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.

Presentation horrors: Technology

by Peter Watts

In the spirit of the Halloween season, this week’s blog invokes a dark horror that is lurking to ensnare even the most practiced presenter.


Presentations are both boosted and blighted by the marvels of technology. Nothing else puts so much power at the disposal of so many presenters, and yet nothing else also has the power to so lethally silence quite so many presenters.

I once attended the opening of a resort hotel at a major theme park. Without mentioning brand names I could say that it’s principal star is a mouse whose girlfriend’s name rhymes with “Vinnie”. The hotel wanted to enthuse staff and customers with a vision of all the theme park was going to offer. First to speak were executives of the hotel group, all of whom delivered compelling visions of the property’s future. Next came executives from the theme park operator themselves, a corporation famous for being the masters of all things visual.

The executives mounted the rostrum, plugged in their laptop, and then looked puzzled. There was a hurried conversation. The words “sound jack” and “where?” drifted down from the platform. Oops! Their presentation had been promised as a visionary sound and light show, except that all the sound had just been silenced by the lack of a $5 cable!

It turned out the executives would actually have to speak and for this they were completely unprepared. They had fallen into the trap of becoming reliant on the technology. Take away that technology, and they had no idea what to do. The trap had sprung shut!

If you are planning to make a presentation that in any way involves technology, here’s how to avoid the same thing from happening to you:

Check the hardware early

Check early with the organizer what technology will be available to you at the venue. Assume nothing! If you require sound, will there be speakers? If presenting from your laptop, will there be a projector? Even go so far as to check what type of projector; Data projector? Overhead projector? Slide projector? Assume nothing! Just because you are technologically in the 21st century doesn’t necessarily mean the customer or venue are.

Check the presentation software, and the version

If you will be required to share a common laptop with other presenters, find out what presentation software it is running. Also be sure to check which version they have and if necessary “save-down” your presentation to the standards of that earlier product.

If your presentation requires products such as Adobe Flash, then check the availability and versions of these as well.

Arrive early, load-up early

Never walk up to the rostrum with your presentation on a data-key and expect it to simply load. Even at best, there will be an awkward delay and a mess of icons to deal with while the audience mutter amongst themselves.

Arrive early so that you can see your presentation successfully loaded before the audience sits down. Take this opportunity to also make sure you know how to use any other tools such as remote mice or touch-pads to advance your slides.

Know how your video settings work

The commonest issues usually come with video settings. Your presentation looked just fine at the previous venue, but all of a sudden you plug into a strange projector and everything distorts all over the screen. If there is no one available to help, and you can’t fix it yourself, then this will indeed will be one of those moments when no-one can hear you scream!

Be prepared to invest in your own tech

The most fool-proof way to make sure everything works is to carry it all yourself. In the past the size and cost of projectors were prohibitive, but today projectors have become small enough and cheap enough to fit the budget and travel bags of frequent presenters.

These are just a few of the measures that can be taken to avoid the horror of techno-failure. There is one more however that we should consider; the true way to put a stake through the heart of technology:

Leave the technology resting silently in it’s coffin!

The most compelling and powerful presentations are made without any technology at all, save for the possible necessity of a radio microphone in front of the biggest audiences.

Look at some of the greatest presenters such as Steve Jobs. Here we have a man whose very fame is based on the technology sector, and yet when presenting he uses the barest minimum. Jobs understands the foundation skills of public speaking; having a clear message, a clear path through that message, and techniques such as metaphor and simile that bring light and depth to that message.

He is a technology guru who when given his choice, uses as little technology as possible; a case of the high-tech keeping low-tech!

Great speakers like Steve Jobs know that the best way to avoid the horror of being trapped by technology is to avoid being overly reliant on technology in the first place.

Happy Halloween!!!!

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