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There is no magic button…

In a recent blog post, Pat Ahaesy used three scenarios to illustrate the idea that a lot of production disasters can be avoided through good communication.

Things that sound so simple, but done on the fly due to poor communication can be costly. Things that sound so simple, and done without communicating  in advance to your producer can either not happen as you envision or not happen at all

Some examples of “simple” that could be a disaster, but can be avoided with good communication:

  1. Planner wants stage set for 4 person panel with all panelists center stage on high stools and moderator at a lectern, stage right.  During chats with another planner, the decision is for the panelists to be seated on two couches on a diagonal. They will omit the lectern and have moderator seated on a chair. The lighting designer and your producer haven’t been told of this change. Of course, the different seating needs to be sourced quickly and the lighting designer has to re-focus his lighting. Much stress and potential errors could occur.

I think we’d all agree completely that good, early communication is crucial to avoid disaster. Why it’s so difficult?

Ahaesy attributes it to budget concerns:

Sometimes management and/or procurement feel that contracting production early in the planning stages can cost more money.

I’m not sure that there’s really that much thought being put into. My guess is that a profound lack of communication is often caused by what I like to think of as the Magic Button Assumption. Professionals that inhabit one area of expertise often assume professionals that inhabit another have a magic button that allows them to make anything that needs to happen happen with no fuss, no muss and no preparation or planning. The funny part is that any they would find any suggestion that they possess a magic button of their own too ridiculous for words.

The reasons a client might be making this assumption are many and it might be interesting to talk about them in future posts. The most obvious is that clients often don’t really understand what it is we do and how the tools we use work.

The more I think about it the more it seems that this phenomenon needs to be part The Principles. It also needs to be explored through the discussion of real life examples. I’ll be tracking some down from my own experience and I would really appreciate it of you would be willing to share your own stories. Feel free to put them in a comment to this post or let me know if you would like to do a guest post.

Or maybe it’s so mundane and ubiquitous it’s not worth discussing at all. One way or the other please weigh in and let us know what you think.

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (09/19/10)

associationTECH — Tech the Mic…Tech 1…Tech 2…Tech Tech Tech

It seems absurd the amount of preparation that goes into a session only to have the session falter at the end because of an AV situation that could easily have been avoided. A great example is a session I went to about using video for associations. Great information and examples were shared there, but the first presenter kept struggling with a slow connection whenever she wanted to play a video. The first couple of times I felt sorry for her, but after that I grew annoyed. Why didn’t she have a backup plan for something as finicky as video? Why didn’t she have some videos stored directly on her laptop, so she didn’t have to rely on the internet? Had she checked her connection and the buffering time before the presentation?

Life in the Corporate Theater — Let the Games Begin (Dispatch from Moscow)

We immediately decided to have the AV Vendor show us all of the equipment so that we wouldn’t have any surprises as 7:00 pm.

To start off, we requested a 16 channel mixer, with a minimum of 10 XLR inputs. They provided a 12 channel mixer with 8 XLR Inputs. We requested a minimum of 4 channels of graphic equalizers, and they provided 1 channel. We asked about the wireless microphones, and fortunately, the 5 microphones we requested were there, all thrown kinda loosely in a case. They informed us that they had  “Madonna” mics and we asked if they had regular Lavalier mics. They said they did, but that the “Madonna” mics worked much better. We told them that we understood that, but that the presenters would never wear a Madonna style headset mic. It turns out that the Lav mics are omni directional, and I am going to have to struggle against feed back for sure.

Next they showed us the video switcher, and while it was a lot closer to being right than the DJ Mixer that they gave us in St Petersburg, it was only a two channel input switcher and we need four channels.

We asked about cables for everything and while they may have brought enough for what they thought we would need, it was clear that they underestimated what we really needed and we had to make a quick inventory on paper of what we wanted.

ReadyTalk — Conference Blunder Contest (The blunder with the most votes winds two round trip airline tickets)

We had just released our the 3.0 version of our product and had a showcase webinar. It was our largest webinar ever with 1023 people on the line. After telling everyone we would begin in just a couple minutes our CTO left his office for some water and locked himself out. He tried looking for a key and attempted to jimmy the door open, but no good. So in his best Starsky and Hutch impersonation he body slammed the door to break it down. We moved to bigger offices a month ago and that door cost us $800 to replace!

Nick Morgan: “How Sarah Palin Should Prepare… and How You Should, Too”

©iStockphoto.com/doulos

©iStockphoto.com/doulos

Seriously, I’m not just trying to cash in on VP debate buzz. This would be a terrific article no matter what the specific context. In it, Nick Morgan makes a point that should be one of the Ten Commandments of Doing Everything Possible to Avoid Screwing Up a Presentation:

Second, rehearse under conditions as close to reality as possible. If you can get into the hall, rehearse there. If not, approximate it. The reason is that surprises at the event itself will throw you, and more than 3 surprises will flummox you. And that will show up in your body language. If the lights are brighter, or the sound is more echo-y, or the stage is bigger than you anticipated, that takes mental energy to deal with – mental energy that you won’t be putting into a sparkling performance.

If you’re a presenter, or if you’re responsible in any way for the success of a major presentation, you need to do everything you can to make sure that this policy is put into effect. And the more important the presentation, the more exacting you need to be in the replication of the actual presenting environment. Things like podium/screen placement, confidence monitor size/positioning and they type of remote control used for advancing slide are all good examples of things a speaker needs to feel familiar and comfortable with. It will also be helpful, if you’ll be providing AV support during a presentation, to have a chance to set up and put the actual system that will be used through it’s paces. Believe me, as someone who has been there, the best time to find out you need a longer VGA cable or that the projectors time-out function hasn’t been disabled is in rehearsal, not just before the speaker is about to go on.

Remember: If you rehearse like it’s the real thing, the real thing will seem like a rehearsal.

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

Lots of really great links this week.

©iStockphoto.com/michal_edo

©iStockphoto.com/michal_edo

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!”

©iStockphoto.com/LeggNet

©iStockphoto.com/LeggNet

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.”

Great Public Speaking: DOUBLE CHECK YOUR BACKUPS.

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.

Mustard First

As you may remember from an earlier post, my first real job was at a McDonald’s. Started the day after I turned sixteen. You might also remember that I got into some trouble because I didn’t deal with burning my fingers in way that had approval from corporate headquarters. They were funny about stuff like that.

They were also very, very specific about how every product that crossed the greasy steel counter — the fries, the milkshake, the secretive big mac, even the most humble hamburger —  came into being.

It began with the burger flipper’s tools-of-the-trade. They were to be arranged just so. You always put the spatula in one specific place. The bins with the pickles had to be all the way to the left with bin holding the now reconstituted. formally dehydrated onions were always next. The strange thumb-controlled funnel thingy that deposited exactly the right amount of ketchup was always in exactly in the same place, in it’s holder, on the end of the counter. The mustard funnel thingy was always to its right. At least that’s the way they did it back in the eighties.

In fact, they were even more picky, if you can believe it, with the way you actually put the burgers together. There were videos for God’s sake. Written tests.

The one part of the intricate construction process that’s stuck with me all these years is the importance of putting the mustard on the bun before the ketchup. If I remember correctly, they told us that this kept the mustard from coming into contact with the meat which burned it chemically and gave it a funny taste. Who knew?

And pickle slide placement, don’t get me started on pickle slice placement.

All this formality might seem silly, but being forced to be highly regimented in something as simple as making a hamburger was actually very useful. It was great when you were suddenly in the middle of a huge Saturday afternoon rush and everything was exactly where it was supposed to be and it almost became unnecessary to think about what you had to do next. As things got busier, and the shift ground on and on, and the brain got more tired, it was possible to enter a zone where the entire process flowed effortlessly out of a combination of muscle memory and mental habit.

What the heck does this have to do with presenting?

In the grand scheme of things, providing a good presentation experience is almost always more important than providing a good hamburger. So if someone is willing to put all that time, effort and thought into the process of serving up a Whopper, shouldn’t you be willing to apply a little additional rigor to thinking about how you go about preparing to do what you need to do as a presenter (or as someone helping a presenter)?

Are there parts of your preparation process that you haven’t given any thought to at all?

There’s a crucial file on your laptop, the PowerPoint for Monday’s presentation. Do you know exactly where it is? Is it on your desktop? If it in a folder, which one? Can you instantly and easily distinguish it from any other file that might be in the same folder? Are you absolutely certain you have the most current version?

You’re given a couple hours at most to set up. And the room layout doesn’t come close to matching the diagram they emailed (you didn’t do a site visit?) and you need to put the short throw lens into the projector. Quickly. Do you know exactly which case it’s in? Is it still out in the truck? You’re probably going to need a screw driver. Where is it?

Do you have a documented (or at least habitual) setup routine that will help save your butt when everything else is going completely to hell in a hand basket? Like that time. You remember. The snowstorm? The delayed flight? Getting to the hotel two hours before call time? Stiff necked, sleep deprived and brain dead but the show still had to go on.

Have a plan, have a routine, know how to find exactly what you need exactly when you need to find it. Or be prepared to find yourself going from being under fire to working the deep fryer.