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.



This blog was active from April, 2008 to July 2012.
It is no longer being updated. It will continue to be maintained for reference purposes.

Sticker Shock

Pack a backup? What for? I can always by one when we get there. It’s not like we’re going into the wilderness. I mean, how much can they jack up the price. It’s not going to cost so much that if impacts the budget.

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.

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 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 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.

Ellen Finkelstein:

Okay, so you’re a PowerPoint Guru. You’ve been using it so long, you remember when everyone still thought it was a pretty nifty piece of programming. You remember a time when it wasn’t being blamed for all of the ills currently plaguing our civilization.  Every year you score major points with the new interns by showing them how to create custom toolbars. Everyone comes to you when they can’t remember that trick for jumping right to a slide when you’re in show mode. You’re either very happy to be at PowerPoint Live 2008 right now or you’re seriously bummed to be sitting at home missing it.



Unfortunately, as this story from PowerPoint expert and author Ellen Finkelstein reminds us, having guru-level knowledge of a particular piece of software doesn’t always help with an uncooperative piece of hardware.

A professor at the local university asked me to give a session to 37 MBA/Accounting students on presenting data clearly. I created the presentation. As I usually do, I created a web page on my site for the students and wrote up a handout for them, so they could download it after the class. I do this so people don’t have to take notes while I present and can focus on listening.

I took home the projector and tested it on my laptop. It didn’t work, and I assumed it was my laptop, because I’ve had problems before using this laptop with a projector. So I borrowed someone else’s computer, borrowed the key to the classroom and came 15 minutes early to test everything out. I set up the projector and it worked fine. As the class came in, I had the first slide up on the screen in Slide Show view. The projector was on a table in front of one of the student desks.

I have to explain that my talk was based around showing the students techniques for making data and concepts clear and visual. So, I was going to spend most of my time in Normal view and let them see how I added an image, formatted a chart, and so on. For this purpose, a handout was useless; they needed to look at the screen to see which tabs I used, and which buttons I clicked. The handout was just so that they could later follow the steps on their own.

The first issue was that the borrowed computer had PowerPoint 2007 while I had written my notes for PowerPoint 2003. Luckily, I know both well enough that I was able to adjust as I went along. I asked how many students had 2007 and how many 2003, and 75% had 2007 (they were new students and had just bought computers) and 25% 2003. So, I adjusted my steps to 2007 as I went along.

I made a short introduction and went into Normal view. At about slide 3, the student sitting nearest the projector decided that the image on the screen was a little askew. He was right. So he moved the projector a little. The image disappeared. He fiddled. He fiddled some more. No image.

I improvised and started talking about general principles. I couldn’t use the whiteboard because the screen was covering it, so I just talked.

The student fiddled some more. Other students came over and tried to help. After about 5 minutes, I didn’t have any more principles and there was still no image on the screen, so I told him to give up. What I did was I held up the laptop and showed it to the students the way a kindergarten teacher reads a page in a picture book and then turns it around to the children to show them the picture. I put the laptop down and did a few operations, explaining what I was doing, and then showed them the result. I expect most of them couldn’t see anything, but they were polite and listened. By the end of the session, which was 2 hours long, my arms were aching from holding up the laptop!

At the end, I promised them that I’d add the actual presentation to my web page so they could download it and asked them to give me a couple of hours after class to get that done. I told them that the combination of listening to me, reading the handout, and using the presentation would give them the information they needed, and I think that was true. But it certainly wasn’t the best option!

Later, we discovered that the projector cable had a bent pin and that was the cause for the problem.

Ellen did all the things you should do when you’re trying to prevent Murphy’s Law from messing up a presentation. She tested the equipment in advance of the meeting. She had backup equipment and it appeared to be doing what backup equipment was supposed to do. She was also great at thinking on her feet and finding ways to work around the obstacles that were presented to her in this particular situation. Being prepared to do that can sometimes be as important as any other precaution you can take. And sometimes it’s all you can do.

Your Turn

Were you ever in a bad presentation situation that was rectified more by your ability to improvise than by any preparation you you did or precautions that you took? Please take a moment to share you experiences in the a comment.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (09/14/08)

Lots of really great links this week.



Fleeting Glimpse Images: Pulling It Off — Rikk Flohr describes his preparation process. Great ideas for avoiding any number of problems. “I double check my laptop for presentation readiness, arrive at my room early, set up and am ready to start on time. Drink a little water. Have your back up mouse, pointer, presentation on thumb drive and any paper notes where you can find them. Great your guests as they arrive and begin working the room.”

A2J: Migraine — “My presentation on Migraine almost caused me a major headache. Everything fell apart in the last minute and then miraculously came back together in the last second!” Good example of how potentially fatal problems string themselves together.

Nury Vittachi: How not to introduce someone 2 — “People were only given the title ‘Moderator’ or ‘Master of Ceremonies’ if they agreed to have their brains surgically reduced to the size of a sesame seed, I said. Their single remaining brain-call contained only one thought: ‘Make speaker look like jerk.'”

Public Speaking Can Be Fun: Being Prepared for the Public Speaking Unexpected — “Three years ago after a 45 mile bike ride driving home on the Mass Pike, I felt a thump. I looked in my rear view mirror and witnessed my bike flying down the middle lane. The bike flew off my roof rack!”



Overnight Sensation: The Disinterested Audience — “Of all the different types of hostile audiences out there, the disinterested or uninterested crowd can be one of the toughest to address. There are a number of reasons that your audience can fall into this category, such us being forced to attend the event, so we’ll look at what causes an audience to be disinterested and what you can do to bring them around.”

MostToast: Technical Presentation Worst Practices — “I am pretty sure that this is staged. I am also sure that these types of problems happen on a routine basis.”


Presentation Coaching Institute: Presentations Rehearsal… Fact or Fiction? — “First let me define a false sense of preparedness. Glancing over your notes or rummaging through your PowerPoint slides for let’s say five to six minutes before a presentation and thinking to yourself what you will likely say is pretty much a recipe for presentation disaster.”

The PowerPoint® Blog: Open PowerPoint in Safe Mode — “This is one of those – I hope you don’t need to do this – actions. But recently one of the computers here suddenly decided it did not want to have fonts work (line spacing was all messed up).”

Pistachio: While I Talked, People Twittered — “The major downside of this trend that I see is that real-time feedback from a small number of people can force a speaker to unintentionally focus on trying to please that vocal few. This is dangerous if the small but loud group isn’t representative of the majority of listeners. It’s human nature to fixate on criticism, and focusing on the comments of a few audience members can throw a presenter off track.”

confessions of a serial theater lackey: Things I Learned During the REEFER Tech — For our readers on the technical crew. “Climbing a ladder during a strobe test is a bad idea. (In my defense, I was already at the top of the ladder before the test started. However, I should not have climbed down once that strobe kicked in).”

bookofjoe: Why steamship captains studied sailing — Thought provoking quote. For me this relates to when we did 35mm slides.