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It is no longer being updated but will continue to be maintained for reference purposes.

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David Craig’s post “Dealing with Tech Failure” includes, along with a couple other good tips,  a reminder of what it really requires to be completely prepared for video failure during your presentation.:

Video in a presentation is a tricky proposition even if everything works properly. Anything more than a short clip gets tedious for the audience in a hurry. But if you insist on including video in your presentation, be ready to describe the entire content of the video if it doesn’t play. That’s what TV newscasters have done for decades when the film, the tape or a live feed doesn’t work.

Might want to give some more thought to how important, how critical, that flashy piece of video really is to making your point.

Basic Questions Too Often Unasked

(Thanks to Michael Wade for providing the inspiration for this post.)

1) Who will bring the projector?

2) What if the flight is delayed that morning?

3) Where is the presentation backed up to?

4) Are any of the presenters using a Mac?

5) Is that 9 o’clock Eastern or Central time?

6) Are there any protests anticipated at our meeting? In the vicinity of the meeting venue?

7) What time is the hotel going to have the meeting room ready?

8) What if we can’t get online at the meeting venue?

Might Have Missed List (07/17/11)

Gub doo gia bee? (Language Log)

[This post is chock full of all sorts of wonderful things going wrong during a series of presentations at an academic conference. This brief passage represents just a sliver of a very entertaining story]

And the other problem was that, impelled by some irresistible psychological imperative (I saw this later with several other speakers), he instinctively pointed the remote projection controller at the screen, desperately trying to get it to respond. But the computer he should have been pointing the remote at was ten or fifteen yards away on a table in a totally different direction. It was just too counterintuitive to turn 180 degrees away from the screen, so his back was toward it, in order to change the screen image. We humans are simple mammals, and we imagine that what we are focusing on is where the action is. So his clicking away with the remote was not being detected by the computer, and even if it had been detected, he would have had no idea whether anything had happened to the screen as a result.

Presentation Tip: First Impressions Matter (Professionally Speaking…)

Be prepared, with AV equipment checked, handouts sorted and slides ready. If you seem disorganized and rattled over logistics, your audience may assume that your presentation will be equally disorganized.

How to recognize someone for their service to an organization when they can’t be present in person (Conferences That Work)

  • A week before the event, Nancy and I set up a test call with me calling from the laptop I would be using at the conference. It was good we did this, because it took a while to get Nancy’s camera working. We arranged for her to start Skype when she arrived at work, thirty minutes before we would start the recognition ceremony.

  • About twenty minutes before the call, Nancy was not showing up as connected on Skype. I called her from my cell and she assured me Skype was running. I restarted Skype on my machine & this time she appeared. Phew! During the next few minutes, I muted our audio while the audience assembled.

 

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.

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: 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.]

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.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (07/05/09)

MadTV — Drunk Powerpoint Presentation (Somewhat NSFW)

Wired Presentations — Sometimes a Mistake Pays Off

All is well until a guy in the first row said, “my notes didn’t match what you were discussing.” Someone from the back chimed it, “Mine don’t match either.” Yep, Jeff had been bitten by Murphy’s Law.

It seems that I pulled a chapter from the course management system while the other developer had been working on a different chapter in our common work area

Pivotal Public Speaking — Funny Presentation Training – how many errors can you find?

This is a video produced by a presentation training company as an example of how NOT to make a PowerPoint presentation.

PPTools — Keep the session alive (prevent screensaver, logout problems, mouse jiggler)

Occasionally we get questions about how to keep the screensaver from kicking in, usually from people whose corporate IT people have locked down the computer to the point where they can’t change the screen saver settings themselves. In other cases, the computer may log them out after a period of inactivity.

Blue Room technical forum — Fire alarms vs. haze…

Hit a minor issue at the place I’m currently working at today, as I managed to evacuate the entire school when demonstrating the haze machine… I’m fully aware of the cap over the sensor or isolating the particular part of the building that the haze machine is being used in to solve this problem, but the school (despite a huge amount of persuasion from me) don’t want to do either of those, as they are concerned for the risk implications.

Nothing To Do With Arbroath —Missing cat appears on BBC1’s Question Time

A cat owner only realised her ginger Tom was missing when a friend rang to say she had just seen him – live on television. Tango appeared on screen on BBC1’s Question Time as David Dimbleby, politicians and pundits discussed topics as diverse as the wearing of burkhas, the situation in Iran and MP’s expenses.

Sotomayor’s Scrambled Script

whitehouseAs I was listening to Nina Totenberg’s story about the Sotomayor nomination this morning on NPR News, an incidental detail mentioned at the very end caught my attention:

All went incredibly smoothly except for one thing: White House aides scrambled the pages of Sotomayor’s remarks in the book they placed on the lectern for her at the announcement ceremony.

Fortunately, she had memorized her speech.

Many public speaking gurus will tell you that memorizing your speech is a bad idea. In this case it helped speaker recover from a situation that would have gone badly for anyone who had not prepared so thoroughly. It’s also interesting to note that serious presentation problems can even strike at the White House where, from what I understand, the ability to achieve perfection in execution is a fundemental job requirement. Not exactly what I would expect from the West Wing.

Old news but I couldn’t resist…

Obama pictures and McCain pictures