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Quote for the next time the projector blub blows on your second slide...

It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are.

– Clive James

Might Have Missed List (08/01/11)

The difference between being good and excellent is one tiny extra detail — Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That!

We travel around the country with extra suitcases full of 200 pounds of things that we might need. Things that might save the day. Zip ties, 5 types of thumb tacks, 6 kinds of tape, a hair dryer, chocolate, batteries, etc.

At our last event, the door to the auditorium was squeaking loudly. Enough to ruin the keynote.

Audio Disasters & How to Prevent Them — Viktorix

Without question, the biggest problem I face as a presenter is dealing with the unique audio issues of each venue.

Larger events will have a dedicated audio engineer, but for many events the planner is stuck with the “house” sound system or perhaps is bringing his or her own portable system to a company conference room. In either case, things can go horribly awry. It’s not that anyone is being unprofessional, it’s just that audio is intrinsically hard. I’ve learned to simply expect audio disaster, as that gives one the best chance of avoiding it. There are many varieties of audio disaster, so we shall break them down to: batteries, feedback, wires, clips, hot mics, and “potpourri.”

This is not what I wanted to see this morning… — Betsy Weber

This is not what I wanted to see this morning...

Twilight Zone — Rachelle Gardner

Thursday I flew to North Carolina for a conference. During my flight I was using my laptop to tweak my PowerPoint and my handouts for my workshop. When I got to the hotel and powered up my laptop, the OS refused to boot. I had a black screen with blinking cursor.

I called my tech guy. We ran the computer through a bunch of diagnostics. We tried everything to shock it back to life. No go. There was a tech guy at the conference who was running all the A/V. He worked on my laptop awhile, gave it his best shot. He couldn’t get it to boot either.

Finally I had to let that go, borrow a laptop, recreate my PowerPoint and handouts, and be ready for my workshop on Saturday morning. No problem, everything went great. (I’d neglected to bring a flash drive with my presentation on it as a backup. That’s the last time I make that little mistake.)

Worship Confessional 07.13.08 — WorshipSource

Don’t you love it when the sound system wigs out? It’s so awesome. I’ve been around church music world my whole life, and I’ve heard the statement “there’s demons in the sound board” about a million times, but today I think God did it.

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.

 

Speak up!

Sometimes, in retrospect, it’s clear that a mere word to the wise would have been enough to prevent problems:

I recently provided a sound system for a high profile seminar hosted by the governor of a state that will remain nameless. When it came time for the governor to pose questions to panelists, rather than asking them to move a little closer to the table mics we had placed in front of them, here’s what he did: He unclipped his wireless lavalier and passed it back and forth among the panelists as they attempted a dialogue. Between mic handling noise, lavaliere element overload from holding the mic about an inch from their mouths and a couple of drops to the floor (not to mention tangling the lavalier cable around the arm of the chair) the audio was completely unusable.

The producer for the television production company that hired me was livid (his wrath was aimed at me, not the governor) and the audience was leaving the hall in droves.

The rest of Jeff Harrison’s story details what he took away from the experience,what he’ll do next time and includes some great tips for using lavaliere mics.

It's Midnight, do you know where your USB stick is?

Having backups is a very good idea. Losing track of said backup, not so much:

Dry Cleaners Claim Over 17,000 USB Sticks Were Left in Laundries in 2010

Having a backup of your backup isn’t a bad idea either. Just don’t keep it in you pants pocket.

Perfect application of Principle 1: If you can’t do without it, make sure you won’t have to.

Offered without comment…

One-time college newspaper colleague, Oliver Mackson, now an investigator for the Dutchess County Public Defender, recently tweeted:

Nancy the senior investigator, after I fumbled a phone conference: “I’d say you need to master the three-way, but you might take it wrong.”

Things to Think About #4: Theater

Because audiences are often small, because no tickets are sold, because sometimes the stage is just the part of the conference room nearest the screen, because standing ovations are few and far between, it can be easy to forget that what you do is theater.

Part of what makes theater exciting is never knowing exactly what’s going to happen during any given performance. Sometime theater can be magic, sometimes not so much

Audience members at a West End play starring Keira Knightley were left baffled when an onstage mishap interrupted a performance.

Stagehands at the Comedy Theatre had to pull down the safety curtain after a chair was crushed as a pillar descended for a new scene in The Children’s Hour on Monday.

. . . .

“Ten or 15 minutes later there was still no announcement but then the curtain went up, there was a different chair and the column had been put back.”

. . . .

A spokeswoman for the play said the chair had been moved slightly off its marked position as cast members exited.

She said: “The nature of live theatre means that occasionally unexpected things happen on stage and need to be sorted as quickly as possible to ensure the smooth running of a show.”

Words to live by.

Getting knocked slightly off your mark (figuratively as well as literally) might get you crushed. Be prepared to get sorted as quickly as possible.

I guess we’re all really lucky that Keira wasn’t sitting in the chair at the time.

Things to Think About #2: Warped Signage

The box Kinkos shipped directly to the venue in Orlando just made it to the hotel in time. Good thing that. No one would know how to get from the elevators to the breakfast buffet without directional signage. You pop it open and slide the signs out of the plastic bag. Looking good, plenty big, tastefully designed, mounted on nice heavy foamcore, easel-ready. You lock up and head to the lobby bar for a quick drink before crashing,  feeling confident that everything will be good to go in the morning.

You descend bright and early and begin making sure the speaker ready room is set up, etc, etc. Time to put out those wonderful signs…

Which are now really badly warped!

The short ends stick up in the air three or four inches. In a panic you start pushing down on the ends but it begins to feel like the foamcore is about to crack in the middle. Not good. They are so bent they fall forward right off the easels. You’re doomed.

Depending on the particular circumstances, it’s very possible that shipping mounted signage into a warmer, more humid climate can cause it to warp and bend to the point it becomes useless. It has something to do with differences in the way the foamcore and the paper the signage was printed on before it was mounted to the foamcore react to the weather.

If you can, try to get your signs shipped down and opened to the air early enough to see if warping is going to be a problem. You can carefully weigh then down as they acclimate to the being in the tropics. I’ve been told the best bet is to carefully and preemptively slide the signs under your mattress overnight.

Just watch out for bedbugs.

Things to Think About #1: Sockets

Sometimes, you’re working in an old venue. Real old. Rooms that have seen hundreds if not thousands of meetings, speeches, dances, rallies, fund raisers, etc. Old things can be well worn. Worn in ways that aren’t obvious.

For instance, there was a chain hotel in Bethesda that we used to use a lot that was old but seemed to be aging well. It looked like the ballroom had been renovated at some point. Newish carpeting, reasonably fresh wallpaper and paint. High tech climate control that kept things too cold digitally. The works. However, the electrical outlet must have been overlooked.

We didn’t need a high-voltage power drop. We only had a our laptops, a switch and a couple projectors so we just plugged into the regular wall sockets. Or at least we thought we did.

This socket had been plugged into thousand of times over the years and there just wasn’t enough friction in there to ensure that what was plugged in would remain plugged in. The weight of the cable pulled the plug half way out of the wall as soon as I let go of it. It wouldn’t stick.

This, of course, could be very bad for our stuff.

We ended up securely taping the cord to the wall just below outlet. No biggie.

Always, always have a roll of gaffer’s tape with you when you’re working.

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)