One great thing about my town’s Annual Town Meeting is that it demonstrates democracy in action. And one lousy thing about my town’s Annual Town Meeting is that it demonstrates democracy in action. In a forum where even the most unprepared have a say in important matters, things can get…entertaining. And so it was on June 7, 2016, when a citizen approached the front of the room to present his side of a contentious issue. It did not go well.
Surprise…I’m presenting at this meeting!
The first mistake that the citizen, we’ll call him Mr. Jones, made was that he did not tell anybody that he was going to present a PowerPoint deck that night. So when Mr. Jones stood up at Town Meeting to announce that he had a file on a USB stick that he wanted to show, it took the moderator by surprise. But, because this is a democracy and Mr. Jones seemed prepared with his presentation, the moderator allowed it.
Surprise…there’s no laptop!
A big problem for Mr. Jones is that there was no laptop connected to the projector, which had up until that point used to display the town seal. Although there were some rudimentary controls available on the projector itself, there was no way for Mr. Jones to open up his file in PowerPoint.
Now, this was a real learning opportunity for me, since I had no idea that some projectors allow you to show files without a connected laptop. Pretty sweet, I thought, until I saw what happened next.
Surprise…my USB stick is full of garbage!
As it turns out, when you insert a USB stick into a projector, it shows you everything on it. And Mr. Jones was storing tons of photos on his USB stick. We got to see his dog. We got to see his house. We got to see his vacation photos. We got to see…well, you get the idea. Screen after screen of snapshots were on display for the whole town to see. Fortunately for Mr. Jones his photos were completely inoffensive and uncontroversial. But he could hear the crowd murmuring and giggling in response to one unsuccessful attempt after another of trying to locate his presentation file. After treating the citizens to a minutes-long scrapbook display of his life, he eventually gave up on finding the presentation and resumed his seat.
Surprised? I’m not.
If you read the headings closely, you’ll notice that the common thread in this narrative is “surprise.” When you’re presenting to hundreds of people, the last thing you want is surprises. But, surprisingly (HA!), none of this occurred to Mr. Jones who seemed baffled at every step of the way. Here’s what you can do differently to avoid a fate like Mr. Jones’s:
Announce your intention to speak well before the start of the meeting.
This really is Public Speaking 101 stuff. Contact the people in charge of the meeting and 1) let them know you’d like to speak, 2) get permission, 3) get on the agenda. I’d say you need to give at least two weeks’ notice, preferably more.
Know what equipment will be available.
Find out if there will be a laptop connected to the projector and whether or not it has PowerPoint installed. If so, great! If not, find out if you’ll be able to connect your own laptop. If they say “no,” then you may be stuck with presenting off of the projector. I would imagine that animations activate with a click like they do in PowerPoint, but be prepared with a static version of your presentation just in case.
Arrive early to set up.
I always like to get to where I’m speaking at least an hour beforehand. This gives me time to set up and troubleshoot any problems I may have and to cue up the presentation on the laptop. But maybe the most important thing is…
Don’t have a bunch of crap on your USB stick.
Ideally, all that should be on your USB stick is your presentation. You shouldn’t be backing up your life to a USB stick anyway, because they’re so easy to lose or damage. But if you insist on carrying all that stuff around on the stick, then put it all into a folder. Your presentation file goes outside the folder so it’s easy to find.
This motto of the Boy Scouts of America has so many applications outside of Scouting! A little advanced preparation would have allowed Mr. Jones to present his point of view. Instead, he came across as a bumbling buffoon, which didn’t help his cause. Learn from his mistakes and be a prepared presenter!