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Elevator pitch?

Here’s a good example of Principle #2: Any rational response to “What’s the worse that can happen?” is most likely wrong.

I was meeting my prospective client on the 37th floor. The elevator was crowded, but by the time we got close to my floor, I was the last person on. I had a weird feeling. Then the lights went out and the thing started dropping. The elevator stopped after it went down about 10 floors, and the doors opened and I got out.

People were milling around and I was told there was a malfunction. No kidding. Apparently, a fire alarm was triggered, and that was supposed to send the elevators down at a slow pace. This one just happened to drop more quickly.

I got back on the elevator, believe it or not, and went to my appointment to make my presentation. I didn’t tell the prospective client what happened, but he could tell something was wrong. I eventually did get his business. (Full story on NY Times)

Hat tip to Denise Graveline of The Eloquent Woman

My five favorite BML posts from 2010

This list is in no  particular order and is completely objective. I hope you enjoy this little retrospective jaunt as much as I have.

August 29th — Four Ways Presentation Mishaps Are Like Zombies…

2) If you allow yourself to slip into panic mode, the zombie/mishap will either eat you brains or infect you and turn you into a mindless, snarling, death-dealing horror. Stay calm.

September 13th — Presentation Disasters A to Z: A is for Anger

Given a choice between working with someone likely to curl up into a quivering fetal ball when things are going wrong and working with someone prone to venting their anger in the same situation, I think I would go with the fetal ball rather than the venter. A fetal ball can be guided to a quiet corner somewhere to whimper quietly while everyone else sorts things out.

March 11th — Clutch Hitting

Can you think of a better description of the kind of person you want to be working a meeting with you? You know the moments we’re talking about here. Lamps burn out, speakers freaking out, cable getting kick loose, file corrupt, etc.

June 28th — Promiscuous Sticks

Last weekend, veteran AV pro Rick Pillars, a frequent contributor to BML and owner of It’s a Rap Productions, started a Facebook post with these dreadful words: “So, a bad thing happened yesterday. I plugged my USB drive into the show computer.”

March 12th — Overheard on Twitter: How do you forget to put the parrot on the checklist?

@GraemeLfx just remembered I’ve forgotten the parrot for my presentation. Disaster ~wardsteve (Steven Ward)

There is no magic button…

In a recent blog post, Pat Ahaesy used three scenarios to illustrate the idea that a lot of production disasters can be avoided through good communication.

Things that sound so simple, but done on the fly due to poor communication can be costly. Things that sound so simple, and done without communicating  in advance to your producer can either not happen as you envision or not happen at all

Some examples of “simple” that could be a disaster, but can be avoided with good communication:

  1. Planner wants stage set for 4 person panel with all panelists center stage on high stools and moderator at a lectern, stage right.  During chats with another planner, the decision is for the panelists to be seated on two couches on a diagonal. They will omit the lectern and have moderator seated on a chair. The lighting designer and your producer haven’t been told of this change. Of course, the different seating needs to be sourced quickly and the lighting designer has to re-focus his lighting. Much stress and potential errors could occur.

I think we’d all agree completely that good, early communication is crucial to avoid disaster. Why it’s so difficult?

Ahaesy attributes it to budget concerns:

Sometimes management and/or procurement feel that contracting production early in the planning stages can cost more money.

I’m not sure that there’s really that much thought being put into. My guess is that a profound lack of communication is often caused by what I like to think of as the Magic Button Assumption. Professionals that inhabit one area of expertise often assume professionals that inhabit another have a magic button that allows them to make anything that needs to happen happen with no fuss, no muss and no preparation or planning. The funny part is that any they would find any suggestion that they possess a magic button of their own too ridiculous for words.

The reasons a client might be making this assumption are many and it might be interesting to talk about them in future posts. The most obvious is that clients often don’t really understand what it is we do and how the tools we use work.

The more I think about it the more it seems that this phenomenon needs to be part The Principles. It also needs to be explored through the discussion of real life examples. I’ll be tracking some down from my own experience and I would really appreciate it of you would be willing to share your own stories. Feel free to put them in a comment to this post or let me know if you would like to do a guest post.

Or maybe it’s so mundane and ubiquitous it’s not worth discussing at all. One way or the other please weigh in and let us know what you think.

Tag Team

All the recent hubbub surrounding the possible demise of the Delicious social bookmarking service inspired me to get serious and consolidate/organize several years worth of bookmarks scattered across all over the place. The biggest payoff is that I’m discovering a bunch of stuff I never got around to posting. Here’s an oldie but a goody that illustrates an interesting way to deal with a no-show speaker or any other sudden, unexpected lack of content.

The room was already filling up, and the other session slotted that morning wasn’t nearly as popular – virtually everyone was attending that session. The speaker wasn’t going to be able to give the presentation – no problem, I thought, and I told Jennifer to go and get the slides from the sick speaker, and I would volunteer to give the presentation. Now at this time I was still strictly a Notes client developer, and I had done very little Domino development at all. Jennifer contacted the speaker to get the slides, and that’s when the hammer fell – he didn’t have a slide deck for the presentation. Nothing.

Oh crap.

You can read the whole story here.

Lost in translation

Recently seen on Clients from Hell:

During the presentation I kept getting distracted because the partner who didn’t know English would type into a little machine that looked like a labelmaker, then he’d look up,  puzzled, and type again on the machine.

Halfway through the presentation it dawned on me that he was typing the filler into an English to Spanish translation device, and couldn’t get “Lorem ipsum dolor” to translate.  I lost it halfway through the presentation.  Luckily, they had a sense of humor.

Burning down the house…

Backstage at BackstageJobs.com has been focusing on a hot topic recently…

Twenty-two years, multiple theatre fires: Fire 1

…so far in my career, I have been present at several theatre fires, and even extinguished one of them.  This series will discuss each fire, and what was done wrong, or right.

Staff were still waiting on the fire department when the show was scheduled to start.  No alarm was pulled when the fire was discovered.  A member of the staff went onstage to make an announcement, but at first only said that the show was holding due to technical difficulties.  However, at this moment, the sirens of the fire trucks could be heard as they pulled up.  The staff member then said that they did have a small fire in the bathroom, but the fire department was taking care of it.

Don’t depend on your patrons or ushers to know what to do during a fire alarm

The Dodge Theatre (now the Comerica Theatre) in Phoenix, AZ had its fire alarm activated in July of 2008. What should have resulted was a full evacuation of patrons from the building. Instead, few patrons exited, none were told to evacuate, and those that exited were asked to return, with the alarms still going off.

It doesn’t matter if you think it is a false alarm, and it doesn’t matter if it is a false alarm: get those people out the door (heck, use it as an opportunity to test your evacuation procedures). Don’t assume they will move on their own. As this video clearly shows (and I have personally witnessed on another occasion) a mass of people will hesitate and wait for specific instructions, especially if no threat is visible.  In this case, theatre staff failed to protect their audience.

I really like the idea of thinking of a false alarm as a chance to test evacuation procedures rather than just a inconvenient waste of time. If you’re not in your own home venue, make a point of knowing where everyone needs to go in case the alarm goes off. Especially if it’s likely that you’ll be at the mic or otherwise in a position to get people moving in the right direction.

Might Have Missed List (12/19/10)

Make A Living Writing — Things I Learned During Webinar Fail

Going with a new platform is risky. Anne and I really wanted to start with a free platform because we didn’t know how many tickets we’d sell. But Freebinar had a fatal flaw — it just happened to have a massive dial-in phone line failure at the time of our Webinar. None of us could get on the call. They fixed it right after we finished. So…that didn’t help, and caused about a 12-minute start delay while we tried to figure out a solution.

No matter how many things you nail down, there’ll be one thing you don’t. Years ago, an engineer told me happiness is redundant systems. I took many precations — I had Comcast out to doublecheck my connection the day before. I used a hard-wired mouse instead of my usual battery-powered wireless one. But we still neglected to do one thing that might have saved us — we could have gotten Anne another Freebinar account, with another phone number. That would have given us another shot at staying live.

Backstage at BackstageJobs —Don’t surprise your crew

Honestly, what reason could anyone have for not telling the the crew about these things in advance?  What good does it do to hold onto this information?  Assuming they “can just do it” falls along the lines of “theatre is magic.”  Theatre is magical: to experience.  But we’re not using magic to create it, we’re using plans, schedules, computers, gravity, acoustics, and timed choreography (yes, backstage).  Throwing a sudden change into this can be a problem, but throwing a planned change at us suddenly makes us mad.  Why?  Because if we had known about it, we could have done it better.