But it’s commonly forgotten in your trade, or by your sponsors, that speakers are the center of your event. They are the core of the agenda. They are what you advertise. And it’s what speakers promise to teach that gets people to pay to come. Yet once signed up to speak, they are often an afterthought, neglected behind the other critical tasks organizers have to manage.
There are simple and inexpensive ways to solve this problem.
Lack of attention to details can cause a speech to crash. Checklists are one good way to avoid catastrophes, like forgetting to bring or do something critical beforehand. Checklists are broader than packing lists that only describe what to bring.
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…
Of all the possible responses to an emergent presentation disaster, I think it’s safe to say anger is the most foolish. Yeah, I know, this isn’t a particularly fresh observation —
Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
— but it does bear repeating.
Given a choice between working with someone likely to curl up into a quivering fetal ball when things are going wrong and working with someone prone to venting their anger in the same situation, I think I would go with the fetal ball rather than the venter. A fetal ball can be guided to a quiet corner somewhere to whimper quietly while everyone else sorts things out. The anger of your basic hothead tends to spread and escalate in a reflexive feedback loop that has the potential to drag most of your team into dealing with the emotion (including fight and flight responses) rather than working the problem.
The way to deal with feedback loops is to, wait for it, break the loop. Reduce the amplification by responding quietly to the hothead’s outburst (see “The Valium Bubble“). Absorb, don’t reflect. Sometimes the simplest way to deal with audio feedback is to turn the speakers slightly away from the microphone. Sometimes you just need to simply turn away from someones anger in order and avoid sending it right back.
At least until the crisis has passed.
(Disclaimer: This post should not be read as criticism of a tightly controlled tactical anger used on rare occasions to guide and inspire team performance. I am taking to task the uncontrolled, unthinking anger generated by anxiety arising from unexpected, negative events that could lead to a presentation’s failure.)
One last thought (it’s not my thought, but I can’t remember where I heard this): All anger is actually fear, and all fear is fear of loss. Figuring out, in the most specific way possible, what the angry person is afraid of losing can often put you in a great position to alleviate the fear and to perhaps find the leverage necessary to dial down the anger.
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While the speaker was fiddling with his envelope, someone else advanced the slides too quickly, and revealed the winner’s name to all but the speaker before the envelope had even been opened. Doh! Not only did this make the speaker look silly, it made everyone think less of the organization of the event, both for the Powerpoint slip-up and for even using ceremonial envelopes when the winners were already on the slides.
If you think that your first webinar is going to run perfectly, you’re wrong. If you think that your first 20 webinars are going to run without any problems, you’re also wrong. Things are going to happen. Maybe your Internet connection will die or Go To Webinar will not display your screen correctly. Maybe your PowerPoint won’t show up or you will lose your PowerPoint. You might be all ready to demonstrate a site for your viewers only to find out that the site is down for maintenance.
Instead of crossing your fingers, hoping nothing will ever go wrong, no, that things will go wrong. When these things do go wrong, what do you do? Always have some kind of a backup plan.
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.
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.
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