Technical glitches and snafus are occupational hazards for public speakers. How people prepare for them is what separates the pros from the shmoes.
This week my town of Hubbardston, Massachusetts, held its annual town meeting. A holdover from Colonial times and largely a New England phenomenon, town meetings allow every registered voter in town a chance to discuss and vote upon all articles listed in the warrant. Usually there are one or two articles that prompt debate, and one of these addressed changing the powers of our elected School Committee.
The Problem: Dude, where’s my presentation?
My friend Bill serves on the School Committee as a representative, and that night he was there to present the School Committee’s position on the article. But when he stepped up to the mic to begin his presentation, the person working the computer couldn’t find it. She spent about five minutes poking around in various folders, locating and mounting a flash drive, and waving her hands helplessly in the air. Meanwhile, Bill was visibly worried. He knew that without the PowerPoint deck he had prepared, we townspeople would not be able to understand the nature of the changes that were being proposed.
There were about 140 of us at the meeting staring at him, waiting for something to happen.
Finally, the lady found the presentation in a folder marked “AAAAAAA” titled “Town meeting presentation.pptx.” She launched the presentation and Bill was able to begin.
What could Bill have done differently to have avoided this embarrassing scenario?
Solution #1: Set up before go time
Before you give a presentation, you should load your slide file into the host computer (or hook up your own computer) and check to make sure that it runs properly. Ideally, this should be done before the audience has entered the room, but it’s not the end of the world if people see you doing it.
After that, minimize the window if other people will be presenting or start your show in Slide View and leave the title slide up. That way, you’re up and running in a click or two when it’s your turn to speak.
Solution #2: Bring your presentation on a flash drive
You should always bring a copy of your presentation on a flash drive and keep it handy (aren’t pockets great?). Always assume that your host doesn’t have it, even if you sent it to them twice and called ahead to verify that they received it!
Solution #3: Give your presentation a catchy name
One reason the lady at town meeting couldn’t find the presentation is because it had a generic name. Don’t give your file the same name as the venue; everybody else does that. Instead, use your name or the name of your organization and the date of the presentation in your file name. For example, Bill could’ve called his deck “School Committee Report 06.03.14.pptx.”
Solution #4: Bring a printout
Even with all the advanced preparation in the world, sometimes it just won’t be possible to present your deck. If technology completely fails you, having a printout of your presentation will allow you to read what would’ve appeared on your slides. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than admitting that you can’t present without your PowerPoint.
Was it the end of the world that we had to wait five minutes for Bill’s presentation to begin? No. But what if Bill had been presenting a pitch deck to a venture capitalist to get funding for his new business? Or if he was giving a sales presentation? In that case, glitches like the one he experienced could’ve been dealbreakers.
Don’t let this happen to you. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared”!