A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

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.

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.

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!

Even the Gecko has technical difficulties

Tech rule #1: Keep the boss away from the buttons…

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 (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.

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?

Toshiba TLP-X200U: Watch your mouth...

The Projector Blog recently reported on the first projector with a voice.

The Voice Guidance feature provides ease of use, preventative maintenance updates and a lower total cost of ownership. The voice guidance system in the TLP-X200U directs users with an audible message through the projector’s operating instructions and system warnings, such as the on/off status, lamp life, air filter checks, and cooling fan status.

They were not impressed. I agree with their assessment that it’s overpriced for it’s specs and the the voice guidance feature is, as they put it, “less than useful.” What I really want to know, however, is how much control do you have over when the projector chooses to speak up? Obviously it will need to be powered up to offer voice guidance, but most of the time I have the projector on, I want it sitting there very quietly, not calling attention to itself, not chiming in while the speaker is making a crucial point.

Has anyone out there had a chance to demo this projector? If so, please fill in some of the details for us.

Unexpected things projectors will be heard saying in the future:

  • “Hey Butthead!!! Yeah, you at the lectern. Time to change my filter.”
  • “You never take me anywhere nice anymore.”
  • “Sorry, I just can’t stay focused today.”
  • “Poor Uncle Sony, they said it was death by PowerPoint.”
  • “Stop pushing my buttons!”

If your projector could talk, what would it say to you at a most inopportune time?