The Power-Cut Presenter

by Peter Watts

In the second that the lights pop there is a moment of perfect puzzled peace.

Have you ever noticed? When the power cut hits and the lights all fail, everybody freezes. The only movement is that of heads twitching upward, sharply looking for the lights.

The same thing happens when the bulb in the projector decides to pop. Everybody freezes for just a second. They then look to the projector, and next they look to you, the presenter.

What do you do next?

I was recently at a presentation given by a Chief Operating Officer to 500 executive staff.

45 seconds into the presentation there was a pop. And smoke. Blown bulb.

Here’s how the presenter handled it.

He smiled, shrugged, and joked “well, that would happen to me wouldn’t it.”

The audience laughed. They laughed not at the joke, and not because of the speaker’s senior rank. They laughed in empathy. Techno-failure in front of such a large audience. What a nightmare.

Next, he went to the podium, collected a sheet of PowerPoint print-outs of his slides, and slipped seldom publicly seen reading glasses onto his nose. “My secretary always makes me bring these print-outs with me. This time I’m glad she did.”

His secretary had been absolutely right.

For every presentation, always have an emergency back-up script hidden away somewhere.It could be on cue cards,it could be a print-out of your slides,it could even be written on a MindMap.

Even when we intimately know a presentation, if the unexpected happens it can throw us off our game. A paper reminder of our presentation is all we need to put us back on track.

In the event, just knowing those notes were there proved to be enough. Once back into his stride, the COO could deliver the presentation as if the projector had never failed.

The reading glasses came back off his nose, and quitting the stage he came down to the level where the audience were seated. He then sat down on the edge of the stage, and spoke from there instead.

When using PowerPoint you are often obliged to present in a specific style.
When you no longer have to use (or can use!) PowerPoint, you are no longer obliged to present from anywhere near that big bad screen.
Change the vibe. Get closer to your audience.

In this little case study example, let me conclude by saying that many in the audience agreed this was the best presentation their COO had ever given. We saw his warmth, his humanity. Removed from electronics both presenter and message were able to become at once, more intimate.

The COO had become a Power-Cut Presenter.

He embraced the moment and with the aid of a small printed safety net and a willingness to adapt, connected with the audience in a way he never had before.


  1. Mario Laubacher says:

    An apt reminder that a presentation is, or should be, more than a bunch of slides with a speaker in front of it. In this example, the audience was treated to a presenter and a message, an increasingly rare moment in a corporate world where slideware takes the prominent position.

    As always, a fascinating read. Thanks, Peter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: