Well, it happened again: An important and timely topic, relevant to the audience but in a presentation keyed entirely to the digital projection of video clips and slides.
Moments into the presentation, the technology failed.
And thus, I regret to say, did the presentation. Spectacularly.
The laptop-driven digital projector, perched amid a tangle of cables on a little table in the middle of the luncheon audience of more than 150 people and triggered by a remote in the presenter’s hand, would not respond to any instruction.
An animated troubleshooting dialog quickly began between the speaker on the podium (still speaking into the microphone, by the way, so everyone could hear and experience her consternation) and a valiant member of the audience who volunteered to try and fix the projector. The rest of the audience, meanwhile, was left to simply sit and watch and wonder why on Earth they were there.
It only took a few endless moments, but the topic of the day morphed smartly into the technology failure. The speaker apologized and apologized and apologized for the malfunction, assuring everyone over and over and over again that “it worked in my office before I came over here!”
Eventually, mercifully, she accepted reality and gave up trying to overpower the technology. Instead, incredibly, she attempted to recover her presentation by describing, in detail, what the audience would have seen if the projector had worked as planned.
In other words, rather than build a case for her premise, she resorted to reading a video script verbatim (.”…and in the next scene, you would have seen…” “…it’s too bad the computer isn’t working, because this next slide is really something…”)
Oh, the humanity!
Just imagine, please, reading the script of your favorite TV show or film aloud to your colleagues as opposed to them watching it for themselves. A few things get lost in the translation, don’t you think?…like drama and context and perspective and impact.
Was this particular presentation salvageable? Unfortunately, no, not the way it appeared to be structured. The presenter was entirely dependent on a series of still and video images to make her case. Thus, when the images failed to project, she had no fallback, no Plan B. She essentially was left with little alternative but to apologize, fold her tent and retire. Opportunity lost. (And her reputation as a credible authority didn’t get a lot of polish out of it, either.)
Two lessons here:
First, plan your remarks as remarks. As you craft your content, pretend there are no visuals to support your main points. So, when the visuals fail to appear, you still have a cogent presentation in hand with which to continue. Perhaps not as colorfully, or as dramatically, but you would still be able to make your case with authority and conviction.
Second, if and when your technology fails, accept the failure and walk away from it cleanly. Don’t linger trying to tinker with the plugs and buttons, and don’t waste time or energy expressing your regrets or before you know it, you will have made your equipment failure the most memorable part of your program.
Sure, consider a brief attempt to get back on track, but only to prove the fault isn’t with a thrown power switch or unplugged cable. If the fix must be at the expense of the audience’s time, and it cannot be accomplished discretely by a third party, shut down the screen and simply inform the audience that you will be continuing without visual aids.
Don’t dwell on the technology failure.
Let me say that again: Don’t dwell on the technology failure.
And while you’re at it, don’t blame anything or anybody. Don’t whine or remind the audience what they’re missing by not seeing the pictures for themselves.
Instead, tell your story as it was intended to be told. With words. Good words, thoughtfully crafted. Ideas powerfully, cogently, persuasively expressed.
Make a case, not excuses.
The pictures were a bonus anyway. If you depended on them entirely to make your point, then perhaps your point wasn’t ready to be made.