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It's Midnight, do you know where your USB stick is?

Having backups is a very good idea. Losing track of said backup, not so much:

Dry Cleaners Claim Over 17,000 USB Sticks Were Left in Laundries in 2010

Having a backup of your backup isn’t a bad idea either. Just don’t keep it in you pants pocket.

Perfect application of Principle 1: If you can’t do without it, make sure you won’t have to.

Things to Think About #2: Warped Signage

The box Kinkos shipped directly to the venue in Orlando just made it to the hotel in time. Good thing that. No one would know how to get from the elevators to the breakfast buffet without directional signage. You pop it open and slide the signs out of the plastic bag. Looking good, plenty big, tastefully designed, mounted on nice heavy foamcore, easel-ready. You lock up and head to the lobby bar for a quick drink before crashing,  feeling confident that everything will be good to go in the morning.

You descend bright and early and begin making sure the speaker ready room is set up, etc, etc. Time to put out those wonderful signs…

Which are now really badly warped!

The short ends stick up in the air three or four inches. In a panic you start pushing down on the ends but it begins to feel like the foamcore is about to crack in the middle. Not good. They are so bent they fall forward right off the easels. You’re doomed.

Depending on the particular circumstances, it’s very possible that shipping mounted signage into a warmer, more humid climate can cause it to warp and bend to the point it becomes useless. It has something to do with differences in the way the foamcore and the paper the signage was printed on before it was mounted to the foamcore react to the weather.

If you can, try to get your signs shipped down and opened to the air early enough to see if warping is going to be a problem. You can carefully weigh then down as they acclimate to the being in the tropics. I’ve been told the best bet is to carefully and preemptively slide the signs under your mattress overnight.

Just watch out for bedbugs.

Things to Think About #1: Sockets

Sometimes, you’re working in an old venue. Real old. Rooms that have seen hundreds if not thousands of meetings, speeches, dances, rallies, fund raisers, etc. Old things can be well worn. Worn in ways that aren’t obvious.

For instance, there was a chain hotel in Bethesda that we used to use a lot that was old but seemed to be aging well. It looked like the ballroom had been renovated at some point. Newish carpeting, reasonably fresh wallpaper and paint. High tech climate control that kept things too cold digitally. The works. However, the electrical outlet must have been overlooked.

We didn’t need a high-voltage power drop. We only had a our laptops, a switch and a couple projectors so we just plugged into the regular wall sockets. Or at least we thought we did.

This socket had been plugged into thousand of times over the years and there just wasn’t enough friction in there to ensure that what was plugged in would remain plugged in. The weight of the cable pulled the plug half way out of the wall as soon as I let go of it. It wouldn’t stick.

This, of course, could be very bad for our stuff.

We ended up securely taping the cord to the wall just below outlet. No biggie.

Always, always have a roll of gaffer’s tape with you when you’re working.

Might Have Missed List (02/06/11)

Saturday Night Live — Bachmann’s Second Attempt

(“The presentation you just saw was done on a reduced budget”)

Yahoo! News Network — Bachmann’s response marred by technical problems

But if cable news viewers turned to CNN to take a look at Bachmann’s response, the Minnesota congresswoman wasn’t exactly looking back. Instead, Bachmann faced slightly off to the side throughout.

Scott Berkun — An open letter to conference organizers

But it’s commonly forgotten in your trade, or by your sponsors, that speakers are the center of your event. They are the core of the agenda. They are what you advertise. And it’s what speakers promise to teach that gets people to pay to come. Yet once signed up to speak, they are often an afterthought, neglected behind the other critical tasks organizers have to manage.

There are simple and inexpensive ways to solve this problem.

Joyful Public Speaking — Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure?

Lack of attention to details can cause a speech to crash. Checklists are one good way to avoid catastrophes, like forgetting to bring or do something critical beforehand. Checklists are broader than packing lists that only describe what to bring.

Might Have Missed List (01/30/11)

MUST READ: MPA Political, LLC  — Unconventional Wisdom: Events

As I looked back on 2010 and saw the great big failures, they troubled me.  Messaging failures, generally unprepared or unqualified campaign staff, candidates unwilling to learn, listen and/or improve, and of course strategies that were designed to fail from the start…  But then there was a feeling of downright anger.  How the hell can Democratic campaigns fail so often at the very basics of setting up an event?  Does no one teach this stuff anymore?  Do people not learn from event to event?  Do they not see the big greasy piles of fail due to some form of rose colored glasses?

. . .

You should visit and walk the venue, take pictures.  Think about where attendees with enter, where they will gather, will there be food/drinks somewhere drawing the mingling crowd?  How many chairs will there be, how will they be arranged, where will the walkways be?  Are there tables?  Sketch these things out as best you can.

Where will the candidate enter the room?  Will the candidate have access to a “green room”, or a restroom, prior to entering the venue?  When they enter, will they be overwhelmed with the crowd as they enter?  Who will walk the candidate in, meet the candidate at the car/bus?  Will someone be introducing the candidate to the attendees as they mingle?  Will the candidate be going straight to the “stage” upon entering to speak, and straight out after speaking?  How will they enter and exit?

The Eloquent Woman — 5 things speakers should ask the meeting planner

Identify room setup. You should ask questions about the room setup, for instance, will you will be behind a podium, or on a panel? If on a panel, will there be seating behind a table or in separate chairs? If chairs, what kind? This may sound rather anal; however, I’ve seen many presenters on panels who did not know they would be sitting in director’s chairs. If you’re a female in a skirt that happens to be too short or doesn’t easily move when you sit down, this could be rather uncomfortable and potentially give the audience a bit too much to see. Or if your preference is to appear behind a podium and organizers expect you to roam the stage in delivering your remarks, it’s probably best to know that before you arrive.

To allow AV or No AV…that’s an important question. Have you ever showed up with PowerPoint in hand only to learn that there’s no equipment for such use? It may happen more often than you think. Finding out the overall format of the presentation is critical as well as allowances for audio visual equipment, including internet access. Sometimes lack of AV could be a budgetary consideration. At other times, it simply may not suit the program. Make sure to ask about it.

The Official join.me Blog — Darth Vader Was Not Invited To The Conference Call

Your dog is not invited.

Sure, I like dogs. Who doesn’t? But we did not invite your dog to the conference call. So if you’re taking this call from home, then make sure your dog isn’t in the room. Because dogs are unpredictable, and before you know it they are barking and the call is ruined. Don’t make your dog my problem.

Tag Team

All the recent hubbub surrounding the possible demise of the Delicious social bookmarking service inspired me to get serious and consolidate/organize several years worth of bookmarks scattered across all over the place. The biggest payoff is that I’m discovering a bunch of stuff I never got around to posting. Here’s an oldie but a goody that illustrates an interesting way to deal with a no-show speaker or any other sudden, unexpected lack of content.

The room was already filling up, and the other session slotted that morning wasn’t nearly as popular – virtually everyone was attending that session. The speaker wasn’t going to be able to give the presentation – no problem, I thought, and I told Jennifer to go and get the slides from the sick speaker, and I would volunteer to give the presentation. Now at this time I was still strictly a Notes client developer, and I had done very little Domino development at all. Jennifer contacted the speaker to get the slides, and that’s when the hammer fell – he didn’t have a slide deck for the presentation. Nothing.

Oh crap.

You can read the whole story here.

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!

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (09/12/10)

Steve LaRose — Heading to Moscow

The Russian AV Vendor hasn’t given us any level of confidence as of yet, so we all board our planes today with a bit of a feeling of impending doom.

Michael Wade — A Presentations Lesson Reaffirmed

Each participant was to receive a workbook containing some exercises. I had carefully proof-read the material. The person at the training broker had proofed it. The material was then sent off to a print shop. It was at that point when things became interesting.

Despite the pdf format, quite a few pages had been messed up in the electronic transmission. As a result, I learned a couple of hours before the presentation that the workbooks had flaws.

Many flaws.

Lisa Braithwaite — Five things speakers can learn from event planners

4. Be flexible.

“Stuff” happens. Event planners are experts at working around setbacks and figuring out solutions when things don’t go as planned. They don’t panic, they just get busy.

As a speaker, if you have not yet experienced one of these setbacks, it’s only a matter of time before you do. Your technology will fail. Your room will be next to a loud construction site. The speaker before you will go long and your presentation will be cut by fifteen minutes. The trick is to keep going. Sometimes your audience will know there’s a problem, but most of the time, you will be the only one. Keep it to yourself, fix it as quickly and quietly as possible, and move on.

At some point, after all the planning and preparation, you have to let go and accept that whatever happens, happens!

Tod Maffin — Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started as a Professional Speaker

Backup, Backup, Backup!

This goes without saying, but it surprises me how few speakers have redundant backups. Just last month, I was keynoting a conference and had to go on stage early because the presenter before me couldn’t boot her computer and she had no accessible backup.

Here are the backup methods I use and recommend:

  • Turn on auto-backups in your presentation software, that way you always have two copies of your slides; in case your computer crashes while saving it, you’ll always have the most recent uncorrupted version.
  • Sign up to Backblaze — it’ll back up everything on your hard disk automatically without you prompting it. It’s only $5 a month. Backblaze is the only system like this I found which can restore a Mac file to a PC and vice versa, if that’s important to you.
  • Before leaving, upload the slides to Dropbox.com or something similar.
  • Finally, if you’re on a Mac, tell Keynote to also save an additional copy as a PowerPoint presentation and upload that to Dropbox.com too.

But backups aren’t just for files — I carry my own backup wireless mic, fresh batteries, and a separate cheap GSM cell phone, so that in the event mine craps out I just have to pop my SIM card into the new phone and I’m back in business again.

Bookmarked: Watch the Apple Keynote’s Network Meltdown — Gizmodo

Watch the Apple Keynote’s Network Meltdown — Gizmodo – “WWDC keynotes are usually carefully orchestrated affairs. But you might have just read in our live blog how Steve Jobs had to bail on a demo because of network trouble. Awkward. Apple attempted to do their demo over Wi-Fi, but as you can see couldn’t manage to get things up and running due to overload. So Jobs had to ask everyone in the audience, repeatedly, to shut off their Wi-Fi so the show could go on. A bizarre hiccup for a company in its prime, showing off its latest wares.”

The Seven Principles of Presentation Disaster Avoidance (Version 0.1 beta)


[UPDATE: “The Principles” is going to be a living document and will be updated and added to on a regular basis. This post is where it all started and the rationale for the project can be found at the end.

The most up-to-date version will be maintained at http://www.breakingmurphyslaw.com/the-principles/.]


1.
If you can’t do without it,
make sure you won’t have to.

Have backups of your slide files, have backup for your critical equipment, have backups for your people. Have backups.


2.
Any rational response to
“What’s the worse that can happen?”
is most likely wrong.

This is mainly due to the fact that the things that can go wrong are not limited by a requirement to be rational. Just ask Wall Street. And don’t forget that the person asking this question usually doesn’t want to know the real answer, they’re just ready to move on.


3.
If you practice like it’s the real thing,
the real thing will seem like a practice.

That’s why they use live ammo in boot camp.


4.
It’s much easier to destroy something by accident
than it is to create something on purpose.

Be very careful around fragile equipment, electricity, icy roads and, perhaps most importantly, the delete key. Especially while pulling an all-nighter. You also want to aggressively seek ways to eliminate as much of the accidental from your process as possible.


5.
The diagram is not the room.

Whether it a conference room, ballroom, or theater — see the space you will be working in for yourself. The diagram provided by the venue will not reveal everything you need to know — no matter how detailed and accurate it is.


6.
I
f 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.


7.
The ways to get it right are few.
The ways to get it wrong, infinite.

It’s always possible that a string of several very small, seemingly unimportant decisions, can lead to a major failure. Be cautious when it appears a choice can be made casually.

– – – – –

Okay, we’ve all been there. We’ve all been caught up in the heat of the moment at one time or another. It usually happens when you’ve been working far too hard for far too long and it’s getting more and more difficult to decide what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. All you want to do is get through the presentation without anything going wrong but there’s some doubt (and usually several competing opinions) about how to make this happen.

The above principles are an attempt to condense the lessons learned from stories I’ve heard and presentation disasters I’ve witnessed down to a useful handful of easy to remember axioms. Think Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanacs focused on the presentation preparation process (light purse, heavy heart;
hunger never saw bad bread; a penny saved is a penny yadda, yadda, yadda).

Ideally, they will be memorable enough to come to mind when they are most needed and true enough to clarify challenging situations. I think “pithy” is a good word to describe what I’m shooting for. The insights embodied in these principles do not need to be particularly original or surprising, they just need to provide the perspective, guidance and the modicum of common sense that can lead to the appropriate course of action.

I need you to tell me whether or not the principles above, will actually be useful in real life. Do they capture your experience of the presentation process? Did I miss anything? Do they need to be called something else (I suspect the current title is a little clunky)? Please use the comments or the contact form to let me know your thoughts, ideas, additions or criticisms.

I’d also like to hear from you where you think I should go with this project. I assume it will be living document. What would you like it to look like? Where should I “park” it? Maybe a wiki? A shared google doc?