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It is no longer being updated but will continue to be maintained for reference purposes.

A classic post from James Feudo's Overnight Sensation

Ten Things That Will Guarantee Your Speech Will Bomb. My favorite bit:

7: Don’t check your equipment:

If you’re using PowerPoint, make sure you test the computer, projector and cables you’ll be using – you don’t want any last minute technical troubles. If you need internet access, bring along an aircard just in case the network is down in the building you’re in.

Like playing rugby...

Kristi Casey Sanders noticed some parallels between the game of rugby and meeting planning. Many of the insights apply to presentation problems as well…

“You have to hit first,” he told me. “If you hit them before they hit you, you’ll never get hurt.”

In other words, if you’re prepared to attack a problem before it happens, you have an advantage. Meeting planners who think of everything that could go wrong long before the day of the event are better prepared to respond quickly to crisis. And you have to be prepared because anything can happen.

….

The random accidents that occur during the execution of events can be just as devastating. A friend told me about one convention at which one of her executive attendees jumped into a pool and died. At an association event I attended, more than 100 people came down with food poisoning.

The truth is, no matter how prepared you are for the unexpected, something will happen that you can’t foresee. But what doesn’t destroy you, makes you stronger, smarter and more prepared for next time.

Alice's Restaurant: Technology failure circa 1965

As seems to be the case nationwide, the local classic rock radio station has a long tradition of  filling up its Thanksgiving playlist with the Arlo Guthrie’s brilliant, comic, 18 1/2 minute ode to hippie sensibilities, “Alice’s Restaurant“. Although I’ve listened many times over the years, it wasn’t until recently that I realized the song’s lyrics/monologue convey an important lesson about making sure your technology will work as expected before your presentation is due to begin.

We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, “All rise.” We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog. And then at twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, ’cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. And we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but thats not what I came to tell you about.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and listen to the entire song. The text alone, without the music and without Arlo’s dry, satiric delivery doesn’t do it justice.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Overheard on Twitter: Your nose is running...

Sick enough for the symptoms to interfere with your presentation but snot nearly sick enough to call it off. What do you do when a cold hits you right in the eyes, nose and throat when you’re due to hit the stage? Do you have a favorite trick to dry things up just before you go on? Tough call. You should probably avoid most over the counter cold medicines and they tend to make folks loopy and you might end up completely lost and forget where you are in your talk. I guess the best thing to do is to avoid getting sick in the first place. It can be hard to not burn the candle at both ends those last few days before you present, but getting enough sleep and eating right can go a long way toward preventing all your hard work from going down the drain. Along with all that gunk the neti pot dislodged.

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?

Suffering from iPad butter fingers?

As more and more  presenters begin to think of  their iPad as an essential  tool, it becomes equally essential to find ways to use it without dropping and destroying it mid-presentation. Grabbit seems like it could go a long way towards curing a bad case of the on-stage whoopsies. (HT to Conference Basics)

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

Presentation Mishaps A to Z: B is for Bait

Brody: You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
~Jaws (1975)

Sometimes I find it entertaining to think of presentation mishaps as sharks sliding silently, heavily, somewhere beneath a perfectly calm ocean. You may not see  fins break the surface but you know they’re out there somewhere and you are doing everything you can to not give them a reason to swim over and remove any body parts that you use on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, from time to time, we have all worked with a person who might best be thought of as mishap bait.

You’re busy taking every possible precaution to keep the mishap sharks from attacking and this person seems determined to fling bucket after slimy bucket of chum off the back of the boat. Not only do they tend to indulge an unfortunate predilection for swimming out to that really spooky buoy in the middle of the night, they also splash around like a wounded tuna while doing so.

In less metaphoric terms, they are the person that everything bad seems to happen to. They tempt fate. They are disaster baiters.

You might be tempted to put someone like this off the boat onto their own little rubber dinghy where they can dangle their feet in the water to their heart’s content. The sharks will most likely follow them. That might be good for you but it will most likely be bad for them and you’ll be a crew member short.

What’s the best way you’ve found for dealing with the dreaded disaster baiter? Do you throw them overboard or do you force them to watch Shark Week reruns until they get it?

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.