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Hypotheticals

gremlinHow about two quick questions, just for the fun of it…

(okay the first one’s a little boring)

Would you rather give a presentation with your slides but not your speaker notes or have your notes but not your slides?

(the second has a little more “zing“)

You’re at the crossroads, it’s midnight, the contract has been unrolled, the pen is ready and it’s time to make the deal.

Carry a spare for EVERY piece of equipment you normally use to do a meeting and the king of the AV gremlins guarantees that you will never, ever have to use them.

In other words, would you be willing to haul around two of everything you typically bring with you knowing you will never need to use the backup because nothing will ever fail? You would propitiate the gremlins by being perfectly prepared to deal with them. Your plan B could no longer involve a quick run to the Best Buy or renting something from the hotel.

(Does that sound too much like a Twilight Zone episode?)

I think that for most people, answer to the second question would really depend on what kind of meetings they were doing and what was at stake. I wonder what offer the gremlins would make someone if they already carried two of everything.

How about you? Would you go with the slides or the notes? Would you make the deal or take your chances?

Bookmarked: Presentation nightmares (British Airways Business Life)

Presentation nightmares (British Airways Business Life) – "And another friend confessed to an incident when he tripped on entering the room where the clients were assembled, and spilt an entire – and extremely hot – latte down his shirt. In one swift action he yelped at the top of his voice and, in a bid to avoid being scalded, tore his shirt off. To stunned silence. Once the clients had assured themselves he was OK (presumably to avoid some sort of lawsuit) they said he could continue, and he had to give the entire presentation topless. They went with another company in the end"

[This reminds me of another wet T-shirt story that's very popular on BML. The article the above is from also includes a couple other short, but funny, presentation horror stories.]

Bookmarked: Sexbomb’s scare… the Tom Jones Belfast show… ( Belfast Telegraph)

Sexbomb’s scare… the Tom Jones Belfast show… ( Belfast Telegraph) – "The Welsh pop star was due to go on stage at the King’s Hall when he was advised to remain in his hotel due to a “technical hitch”. But the Welsh singer found out that the real reason he was being kept there was because of a bomb scare. When his wife asked him what was happening, he told her there were technical problems. … The show did go on eventually and Jones said it turned out to be a brilliant night." [Okay, most of us will never have to deal with anything like this, but depending on where, when and what you're presenting, you might need to take seriously dangerous disruptions into consideration when making your plans. I wonder what plans were in place to deal with this if he was already on stage when the call came in.]

Bookmarked: How to deal with rough crowds: A stand-up comic’s advice for Sarah Lacy

How to deal with rough crowds: A stand-up comic’s advice for Sarah Lacy – “Lacy got to perform in front of a sober audience. She faced a bunch of nerds yelling at her to ask tougher questions. That sounds like a bubble bath compared to what road comics have to deal with. While I had tougher nights than Sarah Lacy, I didn’t have the blogosphere and video replays exposing my every flaw to the world. Nor did I have to suffer through every two-bit critic’s endless post-game analysis. For that I’m grateful. … If you ever find yourself in a similar situation here’s some advice on how to deal with a rough crowd.” [Given that our culture seems to be moving more and more away from treating anyone onstage with basic civility, dealing with potentially rough crowds is becoming an important skill to acquire and develop.]

Bookmarked: When presentations go wrong and how to recover afterwards (OfficeRocker!)

When presentations go wrong and how to recover afterwards (OfficeRocker!) – “If any of you were at the Nottingham Technet event last week, you were a witness to probably the worst crash and burn I have ever suffered during a live presentation. I had put quite a lot of work into the presentation, believe it or not, and I had planned some 50 minutes of demo during my 75 minute session. As a bookend to my death by powerpoint tips post, I thought I might share the horror of the experience with you and how I picked myself up after it.”

Bookmarked: My Apologies – Worst Presentation Ever – Elumenotion Blog

My Apologies – Worst Presentation Ever – Elumenotion Blog – “I just got done with a Live Learning Web cast for AppDev on User Profiles and My Sites and it’s hard to imagine how it could possibly have been worse. … Thoroughly flustered and ashamed I managed to limp through the rest of the presentation on a machine with left over vestiges of a previous presentation with only one minor, but strange, security issue.” [Illustrates some of the problems you can have while demonstrating software via webcast. Includes a useful post-mortem.]

Bookmarked: Keep researching because you might just surprise yourself… – Dahle Communication

Keep researching because you might just surprise yourself… – Dahle Communication – "Then it happens. An expert in the field we are talking about who has done more research asks a question at the end of our speech that throws us off. It is a slap in the face – a dousing of cold water – we are caught off guard and now look a little foolish."

Ian Whitworth: The Worst Presentation of My Life

ianCringing and laughter. Good presentation disaster stories inspire one or the other. Really good presentation disaster stories inspire at least a little of both.

This story, from Ian Whitworth’s blog, Can You Hear Me Up the Back?, ping-pongs back and forth from one to the other so often I lost track and ended up laughing at the same time I was cringing. Usually, when sharing a story that’s already been published online, I post the standard excerpt/link combination. In the case of this particular story, so many things went wrong in so many funny and cringe-worthy ways I had trouble choosing which excerpts to use. Luckily, Ian was kind enough to give me permission to publish it in its entirety. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The Worst Presentation of My Life

Someone showed me another Steve Ballmer stage moment, in which the big guy cavorts in the sweatiest shirt since Elvis played Hawaii.

Watching it gave me terrible flashbacks to an incident long ago, and prompts the question: what’s the worst presentation you’ve ever done?

We’ve all had them. The speeches where you just want to flee the stage, run to the car park, drive until you’re deep in the forest, and stay there for the rest of your life, living off beetles and wood fungus, safe in the knowledge you’ll never run into anyone who was in the audience that day.

Mine was a speech at an interstate product launch. The day started with preparations for a pre-dawn flight. Stumbling around in the dark I forgot, for the very first time in my business life, to put on deodorant.

Sitting on the plane, I thought: hey, how bad can this be? Maybe deodorant isn’t really necessary, just one of those things that the international hygiene marketing conspiracy has thrust upon us in the last hundred years. After all, the term ‘B.O’ was coined by an ad writer just like me, creating a problem that hadn’t previously existed, to sell more Lifebuoy soap.

Mister Overconfidence Comes To Town

I got to my destination – hmm, warm weather here – and went to the venue for a rehearsal. I’d had a run of good presentations in the previous month, and was full of misplaced, up-and-coming-executive overconfidence. I figured I’d be able to wing it with the new material.

Show time. I stepped up to the lectern with my written notes. The house lights went down to black, for this was the era of weak projectors, and the lectern spotlights arced up. The reading lamp on the lectern? Not there. I couldn’t read a bloody thing.

The armpits went into peak flow. Twin tsunamis of clammy sweat fanned out across my nicely pressed shirt. My mouth filled with some sort of internally-generated tongue anaesthetic. I stared at the audience. They stared at me.

Quick, tell them a story, I thought. I launched into an anecdote. A tried and true, ‘break glass in case of emergency’ story that had never failed to get things off to a good start in other cities.

But I wasn’t in those cities, was I?

You’re Not From Round Here, Are You Boy?

Since then, years of experience has taught me that this is the town where humor goes to die. They hate any attempts at levity. You know the Chinese entombed soldiers that tour the museums of the world? That’s what the audience felt like. Neat rows as far as the eye could see, still, cold, stony. All eyes fixed on a point somewhere on the wall behind you.

Solid gold, guaranteed audience pleasing stories sailed past them untouched and went ‘splat’ against the back wall. I soldiered on, knowing that at least I had a big video finale. A pre-shot interactive thing where I appeared on the screen looking down at the lectern, so I could have a conversation with a less-sweaty version of myself. That would pull the whole show together.

Too Tricky For My Own Good

Or would have, had the under-rehearsed AV guy not started the tape in completely the wrong place, leaving me delivering lines that made no sense whatsoever, like some piece of abstract performance art.

Did I mention that this was a presentation on how to do better presentations?

Any questions? No, just a deep-space vacuum silence.  They’d moved from indifference to outright hatred.

Following me was a presenter from a competitor company, a local guy. He made a few unsubtle jibes about out-of-towners coming in and thinking they could teach the locals a thing or two. Let me assure you, the audience lapped that up.

Internal and External Drowning of Sorrows

Drinking the pain away at a nearby restaurant before the flight home, I heard the sound of sliding shoe leather and ominous clinking. I turned to face the stumbling waitress as she tipped a full tray of beers all over me.

People on the flight home quietly asked to be moved to another seat, rather than sit near the crazy-looking man in the window seat, his suit reeking of BO and beer.

“Mummy, does that man have a mental illness?”

Lessons From All This

  1. You need a major presentation trauma every so often to remind you to be better prepared.
  2. Deodorant is not a consumerism conspiracy, it is a miracle product and we should give thanks for its existence.
  3. No one died. Even when your worst fears become reality, it’ll all blow over and nobody will remember it except you.

Ian’s story is a great illustration of the first two Principles:

  1. If you can’t do without it, make sure you won’t have to. (This usually applies to things like projectors and PowerPoint files, not personal hygiene products.)
  2. Any rational response to “What’s the worse that can happen?” is most likely wrong.

Check your spellling…

if you can read the picture you'll see a pretty awesome spell... on TwitpicA tad more embarrassing than your run-of-the-mill error and spell check never would have picked it up (you’ll need to click on the thumbnail to see the larger original on Twitpic — click on “View full size” once you get there).

Bookmarked: When the speech hands you lemons… – The Eloquent Woman

When the speech hands you lemons… – The Eloquent Woman – I arrived and learned that the room booked for the event was under construction, a fact omitted from all the booking conversations the organizers had had. (They'd in fact learned of it just within the hour.) The only available space was essentially a storefront space in the same building, nearly too small for the group, with tables and chairs packed in tight rows, and windows to the street so any passerby could watch us, if they cared to. Forget great lighting, and think street noise. Unlike the original space, this room also lacked a lectern, microphone, or projection. (Yes, I had slides.) … We'd planned to videotape the presentation, which involved putting a lavalier mic with a very long cord on me and putting the videographer in one of the storefront window bays. … There’d been just enough notice of the room change that an organizer was able to bring a projector from his office, and it wasn’t quite compatible with my laptop…