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Seven small steps down the path leading to presentation doom

1) You weren’t particularly careful about your pre-presentation meal choices. Washing down the street vendor’s Khlav Kalash with Crab Juice might not have been the best idea you’ve had recently.

2) Your time is too valuable to fly in the night before your presentation. “Leaving early in the morning will be fine. Two hours is plenty of time to get from the airport to the hotel.”

3) “I’m too tired to figure out the alarm clock. I’ll just call down to the front desk for a wake up call.”

4) “I burned my presentation to a CD, I’ll just hand it off to the AV guys as I head for the stage. Yeah, I use (pick one):

  • a Mac.
  • unusual fonts.
  • something other than PowerPoint.

Why would that be a problem?”

5) “Backup copies? If I lose the CD, the office can always email me a copy of the file. There will be plenty of time and all the hotels have good wireless internet access now.”



6) “I’m flying out right after the meeting so I only need one change of clothes. I like to travel light and what’s the worst that can happen?

7) “I’m sure the hotel will give us exactly the AV equipment we asked for. Of course it will work perfectly.”

Ellen Finkelstein’s Survey: “What is Death by PowerPoint?”

When I started Breaking Murphy’s Law, I decided to do everything possible to avoid focusing on presentation disasters involving bad PowerPoint. Although there are as many stories about bad PowerPoint as there are PowerPoint presentations, it seemed best to avoid territory that was already being so thoroughly explored by experts better versed in the relevant issues (Andrew Abela, Nancy Duarte, Edward Tufte and Cliff Atkinson for example).

Ellen Finkelstein is also a member of this group. Her website has been offering tips and techniques on PowerPoint and presenting for over 7 years. She has also written at least three books about PowerPoint. Most recently, she created a survey to measure the depth and breadth of the bad PowerPoint problem.  It’s called “What is Death by PowerPoint?” and it’s unique because respondents take one experience they’ve had of Death by PowerPoint and tell that story by answering some questions. She invites everyone to take the survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=8btaxwZWsjzcfZf2i5Qjog_3d_3d/.

A basic premise behind Breaking Murphy’s Law is that the sharing of stories is an integral part of our profession. Ellen tells me that she’s sure everyone has had a Death by PowerPoint experience that they would like to rant about. And in case having a chance to rant isn’t enough of an incentive, everyone who takes the survey gets a link to download her 22-page e-booklet, 7 Steps to Great Images.

She’s already received great answers, both sad and funny. For example,

What was wrong with the design? “There was nothing wrong with the design, THERE SIMPLY WASN’T ANY.” W.C., Seattle, WA, U.S.

“Presentation was 246 slides, all full page text. Text was 14 points. Text ran to both edges and to the bottom. Text boxes flew in on every slide. The attorney giving the presentation read every single word on the slide.” R.A., Columbus, OH, U.S.

What was wrong with the design? “Text was illegible so that the presenter sometimes went for rescue on his printed notes. There were all sorts of unnecessary transition effects with sounds like cat meows, car brakes and thunders. Seems that the presenter had done no homework on the content, had only pleased his own strange aesthetics.” Z.P., Pereira, Brasil

I think it safe to assume that Ellen’s survey is going to confirm that there are only a few ways to do thing right and there are many, many ways to do thing wrong.

Things you don’t want to hear anytime

Rick Pillars and I had been exchanging comments related to an earlier post (Four words you don’t want to hear coming from the video conference room at 7:00 am) until WordPress ate his last response:

I am more of a high res video specialist so I don’t pretend to know audio all that well. However, I am pretty sure that neither blowing or tapping is very good for the condenser mic. Spitting is ok. I know an audio engineer who gets really tweaked when an AV tech (someone who he thinks should know better) does either of those things.

Other things that you hope to not ever hear again:

  • “Uhmmm, you know that Beta roll you wanted up next, I accidentally recorded over it.”
  • “Oh crap, I just deleted half his slides and then hit save.”
  • From the podium, “Guys, that’s not my presentation.” “No, not that one either.”

I don’t know about you, but each of those made me wince a little bit. What words do you never want to hear ever, ever again?

Mouse Trap

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a time when the simplest of technologies, something we rarely give a second thought, gaffer tape, unexpectedly failed to do its job and caused a great deal of trouble. Geetesh Bajaj (an Microsoft PowerPoint MVP who also runs the incredibly useful site Indezine — “a platform for PowerPoint presentations, presentation software, image editing and clip media”) has been kind enough to share another story that again strongly suggests we need to think about even our humblest tools a little more often and a little more rigorously:

There are many things you can do to avoid presentation disasters – yet there’s always something new that you learn each day.

When I got a new MacBook Pro with OS X Leopard, I knew I wanted to use this machine for my next presentation. Now my next presentation happened to include a training session on Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 and my entire audience was working on a Microsoft Windows platform (and not the Mac). Unperturbed, I installed a copy of Windows Vista on a new partition created by Boot Camp. Everything worked great – I also had PowerPoint 2007 working on Vista and it seemed to be working so much quicker than my older laptop. When everything works so flawlessly at the first go, you know there’s something wrong you have missed out somewhere!

Well, that something ended up being the right-click option. The MacBook Pro has no right-click button. I could plug in a regular two-button mouse but it seemed too much to do when I already had the receiver for my remote plugged in – and for some reason, the mouse and the remote were not too happy with each other. It wasn’t a happy thought to use my older laptop again – and at this point of time, the older machine seemed like an archaic dinosaur that was so slow (funny how perceptions change in one day).

Trust me – it’s not too easy to do advanced tasks in PowerPoint 2007 without the right-click – and even Shift + F10 wouldn’t work as a right-click here – the equivalent on the MacBook Pro was Fn + Shift + F10. By the time I managed to press all those three buttons, my cursor was elsewhere.

Luckily, the Internet saved me – a quick search got me pages where there were many, many users who faced the same problem. One user recommended a free program called Apple Mouse – this lets you Ctrl-click to simulate a right click. One quick download and five minutes later, everything worked great again.

So what’s the lesson I learnt here? That’s got to be that one needs to test all the obvious and unobvious issues before using them in a presentation environment. Imagine you are presenting now, and switch on your laptop and do all tasks you might have to do later. Even if you are in another city, time zone, or continent – it’s a good idea to use the same combination of presentation, laptop, and remote to test the flow. And even if the projector may be different, do plug it in if you have access to one.

We normally check the projections, the room, the lighting, even the cables and the sound systems. But for all you know, there might be a problem area that’s not as obvious! And maybe that’s staring at you now.

Life in the Corporate Theater

is an AV/IT tech in the corporate presentation business. He gets to travel all over the world staying in some really glamorous places doing some rather unglamorous work. If anyone in the world is intimately acquainted with Murphy’s Law and how to go about breaking it, it’s Steve and the army of pros like him who keep all those meetings moving. And he has the stories to prove it. You can read them on his blog — Life in the Corporate Theater. Here are some excerpts:

Rob hadn’t gotten any of the presentations last night. They didn’t do an official slide review. This morning, they came in with a whole bunch of presentations for him to load up.

The agenda showed about 8 presentations, and they handed Rob about 15. He ended up having to string all these slides together, and things still seemed weird. There was a presentation in there that had a thank you slide at the end of it, and then another 15 slides after the thank you. So, things were pretty unsettling this morning. Continue reading Life in the Corporate Theater