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If you only read one thing this week...

make sure it’s “The Last One Percent that Kills You” by Dan Pallotta. A huge percentage of the all the presentation mishaps and disasters written about on this blog in the last three years could have been avoided by adhearance to the principles it outlines.

They assured us that they had a flat screen TV that would accommodate the slide show. I arrived an hour before the party to set up. Sure enough, the TV was there, but the input jacks were inaccessible. They were on the back of the TV, and it was bolted to the wall. I wasn’t until the party was nearly over that we learned that we could access the input jacks through an outlet in the floor.

For example, I’ve seen more charity events than I can count at which expensive banners get produced but no one has thought about the last step — how they’re going to be rigged. People think they’ll figure it out when they get there. But 40 mile-an-hour winds require a little more thought than that. The work of a branding company, a graphic design firm, and a banner production company are all thwarted because the banner can’t be hung.

We could chock it all up to the fact that accidents happen, but I think that does a disservice to accidents. The last 1% gets overlooked because of a lack of rigor in communication. We play fast and loose with language. Here are a few things we can do to prevent our efforts from being upended:

  • Beware the tacit agreement. If someone says something that doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t politely nod, pretend that you understand, and let it go. If you don’t understand what they’re talking about, there’s a damned good chance they don’t either. We’ve all experienced a thousand conversations in which neither of us understood what was just said, but we both just let it go and implicitly hope for the best. Don’t be reticent. Speak up.

He continues with five more suggestions that are even more useful (Develop a Pavlovian reaction to the words “I think”, Have multiple conversations about the same thing, Fill in the blanks, Speak like an air-traffic controller, Visualize disaster).

I can’t say enough about this article. It should be taped to every cubical and office wall in the world.

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.

Burning down the house…

Backstage at BackstageJobs.com has been focusing on a hot topic recently…

Twenty-two years, multiple theatre fires: Fire 1

…so far in my career, I have been present at several theatre fires, and even extinguished one of them.  This series will discuss each fire, and what was done wrong, or right.

Staff were still waiting on the fire department when the show was scheduled to start.  No alarm was pulled when the fire was discovered.  A member of the staff went onstage to make an announcement, but at first only said that the show was holding due to technical difficulties.  However, at this moment, the sirens of the fire trucks could be heard as they pulled up.  The staff member then said that they did have a small fire in the bathroom, but the fire department was taking care of it.

Don’t depend on your patrons or ushers to know what to do during a fire alarm

The Dodge Theatre (now the Comerica Theatre) in Phoenix, AZ had its fire alarm activated in July of 2008. What should have resulted was a full evacuation of patrons from the building. Instead, few patrons exited, none were told to evacuate, and those that exited were asked to return, with the alarms still going off.

It doesn’t matter if you think it is a false alarm, and it doesn’t matter if it is a false alarm: get those people out the door (heck, use it as an opportunity to test your evacuation procedures). Don’t assume they will move on their own. As this video clearly shows (and I have personally witnessed on another occasion) a mass of people will hesitate and wait for specific instructions, especially if no threat is visible.  In this case, theatre staff failed to protect their audience.

I really like the idea of thinking of a false alarm as a chance to test evacuation procedures rather than just a inconvenient waste of time. If you’re not in your own home venue, make a point of knowing where everyone needs to go in case the alarm goes off. Especially if it’s likely that you’ll be at the mic or otherwise in a position to get people moving in the right direction.

Thought for the day: Practice until…

From Tony Ramos’ Facebook stream:

Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.

Nicely compliments the two Principles of Presentation Disaster Avoidance devoted to practice:

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

Number 9: Everyone knows that it’s essential to rehearse, but not everyone knows how to rehearse what’s essential.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (09/05/10)

Ellen Finkelstein — Outstanding Presentations Workshop

Learn from the Top Presentation Experts in the World!
Free 8-week webinar series!

Would you like to ask questions and get answers from top presentation, PowerPoint, and speaking experts?

Join my new Outstanding Presentations Workshop webinars, for free! Learn how to eliminate Death by PowerPoint and make your presentations come to life as you listen to guest experts share their best techniques and answer your questions!

Phil Presents — Presentation Pitfalls #7: Slide synch (or lack of)

While the speaker was fiddling with his envelope, someone else advanced the slides too quickly, and revealed the winner’s name to all but the speaker before the envelope had even been opened. Doh! Not only did this make the speaker look silly, it made everyone think less of the organization of the event, both for the Powerpoint slip-up and for even using ceremonial envelopes when the winners were already on the slides.

Webinar Crusher — What If I Screw Up A Live Webinar And How Do I Recover?

If you think that your first webinar is going to run perfectly, you’re wrong. If you think that your first 20 webinars are going to run without any problems, you’re also wrong. Things are going to happen. Maybe your Internet connection will die or Go To Webinar will not display your screen correctly. Maybe your PowerPoint won’t show up or you will lose your PowerPoint. You might be all ready to demonstrate a site for your viewers only to find out that the site is down for maintenance.

Instead of crossing your fingers, hoping nothing will ever go wrong, no, that things will go wrong. When these things do go wrong, what do you do? Always have some kind of a backup plan.

No Sweat Presentations! — When You Speak, Don’t Jingle or Deliver Other Distractions!

Other personal distractions could have to do with your appearance

  • A stained shirt or jacket
  • Food on your face or in your teeth (I’m not kidding.)
  • Too flashy jewelry that sparkles too much.
  • Outrageous clothing that ’sends its own message’

There are some preventative measures that can be taken to avoid delivering distractions.

  • Empty your pockets before speaking.  No coins or keys = No Jingle!
  • Have a friend in the audience quietly ’signal’ you if you start swaying or rocking.
  • Put a Post Note on the lectern or on top of your notes or mind map with a reminder
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before a presentation.
  • Practice – Practice – Practice
    • In front of a mirror.
    • In front of friends and family.
    • In front of a camera.
  • Look in a full length mirror before coming to the lectern.
    • Check:
      • Clothing – zippers, buttons, for lint & hair
      • Self – hair, face

Heart to heart…

Principle #9 states that “Everyone knows that it’s essential to rehearse, but not everyone knows how to rehearse what’s essential.”

Is rehearsing the physiological reactions to presenter’s stress essential?

From the Core Daily blog:

No matter how hard you try mentally, it’s difficult to simulate a heightened nervous condition. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Okay, there are two guys on base,’” Afremow says. “You need to get your heartrate up. I challenge them to do some intense cardio for a minute. You recreate that feeling of flight/fight and then practice. That way, you learn that body response.”

Afremow says this applies even to public speaking. Instead of just practicing a speech in front of a mirror, do a minute of cardio and then deliver the speech. That way you practice under the raised heart rate you’re likely to have the day of the speech.

(via Joyful Public Speaking via Olivia Mitchell’s twitter post.)

Rikk Flohr: Lest you lead your flock astray

©iStockphoto.com/Mantonature

©iStockphoto.com/Mantonature

Why is so tempting to focus almost all your precious rehearsal time and energy on what the presenter is doing?

Maybe it’s because what’s happening onstage is the most visible/audible element of the entire production. Maybe it’s because the person who will be behind the lecture is usually the most worried person in the room. Maybe it’s because the speaker, at least in a corporate setting, is often the biggest of the several big cheeses involved in any given event.

I came across the story below in my feed reader a last week and it’s author, Rikk Flohr (his blog, his website) was kind enough to give me permission to reprint it here on BML. It’s a great illustration of an important principle: Everyone knows that it’s essential to rehearse, but not everyone knows how to rehearse what’s essential.

In other words, a successful rehearsal has to be about more than just a speaker getting the words, voice, pacing, stage movement and gestures right. It also has to include, in a meaningful way, the easy to overlook “backstage” elements that need to be performed correctly and in unison with the presenter.

Death and Resurrection by PowerPoint

Have you ever been inside one of those English-dubbed Japanese Monster Movies? I don’t mean being chased by some rubbery monster with curiously man-like proportions. What I am talking about is the experience of, in real life, having the sounds being heard not follow the visual cues of script and mouth shapes. Today, this happened to me.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

My recent forays at PowerPoint Live brought me in contact with many people who, primarily or secondarily, were learning the craft of professional presentation for use at their local church. There has been an explosion of multimedia materials used in conjunction with church services. Inspirational pictures are shown, announcements are broadcast and lyrics for the hymns are displayed.  It also keeps the church feeling modern and in-tune to today’s youth.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to find my own church constructing a trio of large screens in the main worship area. Three massive screens with powerful projectors lead us all in the celebration of the mass. Pictures are shown, announcements are made and lyrics displayed-all run from the mixer board at the back center of church. We no longer have hymnals and we no longer have photocopied sheets stuck in the pews cueing us on what to sing. Until today, it was all running so smoothly.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE! REHEARSE!

Saturday Night Live did a great skit once about St. Mickey’s Knights of Columbus where no one in the crowd new the second line to any of the less common Christmas carols. Life imitated art today.  During the second song of the day, the second verse was upon us and the vocalist leading the song, sang, suddenly alone.  The crowd trailed off into silence. Some mumbled heroically. Some looked around awkwardly for guidance.  The lyrics being displayed on the massive screens were not the same as those being sung. Since it was a second verse, no one was really quite sure who was right: the presenter with the script or the slide that said otherwise.  Eventually, the perplexed singer looked at the screen and joined the subdued crowd in the projected lyrics.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

For the rest of the service, every song was tentative-every churchgoer unsure of his or her self.  The projectionist started to become tentative too. The slides didn’t change quite as crisply as before. Some of them appeared too early as compensation for the bewilderment in the crowd.  Mass ended early-perhaps by design-perhaps by confusion.  I surreptitiously grabbed a few cell phone camera captures (see them here) in the uncertain moments, knowing that this was presentation precarious.

Choirs rehearse. Musicians rehearse. Speakers rehearse. Projectionists and those interacting with the presentation-particularly in a multi-presenter environment need to rehearse too. It isn’t enough to know the script (read lyrics) on the sheet on your podium (read music stand), you have to know the visuals too and be certain that they are sympathetic or at least not incompatible.

Lest you lead your flock astray, repeat the refrain (to the notes of “…in this world and the next…”:

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

A-MEN!

Anyone who receives your presentation is your flock. Do not lead them astray!

Rikk Flohr © 2008


Rikk Flohr teaches and writes about the subtle art and inexact science of imaging-from capture, through editing and finally presentation. In addition he teaches at national conferences like PowerPoint Live and conducts photographic and image editing workshops in multiple countries. His design firm, Fleeting Glimpse Images supplies design for print and screen, presentation consulting, video and still photographic services for a wide range of clients.