Presentations: Don’t be cavalier about your presentation gear prep: Speaking
I am a fanatic about the technical side of presentations and you should be too. Equipment failure can ruin a fine speech. Avoiding such crashes should be as much a part of your preparation as content crafting.
I try mightily to avoid breakdowns, but horror stories happen despite my best efforts. The following nightmares keep me on my toes and should put you on guard, especially if you are complacent.
1. I arrived early for a presentation to about 500 people that would rely upon a meticulously prepared PowerPoint laptop computer show. Frighteningly, once my Toshiba was connected to the convention center projection system, the giant screens went blank. The technicians said my computer was not powerful enough to drive the equipment. Nothing seemed to fix it. Fortunately, I had a backup presentation on disk; loaded it into a friend’s laptop, rehearsed with the new system for 45 minutes, and conducted the presentation without a hitch.
2. After that close call, I bought a new high-end Dell laptop to eliminate the power problem. Also, to take advantage of its technology, I added TV news clips – video plus sound – to the regular electronic slides. Since some 400 people would see this new higher-tech show, I checked out the hotel setup the prior night. Unbelievably, even with my new laptop, the projection screen blacked out. Then came the ironic words from the technician. “Your laptop is too powerful for our equipment.” Finally, after adjustments and shifting to a much larger projector, the screens lit up. But more trouble lay ahead. As I arrived for the actual presentation the next morning, I found that the technician did not provide the same cables we tested the previous evening. Once again, the screen was blank, but now only minutes remained before my speech. We scrambled, found the cables, and saved the presentation from disaster.
3. I tested an A/V setup early one morning for a presentation in the afternoon. When I returned hours later I was stunned to find that another speaker had rearranged the equipment. With precious little time left I faced the prospect of microphones – not the wireless kind – placed 40 feet from the projector. I raced to relocate them with barely enough breathing room for me to metabolize the coursing adrenaline.
4. In another extremely close call, I spent 30 minutes on the phone explaining my A/V needs to a technician the day before a presentation to 100 people in a distant city. When I arrived the next morning, none of the gear was set up and I could not find anyone who knew what to do. I ran through the building to locate technicians who then struggled to prepare the equipment. Finally, 85 minutes later, 5 minutes before the presentation, they got it right. Again, another shot of adrenaline to absorb.
5. In one case, for the first time (and – I swear – the last), a client did not reserve a room for me in the sold-out convention hotel where I was to speak. That forced me to shuttle back and forth from another hotel to prepare. Even worse, a drawbridge between the two locations presented the awful threat that a raised bridge would block my route. Thankfully, it never did, but it worried me.
6. Video cameras are essential in media training to provide feedback. Mere minutes before one session, as I checked and rechecked the gear, the camera suddenly beeped 5 times and shut off. It kept beeping and stopping no matter what I did. The single most important piece of my training was quitting on me and I had no idea why. I resolved to be cool in front of my arriving clients. I just kept restarting the camera and pretended nothing was amiss, and everything went well. (I later learned that a light placed too close to the camera was overheating it and turning it off.)
7. There’s no space for further terror tales, so let me conclude with some technical preparation guidelines for speeches:
• Test your equipment setup as early as possible and retest it just before the presentation.
• Follow a check-off list for equipment.
• Plan for the worst. Disaster will happen one day, so have a backup approach. Know how you would serve your audience if all of your fancy equipment failed.
There is enough pressure to deliver information professionally and persuasively. You do not need the anxiety of malfunctioning equipment. Besides, your clients are paying you to do your best, and you do not want to disappoint them.