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When Bad Things Happen to Good Presentations

It's hard enough to prepare for a speech. When the technology won't cooperate, you have to be ready to go to Plan B.
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I was at a conference recently and witnessed a technology meltdown. From microphones to projectors, nothing was cooperating. One presenter had to use two projectors--one for his presentation, the other for a Skype session with one of his customers--and neither was functioning. He did a good job of holding it together, but the timing ended up off by 45 minutes and one of the sessions had to be cut.

As frequent speakers and company evangelists, we often end up giving presentations in less than ideal situations. But you still have to go through with it. Here are five "rules for the road," so you're prepared in case things start to go awry.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Your supporting materials should be complementary, not distracting.  Resist the urge to point out a problem with a transition in your slide, a misspelling or a slow moving machine. Your audience either notices it or doesn't. Pointing it out adds no value.

If something isn't working--a YouTube video, website, or audio file--just move on. View the problem as an opportunity to share the information with the audience later. It becomes a reason to get their contact information and follow-up, or to have them visit your website to download the material.

Take Advantage of the Time You Have

Many of the conferences I have attended recently have moved from an hour to a 45 minute or shorter minute session schedule. Every precious minute you lose is a lost opportunity to get your message out. Be ready to start your presentation on time, with or without technology.

When your audience picks your session, they probably already know who you are and the topic from the conference materials or invite. You can warm them up with introductions and a brief overview of your material without any fancy technology, allowing the A/V group a few more minutes to get your technology worked out.

The Audience is On Your Side

Your audience wants you to be successful; they don't want or expect you to fail.

Remind yourself of this fact and work off of that energy to keep control of the room and to propel your speech forward past any technology glitches.

Simplify on the Fly

Ask yourself, do you really need the technology to be successful?

I was giving a keynote at a conference recently.  The good news about a keynote is you are the first person to speak.  The bad news is you are the first one to realize there is a problem with the technology or the setup.

At this conference facility, the microphone had been set up directly beneath one of the speakers, so we were experiencing pretty significant feedback. To keep things on track, I decided to do the presentation without a mic.

Because the room was very deep, I picked someone in the last row to give me a sign if they started having problems hearing me. Yes, I had to project a little more than I would have liked, but I was able to get through all of my material and leave time for a good Q&A session at the end.

Have a Backup Plan

If your screens don't work, it can't be the end of world. View it as an opportunity to share with your audience the knowledge you have in your head. You can still use your presentation as your script to remind you of your talking points.

Having your presentation in multiple places like a thumb drive, Dropbox or even a colleague's machine is a great way to recover from a laptop lost to manhandling at a TSA checkpoint or a mishap with your cup of coffee.

Of course, you can kill some trees and bring printed copies to share, but this is only necessary for crucial presentations in which the material is paramount to the message you are trying to deliver and where the audience is going to be small and intimate. Printed copies have another downside: The paper packet is too tempting to the audience. They will likely page ahead and be distracted from paying attention to you.

In a technology driven world, delivering a presentation harkens back to simpler times.  Don't rely so heavily on technology that you can't present without it.

Last updated: Apr 9, 2013




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