Roll with the technical difficulties

The audience only gets what you give them.

That’s what I kept forgetting as I moped through the Fort Lauderdale airport yesterday. Thanks to inflight wifi, I bring you my story from a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, on my way home from a three-city keynote tour for a new financial services client (they’ve grown 30% per year for the last few and are investing in their people’s communication skills).

The Orlando keynote was great, but then came Fort Lauderdale. True to form, I showed up at the venue early to find the room and set up my equipment. Despite testing it all, this keynote was a technical disaster. Their computer froze, and so did my slides. Had to do the last 25% without my planned visuals and videos. While I rolled with it, the presentation didn't end the way I planned, and I left totally discouraged (didn't show it, of course).

Here's the funny thing: I got a call from my client today, and they loved it. They knew something had gone wrong technically, but were very impressed and pleased at how I moved on with the show. In fact, they're using my model as a way to teach their people what to do when things go wrong. Surprised doesn't really cut it.

Goes to show, the audience only knows what you give them. I speak all the time, but I still got stuck in my own head and forgot this rule. Sure, I was disappointed they didn’t see my planned ending, but the audience had no idea what they missed. As far as they were concerned, it ended just as it should have. Same goes for your audience.

So here’s what to do to prevent technical mayhem, and roll with it if it happens:

1. Test it all!

  • Get to your presentation site early and test the equipment (even if it's a conference room you're in all the time). Whether it’s your laptop or their computer, test everything: audio, visual, and videos. Turn the projector on and off. Make sure there’s ample power supply.
  • Make an IT best friend immediately upon showing up at the site, and get his or her phone number. If there’s a problem, you can call and get it fixed, while you keep going with the presentation.

2. Bring backup.

  • Have your slide deck on a separate flash drive. That way, you can easily move over to a different computer if needed. If you can have a backup laptop ready to go, even better.
  • If this is a high stakes presentation, you should be prepared to present without slides. Be sure to do a run through without your slide deck so you're not relying on it.

3. Keep calm and carry on.

  • If the tech freezes and you know there’s no going back, roll with it. Stay (or at least appear) calm. Subtly turn off the projector and continue on, never again referencing slides or apologizing for what would have been.
  • Steve Jobs had a pretty infamous tech disaster when demonstrating the features of iPhone 4, but he made it through by staying professional, humorous, and moving on.

4. Deliver strong, no excuses.

  • Remember and keep repeating to yourself: The audience only gets what you give them. Deliver the strong presentation they came to see regardless of what happens technically.
  • Make sure to have notes (we recommend the Decker Grid) so you're not relying on your slides to guide you along. Your slides should be extra support to help make your points, but YOU are the presentation, not your PowerPoint.

Beginning our descent in to San Francisco -- look forward to you sharing your experiences with technical difficulties and any tips you've picked up along the way.

5 thoughts on “Roll with the technical difficulties
  1. Ben,
    I’ve had this happen on several occasions as well only to have the spontaneous dialogue that followed become more fluid and enjoyable. Got to know your stuff however in order to get away with it

  2. Great post and so true. Nice to hear that you, the consummate speaking professional, can feel panicked and disappointed, just like the rest of us!
    Btw – Matt showed me the Decker piece in the Alaska Airlines mag. Way to go!

  3. Another tip: Also have an extra set a batteries for your presentation remote, and keep it with you at all times. I usually also have a hard copy (USB stick) AND “virtual copy” (on a cloud drive) of my PPT files. Great article, thanks!

  4. Ben,
    Well done! I think it tells us a general truth about audiences. If we’ve connected with them, they’ll associate with our dilemma, put themselves in our shoes, and appreciate the apparent ease with which we coped in a situation that is probably their worst nightmare. So we earn our audiences’ appreciation.
    Bob Hope said something like- ‘Our audiences will forgive us anything unless we embarrass them’. And our falling apart when the tech stuff dies, makes them die a thousand times. So I think your ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ motif is perfect. Regards from the UK and great blog.

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