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It is no longer being updated but will continue to be maintained for reference purposes.

PowerPoint Ninja: "Emergency Preparedness for PowerPoint"

Brent Dykes, The PowerPoint Ninja, strikes at the dark heart of a potential presentation disaster with this story of  uncooperative hardware and a decidedly nonsupportive support person:

What I didn’t anticipate was that the presentation remote would only work with the desktop computer in the auditorium.

No problem. I had all of the presentations also loaded on to a USB flash drive so I could transfer the files on to the desktop. However, in its infinite wisdom, the university’s IT group blocked any files from being installed on the desktop including a font file that one of the teams needed. After explaining the situation to an IT “support” person, he indicated nothing could be done before our event started. Aaagggh. Luckily, someone had brought their own presentation remote so we could just run the presentations from my laptop.

Often it’s easier said than done “to be prepared”, but we often focus so much on the actual presentation itself and forget the other small technical details that can completely ruin our beautiful slides and well-rehearsed thoughts. In reflecting on this recent situation, I had several takeaways for presenters who want to be more prepared for PowerPoint emergencies…

Check out the full post for Brent’s outstanding suggestions for being prepared when things like this happen.

Always, always show up early...

Principle #6 states “If you’re not early, you’re late. A simple problem that would ordinarily not require anything more than time to fix can become a fatal error when the time isn’t available”.

John Richardson posted a great story on Success Begins Today that illustrates why it’s imperative that you arrive at the venue early enough to test every file and every piece of critical equipment.

I put on my suit jacket,  grabbed my MacBook Pro, walked up to the smart podium, connected up the projector cable and waited for my first slide to come up on the screen.

It didn’t connect

I fumbled with the cables, tried different keystrokes, and it still didn’t connect.

I started to sweat, thinking about weeks of work going up in smoke. The audience was getting restless. Here I am, a technology guy, having problems with my Mac and a projector. Pictures of Steve Jobs popped into my mind. Apple products just work… except when you are in front of a restless audience.

Finally, I was just about to give up, when my screen flashed. My first slide popped on the screen, the lights dimmed and I was ready to go. I walked out in front of the podium, addressed the audience, and clicked the button on my Apple remote to advance to the next slide.

Nothing happened

….

What had been a smooth story in my mind at home was now a real problem. I glanced over at the podium, hoping to see my presenters view on my laptop which would quickly show me the next slide. Unfortunately, the podium had a large back edge which blocked my view. I was now on my own. 30 slides to go.

….

Now the remote didn’t work again. I became a contortionist and held the remote behind my back and tried to aim it at the podium without looking. Talk about out of kilter, I had to be a spectacle to my audience.

….

I could not believe all of the problems that I encountered. We were in a brand new classroom, at a state of the art junior college, with some of the latest projection technology. Yet everything went wrong.

The interesting thing was, the next five presenters all had problems too.

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 (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.

 

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)

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (11/07/10)

Bonjour Events — Preparing your Speakers for the Stage

One conference I was producing was set to start in three hours when I got a call from the car service that the company president, our second speaker on the printed agenda, was no where to be found at the airport.  I called his cell to hear, “Oh yeah, I’m catching a ride on a friend’s jet. Oh and I invited Jeff to join me. ”  Ah, yes Jeff, our third speaker.  I say, “You know you’re on at 1pm?”  “Yes, we’re taking off in a few minutes, it’s a fast plane.”

A Collection of Nonsense (Tim Washer) — When PowerPoint Attacks: 6 survival tips

If you forced me to rank the places where I would most prefer not to look like an idiot, the Harvard Kennedy School would come in fourth.   Or maybe sixth.  Some of history’s most eminent figures have spoken there, like Jack Donaghy. But even after a successful tech-check before the presentation, things can go terribly wrong.  Especially if you’ve embedded videos into a powerpoint presentation. I was attempting to show two commercials, but another video popped up, and what’s worse, the audio was out of synch with the video.  But here’s what I’ve learned…

Communications from DMN — When a (presentation) disaster strikes

I went blank.

Stage fright. Freezing up. A very pregnant pause. None of those terms really sum up what happened to me during that talk. I went all tabula. As in rasa. It wasn’t pleasant, for me or for my audience.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (09/19/10)

associationTECH — Tech the Mic…Tech 1…Tech 2…Tech Tech Tech

It seems absurd the amount of preparation that goes into a session only to have the session falter at the end because of an AV situation that could easily have been avoided. A great example is a session I went to about using video for associations. Great information and examples were shared there, but the first presenter kept struggling with a slow connection whenever she wanted to play a video. The first couple of times I felt sorry for her, but after that I grew annoyed. Why didn’t she have a backup plan for something as finicky as video? Why didn’t she have some videos stored directly on her laptop, so she didn’t have to rely on the internet? Had she checked her connection and the buffering time before the presentation?

Life in the Corporate Theater — Let the Games Begin (Dispatch from Moscow)

We immediately decided to have the AV Vendor show us all of the equipment so that we wouldn’t have any surprises as 7:00 pm.

To start off, we requested a 16 channel mixer, with a minimum of 10 XLR inputs. They provided a 12 channel mixer with 8 XLR Inputs. We requested a minimum of 4 channels of graphic equalizers, and they provided 1 channel. We asked about the wireless microphones, and fortunately, the 5 microphones we requested were there, all thrown kinda loosely in a case. They informed us that they had  “Madonna” mics and we asked if they had regular Lavalier mics. They said they did, but that the “Madonna” mics worked much better. We told them that we understood that, but that the presenters would never wear a Madonna style headset mic. It turns out that the Lav mics are omni directional, and I am going to have to struggle against feed back for sure.

Next they showed us the video switcher, and while it was a lot closer to being right than the DJ Mixer that they gave us in St Petersburg, it was only a two channel input switcher and we need four channels.

We asked about cables for everything and while they may have brought enough for what they thought we would need, it was clear that they underestimated what we really needed and we had to make a quick inventory on paper of what we wanted.

ReadyTalk — Conference Blunder Contest (The blunder with the most votes winds two round trip airline tickets)

We had just released our the 3.0 version of our product and had a showcase webinar. It was our largest webinar ever with 1023 people on the line. After telling everyone we would begin in just a couple minutes our CTO left his office for some water and locked himself out. He tried looking for a key and attempted to jimmy the door open, but no good. So in his best Starsky and Hutch impersonation he body slammed the door to break it down. We moved to bigger offices a month ago and that door cost us $800 to replace!

Promiscuous Sticks

©iStockphoto.com/belknap

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.”

I asked Rick if I could use the brief but instructive story he related. He was kind enough to send me this greatly expand version so I could share it with you here:

Recently I was on showsite as a Video Engineer/Graphics Operator. I put my thumbdrive in what I was going to use as the primary graphics source so that I could load up some powerpoint grid slides. I routinely use those slides to properly align the projectors. It proved very difficult to do. It turned out that my thumbdrive at some point picked up a virus. I plugged in two other thumbdrives I had that had the grid slides on them. All I ended up doing was infecting them as well. At the time, I was unaware that a virus was a problem.

It was about that time that the client came and handed me the thumbdrive with all the presentations on it. Guess what happened. If you guessed that her thumbdrive was infected then you guessed correctly. Here are some of the symptoms. It turns the drive into a folder. Then it won’t open the folder.

Here’s something else the virus does. It installs a trojan virus. Like the Trojan horse in the myth, this particular virus is tailored to get you, the user, to put something into your camp/computer and then insert it’s own commands. A trojan will allow the hacker to access your computer and utilize it for whatever they choose to do. They can access files. If your computer is part of a trusted network they can access and infect the rest of the computers on that network. They can make your computer do stuff. Turn on the video camera without you knowing about it? Sure. What they normally do is fill up your hard drive with illegal programs and music and install an FTP server for others to log into for downloading. Another common practice is to create what is known as a BOT net. Your computer would be one of several thousand BOTs in the net. Then they would use it and the others to attack web sites with the intention of bringing that sites servers. It’s called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). The servers get hit so fast and furious that it slows them down until they just grind to a halt. Websites such as Ebay, Amazon, CNN, and others have all been attacked like this. Most of them quite successfully. It is estimated that those companies lost potential tens of millions in revenue. Your trojan infected computer would be just one of many involved in the attack. All without your knowledge.

So, back to the thumbdrive aspect. We use them all the time in the meetings industry. They are everywhere. Every presenter usually has their presentations loaded on one. If their drive is infected, it will infect your computer. If your computer already has the virus, it will infect every drive after that. Thus spreading that particular virus. How can you tell? If you go into folder options and check off the ticks that Hide System Files and Hide normal File Extensions and then look at the drives folder. If you see a file that says autorun.inf and a new additional folder that wasn’t there before, then you are infected more than likely. Mine said autoRUN.inf and the folder labeled cold. Inside the folder was the virus and it was labeled hott. The autorun file tells your computer how and what to do with the virus. If you delete the files off the thumbdrive and even format the drive, the infected computer will automatically re-infect the drive. If you get rid of the virus on your computer, the drive will automatically re-infect it.

One possible solution was that you could go into the group policy and turn off the autoplay feature. This is the feature where as soon as you plug something into a USB port and something in the disk drive, the computer automatically indexes what’s on it and opens it up for you. Then you go thru certain steps to use Windows Explorer to access the drive. Unfortunately, lately the virus writers have caught onto that and have amended the autorun file to also follow the instruction if they are opened that way as well. The security experts at the leading anti-virus companies are still working on a solution. Do a google search for USB viruses like I did and you will find out what I did.

What can we do? Stop dropping our thumbdrive into every computer drive that we see. Email whatever it is we need on the other computer. Why have a thumbdrive anymore you ask? Exactly the question I ask myself everytime I try and cleanse these four thumbdrives. My 32GB, 16GB, and 4GB drive. Plus, the client just told me to keep her brand new 4GB drive since I infected it.

Rick is right when he says thumbdrives are everywhere in our industry. My response to his post on Facebook was, “That’s pretty scary. How often do we do a job that doesn’t involve promiscuous sticks?” Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s all that easy to reduce their use. Many of the clients I’ve worked with were subjected to draconian restrictions on the size of email attachments they could send. And what do you do when the Wi-Fi in the hotel meeting rooms isn’t up to the task. Besides, I’m not sure how comfortable I would be dropping the computer/corporate equivalent of “no glove, no love” on a client.

I plugged my USB drive into the show computer.

Bookmarked: If You Only Listen to One PowerPoint Tip…(Overnight Sensation)

If You Only Listen to One PowerPoint Tip…(Overnight Sensation) – “I did this once but had the good sense to save my file in an older file format just in case. When it loaded up, I was all excited – until I noticed that the system lacked the font I used and defaulted to different font. Normally, a different font isn’t a big deal but in my case the new font was spaced differently which caused 75% of my slides to have text falling off the screen. I was lucky that I also saved it in Adobe PDF format which preserved my fonts. Of course, even with some work my presentation didn’t fill the screen, lost its transition effects and I essentially scrolled page by page through the document. But at least the audience was able to get the full benefit of the presentation.”