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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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.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (06/28/09)

poppinsTheater Loop — ‘Mary Poppins’ breaks down in Chicago; Nanny stuck in no-fly zone

A computer central to the new touring production of Disney’s “Mary Poppins” malfunctioned about 15 minutes into Saturday night’s Chicago performance at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, causing the entire show to be shut down and the frustrated audience sent home.

[A couple of the article’s comments seem to focus on the fact that there should have been a backup system in place. Brings to mind BML Principle #1: If you can’t do without it, make sure you won’t have to.]

Speak Schmeak — How to aggravate your audience

Audience members became more and more agitated, yelling out, “We can’t hear you!” and “Louder!” It didn’t seem like the officials even understood what was going on. A sound person would periodically run up on stage and fiddle with the sound system, then go back and sit down, but nothing changed.

Control Geek — Virus Check Fail

Chapter 4 of my book is System Design Principles and one of the things I talk about in that chapter is the impact of virus checkers on the computers we use for live shows.  And here’s why…

Open Loops — Presentation Mistakes: The View From the Audience

Know how to work your equipment – Don’t turn off your own digital projector in the middle of your presentation due to your own incompetence.

Rick Pillars: Crash Into Me

Veteran AV pro Rick Pillars, (It’s a Rap Productions) sent in a great story:

©iStockphoto.com/DivaNir4a

©iStockphoto.com/DivaNir4a

Once upon a time I supplied audio visual labor to clients both locally and from all over the nation. We had some interesting times. This one time we were setting up a pretty large show. The union labor that was supposed to set up the set never showed. So, I was asked to get some labor quickly. I did the best I could and we were successful.

What makes this story take a twist though is what happened during the set-up. During the actual production, the CEO of the company was going to come busting through a styrofoam set off to the side on a rare and vintage Harley, drive up a ramp onto the stage, act like he was using Bond like karate moves on a couple of stuntmen and rescue the fair maiden. Then he was going to get back on the bike and ride out through the audience. Sounds good right?

With a room full of techs of various sorts and set builders and lighting personnel and other folks as well, he decided to have an impromptu rehearsal. No one knew but him and a few other people. Work was not called to a halt in order to give him room. Gear was not picked up and moved out of the way.

I walked out of the room as he began his rehearsal and came back in just as he was about to head down off the stage. I was walking towards my projectionist to tell him something when I heard the roar getting louder. I look to my right and here comes this motorcycle heading straight for me. I had a few seconds to think about what I was going to do. I chose to stand still like a deer caught in the headlights. My thinking was that he wouldn’t know which way I was going to go and we had a 50/50 chance that he was veer into me whichever way I went. I figured once he saw me not moving either forward or backward he would adjust and flow around me either way.

Uh uh, instead he just laid that beautiful bike down on it’s side and let it skid towards me. At that point I calmly stepped out of the path. He jumped off and with it still in gear he began yelling at me about not moving out of the way. I explained my reasoning and it shut him up, but I still got an angry look as he stalked off.

I asked the bike’s handler about it just to see if I did the right thing, and he said that I had nothing to worry about. I did act correctly. He said that if anything, the CEO should have never managed to get it into 3rd gear in such a crowded room and that he would be paying for the damages. There were big long set screws laying all over the place as well as AV equipment and quite a few people. He could have seriously hurt someone or himself.

You’ve got to give the CEO credit, at least he had enough sense to know he needed to get some rehearsal in. Of course he might have just wanted more time on that sweet vintage bike. Wonder if he would have been as anxious to rehearse if it involved some high-powered PowerPoint rather than the rescue of a fair maiden. In any case the rehearsal he did get would have been a lot more useful if time had been taken to plan things out, to clear the decks, and to make the environment he was working in as much like the actual show conditions as possible (remember Principle #3: If you practice like it’s the real thing, the real thing will seem like a practice). Maybe the spill he took actually made him more cautious during the actual event and saved some lives. Maybe it just made him more nervous and everyone was lucky there wasn’t a repeat performance.

As intense as meetings can get, most of us will never face a situation that threaten us with bodily harm. Did you ever find your self in a situation that had your life flashing before your eyes while in the line of duty?

F Minus: Balloon Drop

Another one of those situations where a good rehearsal would have helped

F Minus

Thanks to Richard Garber of Joyful Public Speaking for the heads up.

I wish you hadn't said that...

Examples of what you might call “unintentional foreshadowing”:

  • plugWe don’t need to tape down that extension cord, no one’s going to be going over there.
  • It’s a brand new projector, why should we spend that much money on a backup bulb.
  • They had a pipe burst the last time we did a meeting there. There’s no way anything like that can happen again.
  • Don’t worry, this guy is really good, he doesn’t need rehearsal.
  • Of course she’s using the slide template you sent.
  • Does Sharpie make a dry erase marker?
  • Just leave it there, no one is going to mess with it.
  • I’m sure it’s safe to use indoors.
  • Don’t worry, it’s supposed to do that…

Phrases like these can create a sense of foreboding and doom for anyones who has been in the business for a while. Have you ever said, or been within earshot of someone else saying, something that turned out to more than a little unfortunate?

Rikk Flohr: Lest you lead your flock astray

©iStockphoto.com/Mantonature

©iStockphoto.com/Mantonature

Why is so tempting to focus almost all your precious rehearsal time and energy on what the presenter is doing?

Maybe it’s because what’s happening onstage is the most visible/audible element of the entire production. Maybe it’s because the person who will be behind the lecture is usually the most worried person in the room. Maybe it’s because the speaker, at least in a corporate setting, is often the biggest of the several big cheeses involved in any given event.

I came across the story below in my feed reader a last week and it’s author, Rikk Flohr (his blog, his website) was kind enough to give me permission to reprint it here on BML. It’s a great illustration of an important principle: Everyone knows that it’s essential to rehearse, but not everyone knows how to rehearse what’s essential.

In other words, a successful rehearsal has to be about more than just a speaker getting the words, voice, pacing, stage movement and gestures right. It also has to include, in a meaningful way, the easy to overlook “backstage” elements that need to be performed correctly and in unison with the presenter.

Death and Resurrection by PowerPoint

Have you ever been inside one of those English-dubbed Japanese Monster Movies? I don’t mean being chased by some rubbery monster with curiously man-like proportions. What I am talking about is the experience of, in real life, having the sounds being heard not follow the visual cues of script and mouth shapes. Today, this happened to me.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

My recent forays at PowerPoint Live brought me in contact with many people who, primarily or secondarily, were learning the craft of professional presentation for use at their local church. There has been an explosion of multimedia materials used in conjunction with church services. Inspirational pictures are shown, announcements are broadcast and lyrics for the hymns are displayed.  It also keeps the church feeling modern and in-tune to today’s youth.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to find my own church constructing a trio of large screens in the main worship area. Three massive screens with powerful projectors lead us all in the celebration of the mass. Pictures are shown, announcements are made and lyrics displayed-all run from the mixer board at the back center of church. We no longer have hymnals and we no longer have photocopied sheets stuck in the pews cueing us on what to sing. Until today, it was all running so smoothly.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE! REHEARSE!

Saturday Night Live did a great skit once about St. Mickey’s Knights of Columbus where no one in the crowd new the second line to any of the less common Christmas carols. Life imitated art today.  During the second song of the day, the second verse was upon us and the vocalist leading the song, sang, suddenly alone.  The crowd trailed off into silence. Some mumbled heroically. Some looked around awkwardly for guidance.  The lyrics being displayed on the massive screens were not the same as those being sung. Since it was a second verse, no one was really quite sure who was right: the presenter with the script or the slide that said otherwise.  Eventually, the perplexed singer looked at the screen and joined the subdued crowd in the projected lyrics.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

For the rest of the service, every song was tentative-every churchgoer unsure of his or her self.  The projectionist started to become tentative too. The slides didn’t change quite as crisply as before. Some of them appeared too early as compensation for the bewilderment in the crowd.  Mass ended early-perhaps by design-perhaps by confusion.  I surreptitiously grabbed a few cell phone camera captures (see them here) in the uncertain moments, knowing that this was presentation precarious.

Choirs rehearse. Musicians rehearse. Speakers rehearse. Projectionists and those interacting with the presentation-particularly in a multi-presenter environment need to rehearse too. It isn’t enough to know the script (read lyrics) on the sheet on your podium (read music stand), you have to know the visuals too and be certain that they are sympathetic or at least not incompatible.

Lest you lead your flock astray, repeat the refrain (to the notes of “…in this world and the next…”:

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

A-MEN!

Anyone who receives your presentation is your flock. Do not lead them astray!

Rikk Flohr © 2008


Rikk Flohr teaches and writes about the subtle art and inexact science of imaging-from capture, through editing and finally presentation. In addition he teaches at national conferences like PowerPoint Live and conducts photographic and image editing workshops in multiple countries. His design firm, Fleeting Glimpse Images supplies design for print and screen, presentation consulting, video and still photographic services for a wide range of clients.

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 (12/14/08)

FAILBlog:
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.”

Bedd Gelert:

Just as I was beginning to get a little tired of reading my own stories here on BML, reader Bedd Gelert left a comment on a previous post that was begging to be front page material (BTW, I’m fairly certain that “Bedd Gelert” is a pseudonym):

Okay, technically this isn’t a ‘presentation’ disaster, but because it concerns a PC and a meeting where having it functioning was pretty well essential I will mention it…

I was pretty stressed, as I had to take details, onto a spreadsheet, of the issues on literally dozens of different items we were dealing with, on a Red / Amber / Green basis, with half a dozen people in the room and someone from IT, who had all this information, at the end of a phone line.

The computer wouldn’t work, as I couldn’t ‘sign in’ to it. I got more and more irate, as it kept rejecting my password. In the end I took to it to another room, got on the phone to PC Support and [there is no way I can shy away from this, and I’m not proud, but one has to tell the truth however ashamed I am … ] I went ballistic. ‘Why isn’t this pc working – I am about to go into a 2 hour meeting and I need this to be working NOW – Why isn’t it??’

Cue more weeping, wailing and a temper tantrum with PC support all to no avail. Of course, machines know when you are stressed and unreasonable and responding in the way I did. So I failed to get the PC working and had to resort to somebody else having to take over my role with their PC.

PROBLEM - I had inadvertently pressed a ‘Function’ key on the PC, which converted 9 keys on the right hand side of the keyboard into a ‘number pad’.

When I keyed in my ‘ID’ I used the numbers at the top of the keyboard.

But when I keyed in my ‘password’ I used the letter keys on the keyboard, some of which were being substituted by numbers – and there was no way I would realise this as the password is clearly only shown as dots when keyed.

MORAL - I could have been there for hours and not figured this out – but I had a fighting chance to do it quickly if I hadn’t lost my rag. And PC support would have had a small chance of sorting this out in a couple of minutes if I’d been courteous with them. But because this was a 1-in-a-100 problem, as soon as I got flustered and panicked I was done for.

Easy to say in hindsight, and in ‘cold blood’, but as we are always told ‘It’s nice to be important, but even more important to be nice..’ We live and we learn..

A long time ago, but still able to give me nightmares..

Bedd’s experience echos my earlier post about the staying in the Valium bubble. No matter how badly things are going, anything other than a calm, measured response is going to make the situation more difficult to resolve. Any losing of one’s rag needs to be saved for after the presentation is over.

Seems like something that will need to be added to The Principles. Just need to come up with a pithy phrase to describe it. How’s this sound: “Letting it loose might mean losing it all”? Yeah, I thought so. That’s just off the top of my head. It might be better to keep thinking about it.

Thanks Bedd, I really appreciate you taking the time to share this obviously painful memory. It serves as a great reminder to all of us who are dropped into these sorts of situations on a daily basis.

Your Turn:

Do you have a better idea than “Letting it loose might mean losing it all”? Have things ever gone from bad to much worse due to your losing it during a presentation or while preparing for one?

Two things you need to do right now…

…to prevent presentation disaster later.

(Assuming you haven’t already done so.)

1) Make a boilerplate packing list:

Leaving something behind is one of the surest ways to screw up your ability to present successfully. It’s also one of the most preventable. If you are involved in more than two or three presentations a year, you really gotta make sure you aren’t re-inventing the wheel each time you’re about to go on the road. Formalize your packing routine by making, and reusing, a boilerplate packing list.

Let’s face it, you’ve most likely already made this list. And made it. And made it again from scratch for every trip you’ve taken. Even though it’s really gratifying to do so, don’t aggressively scribbling out each item as it’s packed and don’t chuck out the used up list as you head for the door. Next time, just put a single line through each item so you can still read it, and leave it safely on your desk so it can be keyed into an Excel spreadsheet once you return.

You now have the first draft of a permanent, custom, validated packing list. This is going to be a living document and items will be added and removed on a regular basis as you remember things you forgot to include, as old tech is abandoned and as new tech is adopted (floppies to ZIP disks to flash drives). At least you now have a baseline list to start from for future trips and you can sleep well knowing that all of the essentials are covered.

And even if you’re not sleeping well (perhaps due to pulling an all-nighter finishing the PowerPoint), you can still do a good job of packing everything you need in spite of your sleep-deprived brain not working at peak efficiency.

This is a list which was taped inside my closet when I was reporting more or less steadily. The list enabled me to pack, without thinking, for any piece I was likely to do. … It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum…

~Joan Didion, The White Album

2) Make a “must have” plan:

Once you have a really comprehensive packing list that’s gotten you through a couple presentations, print out a copy and take a good look at it. Highlight each item that’s critical to your presentation success — the things you absolutely cannot do without. It might be your passport, your projector, the cable that connects you laptop to other projectors. It will almost definitely be your slide files.

For everything you highlighted, all of your must haves, make sure you have a fool-proof, bullet-proof, weather-proof, everything-proof plan that guarantees it will be available when and where you need it.

The creative, problem-solving frame of mind necessary to save the day when one of your must haves is missing or malfunctioning can’t be reliably invoked when you’re in the high tension, on-site environment the day (or hour) of your presentation. Contingency plans are best made in the calm quiet of your office weeks or months before the event.

Your Turn:

Do you have a boilerplate packing list and a solid “must have” plan? Did one of these tools ever save you butt? Would you be willing to share the story?