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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Dr. Jim Anderson, (The Accidental Communicator), reminds us that controlling the room is much better then letting the room control your presentation.

I’ll bet that you didn’t know that the next time that you give a speech, the room is going to be actively conspiring against you! Yep, it’s true – no matter how cozy and inviting the room that you are going to be speaking in may appear, it is actually working against you. This room has chewed up and spit out tougher speakers than you – what makes you think that you’ll do any better?

It’s absolutely crucial that you get into the room where you will be presenting, well in advance of when you will actually be presenting in it. Showing up 5 minutes before you’re supposed to go on is asking for disaster.

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!

Four Ways Presentation Mishaps Are Like Zombies...

or “Lesson Learned by Watching Shaun of the Dead.”

1) Until the moment they suddenly become mindless, snarling, death-dealing horrors, a zombie (like whatever it was that caused your current presentation mishap) often appears about as threatening as your Mom. A projector with a burned out lamp looks like any other projector. A virus laden thumb drive looks just like a normal, perfectly healthy thumb drive.

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.

3) Zombie/mishaps are a lot easier to deal with one at a time The problem is they tend to travel in packs. And sometimes, dealing with one can attract a whole lot more. Slow and stupid, they can still overwhelm you with numbers.

4) They can be easy to out maneuver, as long as you have left yourself room to maneuver. Make sure your disaster plan leaves your options open. Shaun and his friend are actually doing pretty well until they let themselves get cornered in the pub.

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?