to me be a friend in the business or are composite descriptions derived from experiences I had a long time ago in a previous professional life.]

I’m sure everyone has their own list of behaviors particular to the version of That Guy they have most often been exposed to. I mentioned the topic of an earlier version of this post to Ellen Finkelstein and she sent along a few items sure to tick off any AV crew:

  • Forget to tell them you’re using a Mac
  • Forget to tell them that the presentation was created on a Mac, but you’re showing it on a PC, and you’ve never tried it out on your PC
  • Forget to tell them that your presentation has a movie with sound
  • Forget to tell them that in the middle of the presentation, you want to go to YouTube and show the audience a video, so you need a live Internet connection
  • Forget to tell them that your going to ask for audience participation, so you need a couple of microphones in the audience area
  • Forget to tell them that you like to walk around the audience while you speak, so you need a wireless lapel mic
  • Forget to tell them that your laptop doesn’t reliably work with projectors because Dell stopped selling the model and doesn’t support it any more and you upgraded it to Windows Vista and so there’s no updated graphics driver (Yes, that’s me!)

It’s important to recognize that That Guy isn’t always a presenter, as blogger and AV tech “the urban cowboy” can testify:

i’ve worked as an AV tech for a good while now and it can be a long, hard, thankless slog. i’ve thought nothing of a 70 hour week, or a two-day rig that’s been changed at the last minute.
or a client turning up and knowing your job better than you do, even though it’s their first ever live event.
or making a speaker cable out of a 4-way because some idiot didn’t put enough in the cable trunk.
or getting the blame for a microphone not working, and it turns out someone in the audience has turned it off.
or rigging an event one day, turning up the next day to run it and finding one of the cleaners has stolen the projector.

or camera-men falling asleep.
or finding that a crew-member has plugged the entire video/graphics rig, satellite feed and the comms system into one 13-amp socket.
…. i could go on…

There are two reasons not to be That Guy.

First, That Guy tends to scatter a trail of presentation mishaps, difficulties and disasters behind them as they go from meeting to event to conference.

Second, That Guy is least likely to inspire the support team to go to heroic lengths to save the day when things go very, very badly.

karmaIt’s a perfect example of instant karma. The person most likely to need help from others is also the person least likely to have predisposed those around him to offer more than the minimal amount of assistance necessary to keep the disaster from overtaking the entire project and everyone else involved.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m getting at. I have yet to meet an AV professional who would screw up a meeting or a presentation on purpose. But I do know that there are people you will be dependent on, people you need to be proactive in preventing problems and who need to be performing to the best of their abilities when things go terrible wrong. Make sure you’re the guy who does everything possible to develop a good working relationship with these these folks.

* For some reason, in my mind’s eye, this sort of person is always a guy.

Your Turn:

What are some of the karma killing behaviors you noticed when you’ve been lucky enough to work with That Guy? Do you suspect you might be That Guy? Has you ever worked with That Gal? Please share your thoghts as a comment to this post.