Being a regular presenter takes MacGyver-style resourcefulness in dealing with last-minute surprises.
An ideal way to spend the time leading up to presentations would be to do some deep-breathing exercises, watch the speaker before you to get a sense of the audience dynamic, and run through your mental checklists. That’s what happens in Ideal World.
If you’re presenting in unfamiliar venues, however, chances are you’ll spend that precious time in a cold sweat, trying to deal with some unexpected technical obstacle that you hadn’t expected. So you get up on stage unprepared and surging with tension.
And you come across like you’ve been hitting the ice pipe backstage - panting, trembling, constant nervous face rubbing etc.
Get There Early. Maybe A Week Early
The main issue is that many speakers turn up shortly before their time slot, expecting presentation conditions to be perfect. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t.
It’s easier if you’re just talking, but if you’re using projected multi-media, you need to do some serious advance checking in advance of the event.
Presentation perfectionists trust nothing they haven’t seen with their own eyes, unless they’re rich and important enough to have their own technical director.
Here are the 5 most common last minute speaker dramas and how to avoid them.
1. Can All The Seats See The Screen?
I spoke at a dinner on the weekend where about 25% of the audience was seated in corners where they couldn’t see the screen. I had a series of lines that relied on screen photos for comic effect. I had to dump most of them at the last minute and use different, words-only material. For the big keynote video, I had to ask people to stand up and move into the viewing zone.
Solution: If you’re a meeting planner, ask the AV people for a couple of LCD/plasma screens in the corners so those in the cheap seats don’t miss out. Alternatively, put the screen against the short wall of a room, so there are fewer people in the corners.
2. Screen Set Too Low
Similar to the previous point, but not as obvious during rehearsals. Your images look fine before the audience arrives, but when the room fills with people, only the front row can see the bottom half of your material.
Solution: make the image smaller and raise it up – better they see all your material in a smaller size than just half of it. This assumes you’re the only speaker – if there are others on after you, you’ll need to negotiate an image size treaty with them.
3. Big Screen, Puny Sound
Presenters always focus on the visuals and the projector, and forget the sound. So you end up with the video vision running on the big screen, and the soundtrack running through a puny set of laptop speakers.
Solution: check in advance with the AV people and make sure they’ll have a cable to patch your laptop into the PA. It’s a different signal to a microphone, so they’ll need to know in advance.
4. Oh My God, It Ate My Fonts!
Sometimes you have to submit your presentation material in advance to the conference organizer, who has arranged a single set of computers that everyone uses. If you use unusual fonts, you’ll arrive to find a screen full of Courier New or some other terrible stoneage font. And your embedded video and audio clips won’t be there.
Solution: Use your own computer wherever possible. If you’re sharing, just give up on cool fonts and use Arial or Verdana – plain, readable and inside every computer in the universe. Remember that video and audio clips aren’t actually embedded, they’re just linked. Put your PPT material and all the relevant multimedia files in a single folder, zip it up and send it in. Bring a spare one on a USB stick. And allow plenty of checking time on site.
5. Architectural Obstacles
Many venues are designed with something other than presentations in mind. Vision-blocking pillars. Low-slung chandeliers. Light switches in a completely different room, with dozens of unlabelled dials, faders and switches, unfathomable without the instruction manual that was lost long ago.
Solution: Site inspections. Go there in advance, check out the room, see what surprises are in store, and plan how to work around them. Venue people are happy to help – they don’t like surprises either.
If you don’t own your own equipment, take your AV people along. They know how to get the best out of a room and minimize the potential for drama.
And like MacGyver, they are skilled at solving a crisis using only small pieces of tape and a felt pen.
A survey of 1000 people in England has voted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown the most boring speaker in the country.
He beat David Beckham and Kate Winslet. There’s a valuable lesson in this: the best way to get your company lots of media coverage, some of it as far away as Australia, is to do a survey of 1000 people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
Really, Englanders, he’s not that bad. Here’s a quick 34 minutes of him addressing US Congress.
Brown is a perfectly good speaker. He tells a story well, he understands the rhythm of a sentence, he sounds responsible and dignified, which is how you want a PM to sound in difficult times.
And the rest of us out here in the English-speaking world think Scottish accents are cool.
His only issue is the hands. We’ve spoken of lecterns before, and how they give presenters something to grip.
PM Brown, gripping a chest high US-style lectern, looks like a butler bearing a wooden tea tray.
The survey did better on the positive side of things, rating uber-raconteur (and unlikely Twitter star) Stephen Fry as best speaker, beating even Barack Obama.
No arguments there. Here’s Fry talking about the joys of swearing. It’s intercut with scenes from old British TV shows - American readers might find Fry’s comedy partner vaguely familiar, it’s the youthful Hugh Laurie before he became House.
Not a picture of Warren Buffett. Pic by Benidorme.
We love Warren Buffett. Not for his stratospheric wealth, his modest lifestyle or his powers of oracle-ness, but because he’s the only CEO prepared to unleash the power of vivid speech.
Normally when CEO’s speak, they use standard MBA-style word soup, so ten minutes later you’ve forgotten what they said.
Unless it turns out, in retrospect, to be a little wide of the mark:
“It is hard for us, without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing one dollar in any of those transactions.” Joseph J. Cassano, AIG, August 2007
Buffett knows how to paint a picture with his words. Admittedly, some of those pictures are a little hallucinogenic, but you won’t forget them in a hurry.
Here’s a few situations, showing how a regular CEO might describe them, followed by actual Buffett quotes from the Berkshire Hathaway annual message to shareholders.
Insurance is one of the few industries with sales growth potential.
We see solid potential upside for insurance product units going forward.
We’re like two hungry mosquitoes in a nudist camp.
Investors have taken an absolute pounding over the last year.
We’re seeing substantive value decretion in all sectors due to a range of factors.
By year end, investors of all stripes were bloodied and confused, much as if they were small birds that had strayed into a badminton game.
Unknown exposure to toxic debt means banks don’t trust each other at the moment.
Cross-bank debt exchange structures currently exhibit heightened risk variables.
Participants seeking to dodge troubles face the same problem as someone seeking to avoid venereal disease: It’s not just whom you sleep with, but also whom they are sleeping with.
Now, for those of you who have ever written a speech for a client or your CEO: imagine yourself putting that venereal disease line to them.
Visualise the expression on their face as they read the script for the first time, pause, check it again, longer pause, look across their desk, slide their glasses down their nose, and ask you just how long you’ve had a secret LSD habit.
Buffett also gets top marks for actually owning up to making mistakes, something that no other CEO has done since companies were invented in the Middle Ages.
Read the full report if you have time, there are many more gems for the patient reader:
‘That certainly looks like a $2,000 cat to me’ says the salesman who will receive a $3,000 commission if the loan goes through.
Used properly, audiovisual technology adds an entire new dimension to your presentation. It brings your message to life, and helps it live on in their minds after the words have faded.
It’s called support for a good reason. It’s not a substitute for a good speech, and it shouldn’t overshadow your connection with the audience. Sometimes you see presenters pushed out of the way by enormous screens, which makes them look like a movie theatre usher rather than the star of the show.
In the latest episode of the Presentation Channel, we look at how to put the focus on you, the speaker, by how you arrange the stage, where you stand, and how you use your speaker support.
It costs no more to do it the right way, and it can transform your ability to hold their attention.
Video is a fine thing for adding some visual variety to your presentation, and for giving your voice a rest for a few moments. Video files are easy to embed in PowerPoint or Keynote so you don’t have to mess around with clunky media players or DVD’s.
Youtube doesn’t go out of their way to help you download video material. As their Help section says:
“No, currently you can’t download our videos to your computer. YouTube’s video player is designed to be used within your browser as an Internet experience.”
Oh yes you can. Until recently I was using on-line conversion sites like vixy.net.
Now there’s an option where you can get higher resolution MP4 files. Youtube is trying to increase the quality of its video images - you might have noticed the little ‘watch in high quality’ button that it offers now.
This page gives you a link that you can drag onto your toolbar or favourites list, which comes up like this:
or like this on a PC:
Go to your Youtube video of choice, click on the ‘Get YouTube Video‘ button, and your Youtube page will now have this handy ‘Download as MP4‘ button over on the right-hand side:
And you’re set to go.
Obviously ‘High Res’ is a relative term, and if it was blurry when it was uploaded, that’s how it’ll stay. But generally there’s some quality progress being made.
Welcome back, folks. Back to work last week and straight down to Tasmania for our own conference with Scene Change people from around the country. And very productive it was, too.
A conference technology company having its own conference raises some interesting questions.
We all speak on a semi-daily basis, face-to-face, via video Skype. This ticks all the conversational boxes. You can hear them. You can see them. You could argue: why bother having a conference at all?
Undercover Communication: Fun to Do, Hard To Manage
The idea of a conference as a series of presentations and formal discussions misses a large part of the picture. Part of the role of any conference presentation is providing material for the discussions that happen in smaller groups after-hours. That’s where friends are made, alliances are formed, stories are told and deals are done. The truth comes out after dark.
Face-to-face, you pick up far more of the non-verbal signals that tell you whether your ideas are getting across or not.
It’s a tricky area for Management, because informal communication is almost impossible to manage. It just takes its own course.
Can The Machines Take Over?
Years ago when I was a corporate communications guy for a big event technology firm, I’d get regular calls from trade journalists writing their annual story on videoconferencing.
“Will videoconferencing replace actual conferences?” they would ask.
A tough question, as I had a vested interest in promoting videoconferencing, since it cost about a million dollars a minute at that time. Even so, the answer was clearly, emphatically ‘no’. Like living on food pills from a robotic vending machine, it’s one of those Jetsons-future ideas that completely misses the point of human nature.
Meetings Are A Personal Thing
Humans are social animals. We like to gather in flocks, preferably with a drink in hand, to gossip and complain and flirt and generally draw comfort from the fact that everyone else has pretty much the same problems as you.
The idea that this can all be replaced by electronic transmissions goes against thousands of years of human instinct. It’s like the idea of telecommuting, which was going to transform our way of life and reshape our cities. As it turned out, it’s fun for a week or so, but unless you seek out human contact, you’ll grow permanent tracksuit pants and turn into a one-person dandruff farm.
Of course, there are meetings that should be replaced by Skype. I know people who regularly fly to another city, have a one-hour meeting in a windowless room at the airport, then fly home again. Personally, I’d rather stand on the side of the highway operating a Stop/Go sign.
The technology is there to support the personal element of meetings, not replace it. Gathering around and telling stories is something that defines us as humans, and that’s something we should celebrate.
It’s too close to Christmas to provide any more tips on presentations, because presentation season is over for another year. Audiences have fled to the malls, to panic-buy small digital gadgets.
So we thought we’d gaze into the technical crystal ball and predict the hottest gadget trends for next year.
1. SatNav Cam
One of the genuinely frightening things about being on the road in 2008 is seeing people with SatNav units stuck right in front of the driver at eye level.
“Not my fault, officer, the pedestrian ran behind my SatNav screen.”
These people need a SatNav with a webcam on the back, displaying the obscured part of the road on the screen. So the whole unit becomes transparent, in a weird pixelly way. Alternatively, they could just MOVE THE THING TO WHERE IT’S MEANT TO SIT.
2. Recharger Room
By the end of 2009, home designers will start adding a separate room to house all the chargers for the family’s galaxy of small electronic things. Its floor-to-ceiling racks of power boards will be filled with fat black power adaptors, humming quietly, and an Amazonian tangle of leads. Most of them will go nowhere, because they belong to the phone you threw out two years ago, or the Nintendo that your kid lost last holidays, but you dare not throw out the plugs, “just in case“.
A battered, hollowed-out hardback copy of something clever by Proust or Sartre, so you can sit in cafes or trains looking thoughtful and intriguing when you’re actually Facebooking on the i-Phone hidden inside.
4. Facebook Door Bitch
Facebook friend list full of undesirables? It’s bound to happen if you’re a polite person who doesn’t want to offend new friends, even if you’re pretty sure you’ve never met them.
Taking a cue from the world of nightclubbing, new application Facebook DoorBitch (FBDB) takes the responsibility out of your hands. When someone unwanted asks to be your friend, the FBDB avatar pops up and tells them that they can’t come in because their shoes are wrong. Or because they don’t have a collar. No amount of pleading will get them past.
“Please let me into their page! I’m a friend of the owner!”
“Sure, that’s what everyone says. Now on your way or I’ll call security.”
5. Sitar Hero
Like this, only more Indian.
And you don’t have to strike poses because you’re sitting on a mat, looking blissful.
The Guitar Hero shots are from last week’s Scene Change Tasmania staff Xmas party. In case you were wondering how they relax after a year of setting up lots of complex technology - they like to set up even more complex technology, but with a vital extra element: beer.
Going surfing now, back next year. A big thank you to all the Friends of Scene Change, we appreciate everything.
It’s the question that every presenter wrestles with. What the hell is on the next slide?
If you just hit the forward button and read it off the screen along with everyone else, you don’t seem like you’re in control.
Worry no longer. Now you can see into the short-term future with a nifty gadget brought to my attention by Kris from Scene Change Sydney.
Strictly speaking, it’s an application for a gadget. It’s Windows Sideshow, part of Windows Vista.
It lets you turn your phone into a remote control for PowerPoint. But you already had one of those. But wait, there’s more! Sideshow displays your current slide, along with your slide notes, and gives you a preview of the next slide.
It gives you controls to skip to any slide and a range of other useful things.
The pic above shows it running on Kris’s HTC Touch Diamond, and he says you can use it on anything with Windows Mobile Version 6.
It works using Bluetooth, so you’ve got a range of about 5 metres.
It almost makes me regret purging all my Windows computers and replacing them with Macs last month. Oh well.
Set your phone to silent mode while you’re presenting. It’s deeply uncool to get a call about bringing home a carton of milk mid-speech.
Ian Whitworth believes passionately in the power of live communication, without the buzzwords and bullet points. He works as a creative director and principal of agency A Lizard Drinking. He is also one of the founders of audiovisual company Scene Change. Ian is an ex-professional presenter and long ago, ex-audiovisual technician. For non-presentation stuff, try @ianwhitworth.