How to prepare for tech meltdown during your presentation

Have you ever walked on stage for a presentation and your mic calls it quits? Or the clip you want to show is stuck with the dreaded loading wheel? Perhaps your Mac doesn’t play nice with the HDMI cable, and your beautiful presentation is reduced to a black screen? Cue awkward silence, scurrying AV support staff, overactive sweat glands and minutes that seem to move like molasses.

If you present enough, then you'll know these scenarios are not a case of if but when. So, do you have a plan B for when technology sabotages you? If you don't, then it's time to make one.

Do your preliminary checks.

If your flight crew are the responsible aviators they should be, they are going to run their pre-flight checks. Make sure the buttons work and flappy things flap and whatever else pilots need to do before taking off for a successful flight. The same analogy holds for your presentation.

Ok, so failure to run preliminary checks for your presentation might not have the same catastrophic outcomes as shoddy piloting, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. Go to the venue before you are due to talk. Make sure you check everything that you need is working as it should.

If the venue has tech/AV support, ask them to be there for your run through. If you bring outside guys in, then insist they come in to do a run through with you, even if it's early on the same day as your presentation. If there is no official AV team, bring work wingmen to help you out.

Do a proper dry run of your presentation during your preliminary check. Get up on the stage, test the mic, work the clicker, play through your slideshow and check the wifi speeds for things you plan to stream. Make sure your laptop, flash drive, iCloud, Google media, or whatever you are using for your presentation works at the venue. Also, have your presentation saved on multiple platforms/devices, that way if one doesn’t work, you have a back-up.

How to come prepared for poor connectivity.

Check the wifi at the venue during your preliminary check. If their connection is dodgy, you can try using 3G/4G. You may well find that connection is quicker than the wifi in some instances.

Better yet, plan to have your clips or websites downloaded before the presentation so that if you need to, you can run without connection. By downloading and saving any video or audio clips, you won't need to rely on streaming them during your talk.

If you want to show websites, take some screenshots of the pages you need to display. That way, if you can't download the site, at least you still have images to refer to.

In your handouts, include any web addresses or links you use so audience members can go and visit them in their own time if you couldn't show them live at your presentation.

How to prepare for a catastrophic power failure on all fronts.

The lights go out, the projector dims and the mic goes silent. It's a total power cut. Not an unheard-of event in South Africa. However, there's no reason for despair. There is metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel, if not actual light.

If you can't reschedule, then there are a few things you can do to salvage the day. Have your slide show presentation printed out to give to the audience as hardcopies. If the numbers are too big, then save it to a platform that the audience can access on their mobile devices (yay for mobile data!).

What should you say to your audience?

We like this tip from Michael Hyatt: apologise once to your audience for the inconvenience… And then move on. Don't keep harping on about it, or else when you've finished, the glitch is what they'll remember the most, not that presentation you slaved over for hours.

Give the AV people a chance to try and get you up and running again. But if you feel it's taking too long and their frenetic scrambling has become too distracting, then you'll need to call it. Announce to the audience that you'll be going ahead without the presentation and then hand out those hardcopy printouts or direct the audience to where your slide show is stored online.

While you are giving the techies their moment to fiddle, it's worthwhile having a little anecdote up your sleeve. That way, you can keep your audience entertained during the interruption. You really don't want to end up in a situation like director Michael Bay did when the teleprompter failed at a Samsung press conference. It's so enormously stressful up there, and you can't help feeling sympathy for the man.

However, if you planned for this eventually, you might end up coming off better, like Steve Jobs did when his clicker wouldn't work during an iPhone launch. Look, he may have been mad/sad/or felt really bad, but he didn't show it. Keep it cool and relaxed. Have a story ready, and the audience will take their cue from you.

Don't base your presentation around technology.

Be prepared to go it alone. You'll find this advice everywhere you search. If you are using your media correctly - as an enhancement to what you say rather than a crutch - then you should be able to smoothly wing your way through your presentation without the flashing pictures and sounds. In this article from Ryan Estis, he recommends you use media as "leverage tools to add something", not as the focus of your talk.

The audience is there to hear what you have to say, not watch your slide show or video clips. In fact, if you think of the great speeches delivered that find their way into our collective cultural conscious, it's the words, not the images that are remembered.


The Brahman Hills Team
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