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Thought for the day: Practice until…

From Tony Ramos’ Facebook stream:

Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.

Nicely compliments the two Principles of Presentation Disaster Avoidance devoted to practice:

Number 3: If you practice like it’s the real thing, the real thing will seem like a practice.

Number 9: Everyone knows that it’s essential to rehearse, but not everyone knows how to rehearse what’s essential.

Rick Pillars: Crash Into Me

Veteran AV pro Rick Pillars, (It’s a Rap Productions) sent in a great story:

©iStockphoto.com/DivaNir4a

©iStockphoto.com/DivaNir4a

Once upon a time I supplied audio visual labor to clients both locally and from all over the nation. We had some interesting times. This one time we were setting up a pretty large show. The union labor that was supposed to set up the set never showed. So, I was asked to get some labor quickly. I did the best I could and we were successful.

What makes this story take a twist though is what happened during the set-up. During the actual production, the CEO of the company was going to come busting through a styrofoam set off to the side on a rare and vintage Harley, drive up a ramp onto the stage, act like he was using Bond like karate moves on a couple of stuntmen and rescue the fair maiden. Then he was going to get back on the bike and ride out through the audience. Sounds good right?

With a room full of techs of various sorts and set builders and lighting personnel and other folks as well, he decided to have an impromptu rehearsal. No one knew but him and a few other people. Work was not called to a halt in order to give him room. Gear was not picked up and moved out of the way.

I walked out of the room as he began his rehearsal and came back in just as he was about to head down off the stage. I was walking towards my projectionist to tell him something when I heard the roar getting louder. I look to my right and here comes this motorcycle heading straight for me. I had a few seconds to think about what I was going to do. I chose to stand still like a deer caught in the headlights. My thinking was that he wouldn’t know which way I was going to go and we had a 50/50 chance that he was veer into me whichever way I went. I figured once he saw me not moving either forward or backward he would adjust and flow around me either way.

Uh uh, instead he just laid that beautiful bike down on it’s side and let it skid towards me. At that point I calmly stepped out of the path. He jumped off and with it still in gear he began yelling at me about not moving out of the way. I explained my reasoning and it shut him up, but I still got an angry look as he stalked off.

I asked the bike’s handler about it just to see if I did the right thing, and he said that I had nothing to worry about. I did act correctly. He said that if anything, the CEO should have never managed to get it into 3rd gear in such a crowded room and that he would be paying for the damages. There were big long set screws laying all over the place as well as AV equipment and quite a few people. He could have seriously hurt someone or himself.

You’ve got to give the CEO credit, at least he had enough sense to know he needed to get some rehearsal in. Of course he might have just wanted more time on that sweet vintage bike. Wonder if he would have been as anxious to rehearse if it involved some high-powered PowerPoint rather than the rescue of a fair maiden. In any case the rehearsal he did get would have been a lot more useful if time had been taken to plan things out, to clear the decks, and to make the environment he was working in as much like the actual show conditions as possible (remember Principle #3: If you practice like it’s the real thing, the real thing will seem like a practice). Maybe the spill he took actually made him more cautious during the actual event and saved some lives. Maybe it just made him more nervous and everyone was lucky there wasn’t a repeat performance.

As intense as meetings can get, most of us will never face a situation that threaten us with bodily harm. Did you ever find your self in a situation that had your life flashing before your eyes while in the line of duty?

F Minus: Balloon Drop

Another one of those situations where a good rehearsal would have helped

F Minus

Thanks to Richard Garber of Joyful Public Speaking for the heads up.

Rick Pillars: Rehearsal, Rehearsal, Rehearsal

“Rick Pillars, an 18-year AV pro and owner of It’s a Rap Productions sent me the following vignette in response to an earlier BML post:

©iStockphoto.com/abzee

©iStockphoto.com/abzee

This is actually a pretty typical scenario. We just spent two or more days setting up for the General Session. On Day 3 we come in and from 7am-8am we run the equipment and troubleshoot any and all issues. We tape down cables and get it all cleaned up. We were also scheduled to have rehearsals from 8am-11am. At 10:30am we are told to stand-by for Rehearsals. Woohoo. Thanks for waiting until the last 30 minutes of the scheduled rehearsal time.

The show begins at 3pm so we have time to knock out rehearsal and go to lunch and be ready and fresh for the main speakers. 11 and then 11:30 comes an goes. Finally at 1pm the second of three presenters comes in. Then it begins.

Slide 1 is good to go. Slide 2, can we change what that says. No, not like that…yeah, like that. Slide 3 gets changed. And so on and so forth. Our rehearsal is more of a PowerPoint editing session. After that, the TelePrompTer gets edited to fit the new content. We have two more presenters to go including the Main or first speaker.

And the entire crew is sitting there talking about food. Wondering if we are going to get a chance to eat. Wondering why no one seems to ever think about the fact that actual human beings sit behind that equipment and they have needs too. We can’t cut anyone to go and get food. Everyone has a vital function to fulfill. We can’t order in because most delivery drivers have no concept of where to bring such a delivery inside of a hotel. We are stuck. And hungry. And we need to go to the bathroom. Gripe, gripe, gripe.

We finish up rehearsal (such as it was) about 10 minutes before doors. In that time we have to go to the bathroom, get something to drink if we can, and the smokers have to go fulfill their need. Yes, we do make some big bucks to do what we do, but we sure wouldn’t mind if it were remembered that we need sustenance also.

A couple things grab my attention in this story:

  • If you are in a leadership role guiding a team through the presentation preparation process, first make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the differences between a slide review and a rehearsal, then don’t let time that should be devoted to rehearsal become a slide review. A real rehearsal this late in the process has the potential to actually make the presentation better. Doing a last-minute slide review and tweaking session might make the slides better,  but it’s not likely to do the presentation any good. (See Principle 9)
  • For God’s sake, take care of your people. And yes, even if they are contractors, the AV crew is “your people”. You depend on them to perform at the absolute best of their ability. They can’t do that if they are  hungry, thirsty and/or exhausted. It’s perfectly acceptable to expect them to go to heroic lengths in an emergency situation but it’s best to avoid operating in hero mode unless absolutely necessary.

Rikk Flohr: Lest you lead your flock astray

©iStockphoto.com/Mantonature

©iStockphoto.com/Mantonature

Why is so tempting to focus almost all your precious rehearsal time and energy on what the presenter is doing?

Maybe it’s because what’s happening onstage is the most visible/audible element of the entire production. Maybe it’s because the person who will be behind the lecture is usually the most worried person in the room. Maybe it’s because the speaker, at least in a corporate setting, is often the biggest of the several big cheeses involved in any given event.

I came across the story below in my feed reader a last week and it’s author, Rikk Flohr (his blog, his website) was kind enough to give me permission to reprint it here on BML. It’s a great illustration of an important principle: Everyone knows that it’s essential to rehearse, but not everyone knows how to rehearse what’s essential.

In other words, a successful rehearsal has to be about more than just a speaker getting the words, voice, pacing, stage movement and gestures right. It also has to include, in a meaningful way, the easy to overlook “backstage” elements that need to be performed correctly and in unison with the presenter.

Death and Resurrection by PowerPoint

Have you ever been inside one of those English-dubbed Japanese Monster Movies? I don’t mean being chased by some rubbery monster with curiously man-like proportions. What I am talking about is the experience of, in real life, having the sounds being heard not follow the visual cues of script and mouth shapes. Today, this happened to me.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

My recent forays at PowerPoint Live brought me in contact with many people who, primarily or secondarily, were learning the craft of professional presentation for use at their local church. There has been an explosion of multimedia materials used in conjunction with church services. Inspirational pictures are shown, announcements are broadcast and lyrics for the hymns are displayed.  It also keeps the church feeling modern and in-tune to today’s youth.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked to find my own church constructing a trio of large screens in the main worship area. Three massive screens with powerful projectors lead us all in the celebration of the mass. Pictures are shown, announcements are made and lyrics displayed-all run from the mixer board at the back center of church. We no longer have hymnals and we no longer have photocopied sheets stuck in the pews cueing us on what to sing. Until today, it was all running so smoothly.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE! REHEARSE!

Saturday Night Live did a great skit once about St. Mickey’s Knights of Columbus where no one in the crowd new the second line to any of the less common Christmas carols. Life imitated art today.  During the second song of the day, the second verse was upon us and the vocalist leading the song, sang, suddenly alone.  The crowd trailed off into silence. Some mumbled heroically. Some looked around awkwardly for guidance.  The lyrics being displayed on the massive screens were not the same as those being sung. Since it was a second verse, no one was really quite sure who was right: the presenter with the script or the slide that said otherwise.  Eventually, the perplexed singer looked at the screen and joined the subdued crowd in the projected lyrics.

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

For the rest of the service, every song was tentative-every churchgoer unsure of his or her self.  The projectionist started to become tentative too. The slides didn’t change quite as crisply as before. Some of them appeared too early as compensation for the bewilderment in the crowd.  Mass ended early-perhaps by design-perhaps by confusion.  I surreptitiously grabbed a few cell phone camera captures (see them here) in the uncertain moments, knowing that this was presentation precarious.

Choirs rehearse. Musicians rehearse. Speakers rehearse. Projectionists and those interacting with the presentation-particularly in a multi-presenter environment need to rehearse too. It isn’t enough to know the script (read lyrics) on the sheet on your podium (read music stand), you have to know the visuals too and be certain that they are sympathetic or at least not incompatible.

Lest you lead your flock astray, repeat the refrain (to the notes of “…in this world and the next…”:

REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!  REHEARSE!

A-MEN!

Anyone who receives your presentation is your flock. Do not lead them astray!

Rikk Flohr © 2008


Rikk Flohr teaches and writes about the subtle art and inexact science of imaging-from capture, through editing and finally presentation. In addition he teaches at national conferences like PowerPoint Live and conducts photographic and image editing workshops in multiple countries. His design firm, Fleeting Glimpse Images supplies design for print and screen, presentation consulting, video and still photographic services for a wide range of clients.

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.