One conference I was producing was set to start in three hours when I got a call from the car service that the company president, our second speaker on the printed agenda, was no where to be found at the airport. I called his cell to hear, “Oh yeah, I’m catching a ride on a friend’s jet. Oh and I invited Jeff to join me. ” Ah, yes Jeff, our third speaker. I say, “You know you’re on at 1pm?” “Yes, we’re taking off in a few minutes, it’s a fast plane.”
If you forced me to rank the places where I would most prefer not to look like an idiot, the Harvard Kennedy School would come in fourth. Or maybe sixth. Some of history’s most eminent figures have spoken there, like Jack Donaghy. But even after a successful tech-check before the presentation, things can go terribly wrong. Especially if you’ve embedded videos into a powerpoint presentation. I was attempting to show two commercials, but another video popped up, and what’s worse, the audio was out of synch with the video. But here’s what I’ve learned…
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.
“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!
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.
The ten worst presentation moments (Microsoft) – [Posted back in 2006, it's become a classic.] "In the late 1990s I was asked to give a presentation to a group of people from a Government Agency. I didn’t want to carry all of my presentation equipment, so I asked for a projector and PowerPoint to be provided. I then turned up ready to give the presentation with my presentation on a floppy disk. In the meeting room was a 35mm slide projector. The meeting organiser pointed to the corner and said in a somewhat insulted tone,'There is the power point; we do have electricity here – we are not that backward.'”
If You Only Listen to One PowerPoint Tip…(Overnight Sensation) – “I did this once but had the good sense to save my file in an older file format just in case. When it loaded up, I was all excited – until I noticed that the system lacked the font I used and defaulted to different font. Normally, a different font isn’t a big deal but in my case the new font was spaced differently which caused 75% of my slides to have text falling off the screen. I was lucky that I also saved it in Adobe PDF format which preserved my fonts. Of course, even with some work my presentation didn’t fill the screen, lost its transition effects and I essentially scrolled page by page through the document. But at least the audience was able to get the full benefit of the presentation.”
Conference nightmares. The many faces of scientific presentations (LabLit.com) – “Prof “Defeated by technology” provides good entertainment. … I remember well giving a talk at the Hammersmith Hospital in the early days of PowerPoint when, after loading the talk onto their computer, a message came up on the screen saying your talk is being modified by the MRC system. All my demure bullet point diamonds were changed to cheeky TV screens, thereby sweeping aside any gravitas I might have had. My favourite technology nightmare, however, comes from pre-PowerPoint days, back when slides were being used in a carousel projector. One presenter could not get the carousel to work and she was told to turn the carousel over and look underneath. She did this but forgot there was no lid on the carousel. She spent the next ten minutes reassembling her talk from the random pile of slides on the floor while the audience shuffled nervously and some escaped to the bar.”
I have never seen a parade disintegrate before my eyes, but that’s what happened in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Thursday when I watched the Celebrate a Dream Come True parade nearly wash away. … The princess float got stuck halfway down Main Street. I don’t know if that was because the street was so flooded or just an unfortunate coincidence, but by the time I squished down there, it was stopped dejectedly, Goofy and Donald’s finale float trapped behind it — and the rest of the parade was no longer in sight, having high-tailed it past the castle and into Frontierland. [Nicely detailed story. Includes photos.]
In a one-time performance with minimal rehearsal, any scene changes should be watched carefully for anyone out of place, or any scenery endangering anyone. Awards shows and one-time events never go exactly as planned, which is why they are always more difficult than a show done night after night. Someone should have been watching, and someone should have stopped the piece.
I check cues, stay on headset to make sure nothing comes up preshow backstage electrics-wise, make sure that no one tries to use the internet on the show control computer that runs sound and sometimes MIDI (this has come so close to having very bad consequences before), and surfing the internet on my laptop which is next to the console.
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.”
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).”
Lisa Lindgren, a fellow member of the InfoComm Presentations Council was kind enough to share a story about how PowerPoint 2007 recently foiled Murphy’s Law. Lisa reminds us of some important best practices and I have an observation or two of my own (surprise, surprise).
We all know that we should test our slides and equipment in the actual setting prior to when the audience arrives and therefore, before it is too late to correct any problems. Sometimes that isn’t practical, but when you do make the extra effort, it can really be worth it.
I recently participated in a conference and was slated as the final speaker at lunch on the second day of the three-day event. The only time that I would be able to test anything in that room, was the day before after a general session. The timing would be tight before I had to be in another session, and I almost decided against forcing the issue. But I had used animations and some of the theme features from PowerPoint 2007, and the computer I would have to use for my presentation was running a different software version. My fear was that something wouldn’t translate correctly and my carefully timed effects wouldn’t work.
Well it turned out that the animations worked just fine. But what I hadn’t anticipated was that the room that would be used for lunch was very bright. I had chosen a dark background, which was striking on my laptop screen, and would have been effective in a dark room. But all that light simply washed out my visuals and you could barely see the photos or read the captions.
Not only was I able to change the background and save my presentation, I have to say that PowerPoint 2007 made this easier than I had ever expected. I simply chose a different theme from those provided in the standard package. Instantaneously the background was light and the text and accent colors reverted to being a contrasting dark color. . .all literally at the click of a key. In fact, the theme I chose subtly reinforced my message in style and I ended up with a stronger visual presentation than I had before.
So the lesson that I learned was that it really, truly is important to check your presentation on the actual computer in the actual room because unexpected things can and will go wrong. And I have a new appreciation for the positive aspects of the new themes in PowerPoint 2007.
PowerPoint has taken so much abuse the last couple years, isn’t it kind of refreshing when someone has something positive to say about it?
I’d like to stress a couple points made in Lisa’s story. First, if you’re going to present, get there early. Lisa put herself in a position to effectively deal with any problems that might have arisen with her presentation, or the venue, by making it a priority to test things out well in advance of the time her presentation was due to start. I understand that not every speaking opportunity is going to give you a chance to check things out an entire day ahead of time, but the more time you have to confirm everything is the way it needs to be (and to recover if it’s not) the better. Remember, if you’re not early, you’re late.
Second, it’s crucial that, like Lisa, you understand all the capabilities of the software you are using. A lot PowerPoint users only take time to learn the bare minimum necessary to do the typical tasks that come up on a day-to-day basis. This is a mistake. You not going to be able to use the PowerPoint function or feature that’s going to save you butt in an emergency situation if you don’t know it’s there. Take a class. Buy a book. At least take an hour or so on a slow Friday afternoon and methodically go through each item on each menu and find out what it does and how it does it. After all, no one thinks much of a carpenter who doesn’t know that a hammer can also be used to remove nails.
What’s your favorite little known PowerPoint function or feature that you love showing to people? Please feel free to share it with us in a comment to this post.