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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.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (10/31/10)

Fearless Delivery (Lily Iatridis) — Top Ten True Presentation Mishaps

#2- Vehicle in parking lot just outside the building catches fire and burns to a crisp. The room where I was giving my presentation had large windows just a few yards from the burning vehicle, so we were all mesmerized.  Not only that, but the heavy fumes from the burning rubber made us evacuate the room, so my presentation had to be rescheduled.  What took the fire department so long?

Public Words (Nick Morgan) — What to do when a speech goes horribly wrong – 5 tips

I once had to give a speech at a Harvard Business School event in one of its very high-tech auditoriums.  The speeches were back-to-back that day, and so I had to break my rule of always rehearsing in the room beforehand.  The A/V person was nowhere to be found.  So naturally the sound didn’t work on the videos I wanted to play.  I enlisted the help of a couple of really smart biz school students and the audience as a whole waited patiently with me as they tried to figure out what was wrong.

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.

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.

From alert BML readers…

A couple of alert BML readers were kind enough to send me a couple links to share. One is useful in a practical sort of way, the other is useful as well as slightly horrifying:

Marcel Oudejans of Perform! Marketing Solutions let me know about a really good Clive Simpkins article, “How to treat your speaker at an event“.

There’s a time-sequence and often a ‘value chain’ of people involved in a speaker arriving at an event. So let’s back-up to the beginning. Whether you’re a private individual within an organisation, a professional conference organiser (PCO), a speaker bureau or an agent, then in the interests of professionalism, all, or some at least, of the following, needs to happen.

Each of Clive’s suggestions can play an important role in making sure Murphy’s Law doesn’t have a chance to come into play at an event. I strongly recommend that you add everything in this article to your standard operating procedures.

– – – – –

Rick Pillars (it’s a rap productions) sent me a link to to a story that boggles the mind. His only comment — “Check out what happens when you do things you shouldn’t while connected to a projector…lol.”

The crux of the story:

That’s when students said the teacher began viewing the videos.

“He forgot the projector screen was turned on and he started watching porn and we were all just like sitting there shocked that he was watching this in front of the class.”

Students said they did try to signal the teacher but he never looked up from his computer.

Note that it says “videos.” Plural.

Although most of us (I hope) would never think of engaging in this particular behavior while on the job, this story still provides a powerful reminder. It’s scary how easy it is for for the wrong thing to be projected at the wrong time unless precautions are put in place to prevent it. And in a corporate environment, it doesn’t even have to be pornography to be a career ending event. I’m sure we’ve all seen an accidental projection of an embarrassingly personal email, highly confidential memo or spreadsheet that was never meant for public consumption. For heaven’s sake people, be careful when you’re passing the VGA cable around the conference room table. Think about what’s on your laptop’s desktop before you connect.

– – – – –

If you’re an alert BML reader and come across a link to a story or resouce that might be of interest to other, not so alert BML readers, please send it in. You can use the link to the Contact page above or you can email it directly to lee@leepotts.com.

[Photo credit: Andreas Frank]