You're giving a presentation or leading a meeting. You pop open your laptop to conference in remote participants or display your presentation on the meeting room monitor. But nothing happens.
This sadly common scenario--and the fear of it--caused stress to 87 percent of respondents in a survey of more than 1,000 professionals who present at or attend meetings in the United States, the UK, France, and Germany. (They probably should attend fewer meetings, but that's a different subject.) The survey was commissioned by Barco, maker of networked visualization products. The survey was followed up by live experiments to see how people responded to presentation tech failures in real time.
It certainly isn't surprising that having technology fail in the middle of a meeting or presentation stresses people out. But it was interesting to see just how much of an impact presentation tech failures can have. For instance, respondents said a variety of tech problems are at fault 31 percent of the time when meetings start late.
And 93 percent of those who've experienced such problems say they had negative effects well beyond the meeting itself. Seventy percent reported loss of credibility for the speaker; more than half reported lost productivity due to wasted time; 24 percent said they'd missed deadlines due to meeting technology failures, and 12 percent said they'd lost business because of such issues. With that in mind, it's depressing to note that of the countries surveyed, the U.S. reported the greatest amount of time wasted due to meeting technology failures.
While up-to-date technology can certainly help, tech failures during meetings and presentations are a fact of life. But that doesn't mean you need to let such incidents ruin your presentation or harm your career. A lot depends on how you react when meeting tech screwups occur--whether you handle them calmly, efficiently, with grace and perhaps humor, or whether you let failing technology drive up your stress level and supersede the message your were trying to convey or the discussion you were hoping to have.
Though technology is inherently fallible--there are things you can do to keep that from happening. Here's some advice from David Lewis, Ph.D., neuropsychologist and chair of Mindlab International, which conducted the stress portion of the study:
1. Have a tech rehearsal.
Most performers have a "tech rehearsal" before opening night to make sure such items as sound, stage effects and lighting are all working correctly. If feasible, you should do the same, trying out out the technology everyone will be using before the event. "Tech rehearsals help you identify any glitches early and as a result instill confidence," Lewis says.
2. Talk it out with your tech team.
Whether or not a tech rehearsal is possible, you should discuss the meeting and the technology you'll be using in detail with your IT team well in advance of the event. Among other things, they can tell you if any of the technology you're planning to use is likely to be problematic.
3. Have a backup plan.
This is especially important if any of the technology you're planning to use is new or unfamiliar. "Having a backup plan, such as using an alternative device or having handouts, also can help curb stress," Lewis says. "Anxiety crops up when our performance is on the line, therefore having a plan B leaves you with a clear mind and a positive meeting experience."
4. Put IT on speed dial.
"IT can provide guidance, assist you with alternative solutions and lend their expertise during a tech crisis if needed," Lewis says. For an especially important meeting or presentation, having an IT person in attendance might be worthwhile.
5. Keep calm and keep warm.
The most important question if technology fails during a meeting is how you will react. With that in mind, Lewis recommends taking a few deep breaths before the meeting starts. You can also do it again during a tech failure or even lead the group in one deep breath if everyone is stressing out.
Another technique he recommends is to make sure your hands stay warm, because circulation flows away from your extremities in times of stress, tending to lead to cold hands. "Hold your hands near your cheeks," he says. "It returns blood flow to the surface of your skin and has a calming effect."