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Quote for the next time the projector blub blows on your second slide...

It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are.

– Clive James

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 (09/19/10)

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!

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.

Bookmarked: The fire alarm rings during your presentation — Jason Bay Jersey

The fire alarm rings during your presentation — Jason Bay Jersey – "About eight minutes into my breakfast presentation to the local chamber of commerce at a fancy restaurant the fire alarm rang. The alarm was annoyingly loud so naturally I stopped speaking and forced a smile."

Bookmarked: 3 Speaking tips for wired audiences (Small Biz Survival)

3 Speaking tips for wired audiences (Small Biz Survival) – "2. Put a copy of your presentation online ahead of time. If the projector or video fails, all those with laptops in the audience can pull it up and flip through it with you. This one was suggested by @digitalandy when the computer controlling the projector failed in a session. Seems so obvious, but how often do we do it? "

Bookmarked: 10 Things I taught my interns (The Hopkinson Report)

10 Things I taught my interns (The Hopkinson Report) – “If you’re doing a presentation, something will go wrong. … Even with modern advances, getting everything to work right is still very difficult. Every laptop has a different set of key commands to change from the laptop screen to the overhead monitor. There’s never the right dongle to connect to a projector. The speakers are always too loud or non-existent. The internet connection doesn’t work or is too slow. I once did a presentation in front of 250 people involving a laptop hooked to a miniature camera on a tripod that was focusing on the beta version of live features on a prototype cell phone being held in vice grips. I was there an hour ahead of time, and checked everything over 5 times, and believe it or not, I was good to go. That was, of course, until 5 minutes before I went on, when the setup went dead. The unknown cause? The lamp on the projector overheated. … How can you overcome a nightmare presentation? Preparation and alternatives.” [Follows up with good suggestions]

Bookmarked: Presentation nightmares (British Airways Business Life)

Presentation nightmares (British Airways Business Life) – "And another friend confessed to an incident when he tripped on entering the room where the clients were assembled, and spilt an entire – and extremely hot – latte down his shirt. In one swift action he yelped at the top of his voice and, in a bid to avoid being scalded, tore his shirt off. To stunned silence. Once the clients had assured themselves he was OK (presumably to avoid some sort of lawsuit) they said he could continue, and he had to give the entire presentation topless. They went with another company in the end"

[This reminds me of another wet T-shirt story that's very popular on BML. The article the above is from also includes a couple other short, but funny, presentation horror stories.]

Bookmarked: Worst Presentation EVAR | Phinney on Fonts

Worst Presentation EVAR | Phinney on Fonts – "I was trying to do a PDF-based presentation interleaved with a demo in InDesign, but my keyboard stopped working completely when I was in full-screen mode in Acrobat… meaning I also had no way to get out of Acrobat to do the demo! So I had to reboot, re-order my presentation on the fly, and improvise talking through from memory some stuff I had intended to do with accompanying slides, while waiting for my computer to complete the reboot and then for InDesign to launch (which last took 3x as long because I had rebooted while it was running). I also had a cold, so I am clearing my throat every 30 seconds. On top of that, the guy doing the presentation in the next room was REALLY LOUD and somehow his presentation included loud heavy metal music…"