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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 (03/13/11)

forbes.com — Road Warrior Secrets

Coach Walsh always thought it was better to experience pucker-butt in practice, with crowd noise blasted over the speakers, rather than face it for the first time in a game.

Road warriors similarly should prepare themselves for the worst. Assume that you might catch a cold on the first day of a 10-day business trip. That you will have too little sleep. That your bad back will flare up on a crummy hotel bed. That you will have diarrhea, or its opposite. That your big speech will be scheduled for 3 a.m. in your local time zone. That the presentation room will be too warm. That the stage lights will give you flop sweats or a migraine. That your audience will be bored, even hostile.

How will you cope?

Accepting that these disasters might happen is half the battle. A prepared mind removes the panic out of any mishap. The other half of the battle is bringing the right weapons. As a 200,000-mile-per-year traveler, I never leave home without the following pills and potions. All are over-the-counter and safe at their recommended dosages.

Get Speak Schmeak — Your time’s been cut – what do you do?

You prepare an hour-long presentation. You arrive at your venue, get set up, and are ready to go on time, but the meeting starts ten minutes late. Then there is business up front, and the discussion goes on longer than planned. Now your talk, which you had planned for an hour, is going to be cut down to 35 minutes.

What do you do?

beFluent — When Your Presentation Doesn’t Go Well

The first thing to remember when that this-isn’t-going-well panic sets in is that whatever you’re worried about probably isn’t that big of a deal. Seriously. Those few seconds where you struggled to find the right word or the time you accidentally clicked to the next slide early will likely be forgotten by your audience – if they noticed them at all.

Professionally Speaking… — No Time for Presentation Practice

Yet, practicing a presentation is the single biggest thing that can reduce anxiety, enhance confidence and maximize the likelihood that the audience will get value — all things that are highly desirable outcomes for any presenter.

Here are my tips for finding some elusive time to practice a presentation…

the status Kuo — Why do people fail at presentations

The other big mistake the speaker committed today was not properly acquainting himself with the equipment he was using for the presentation. One of the biggest distractions throughout the entire event was the speaker fumbling with the remote control. As he had trouble changing slides every single time, he was unable to maintain control of an idea from item to item.

Just Passing Through — Feb 25, Ashland Theatre

An impossible onstage mishap took place in the play: a letter was to be dropped from the rafters onto the floor near the actor who was to read the letter. Instead, the letter fell through the slit at the edge of the closed trap door. The odds of that happening have to be about a gazillion to one! Someone from below the stage slipped the letter back up through the slit and the actor grabbed it with much relief! Lots of applause and laughter from the audience.

Presentation Mishaps A to Z: A is for Anger

Of all the possible responses to an emergent presentation disaster, I think it’s safe to say anger is the most foolish. Yeah, I know, this isn’t a particularly fresh observation —

Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

— but it does bear repeating.

Given a choice between working with someone likely to curl up into a quivering fetal ball when things are going wrong  and working with someone prone to venting their anger in the same situation, I think I would go with the fetal ball rather than the venter. A fetal ball can be guided to a quiet corner somewhere to whimper quietly while everyone else sorts things out.  The anger of your basic hothead tends to spread and escalate in a reflexive feedback loop that has the potential to drag most of your team into dealing with the emotion (including fight and flight responses) rather than working the problem.

The way to deal with feedback loops is to, wait for it, break the loop. Reduce the amplification by responding quietly to the hothead’s outburst (see “The Valium Bubble“). Absorb, don’t reflect. Sometimes the simplest way to deal with audio feedback is to turn the speakers slightly away from the microphone. Sometimes you just need to simply turn away from someones anger in order and avoid sending it right back.

At least until the crisis has passed.

(Disclaimer: This post should not be read as criticism of a tightly controlled tactical anger used on rare occasions to guide and inspire team performance. I am taking to task the uncontrolled, unthinking anger generated by anxiety arising from unexpected, negative events that could lead to a presentation’s failure.)

One last thought (it’s not my thought, but I can’t remember where I heard this): All anger is actually fear, and all fear is fear of loss. Figuring out,  in the most specific way possible, what the angry person is afraid of losing can often put you in a great position to alleviate the fear and to perhaps find the leverage necessary to dial down the anger.

Bookmarked: 6 Mistakes you should never make as a Presenter — Free as in Freedom

6 Mistakes you should never make as a Presenter — Free as in Freedom – "I believe live demos are a recipe for presentation disaster. Forcing yourself to do a live demo is like saying, "Look at how much of a man I am! I'm willing to put my presentation to risk with my bravery!". One of the things you want to do in a presentation, is be in absolute control. I like to minimize the number of things that are out of my control in a presentation situation. Patchy network connections, a bad day with the demo software, and 'errs and ummhs' at the time of presenting are all things beyond my control."