Coaching Presentation

Where were you when the tech went out?

Well, it happened again. The event coordinator gave me a firm 50 minutes to speak — no wiggle room! — and a nifty state-of-the-art presentation system. I love walking into a building with shiny new equipment! Just plunk in a thumb drive, do a simple sound test, and I’m ready to go on with the show.

Except that 5 minutes into the presentation, the brand new computer system decided it needed to do a Windows update. And nothing could stop it from shutting down and doing its own thing.

The update might take minutes, it might take hours — but I only had 50 minutes, so I didn’t waste time. I whipped out a standard sized piece of paper. The night before, I had rehearsed my presentation. I jotted down my key points on paper and tucked it into my briefcase.

When the computer system went down, I acknowledged its crazy behavior to the audience.

“Oh, man. Windows update! Did you ever notice that Windows will update whether you want it to or not? Well, that’s a computer for you. While the computer and tech crew are doing their thing, I can continue without visuals…”

…and I went right on with my presentation. About 15 minutes later, the computer finished updating itself, and I said,

“Now let me show you what some of the approaches I’ve been telling you about actually look like.”

Was this ideal? Of course not! (Especially when the computer updated itself again 10 minutes later! Argh!)

But rehearsing my presentation (with brand new material) the night before helped my recall, as did my low-tech written cheat sheet. Acknowledging the tech failure helped me emotionally connect with the audience (hey, who among us can’t empathize with the frustration of a tech melt down at an inappropriate moment?) And because I had 50 minutes, I only planned to speak for 30. I find that no one is ever upset if a meeting runs short (but heaven help you if it goes long!)

Sure, I had a thumb drive and a laptop as a backup. But with a tight 50 minutes, I couldn’t take 5 minutes to re-wire the presentation system. I simply went on with the show while the tech crew valiantly tried to reason with an unruly computer.

I’ve delivered presentations with tech failures before, so I know the importance of backups. However, when the electricity completely fails or time is tight, a thumb drive and backup laptop won’t help you.

You’ve got to go low-tech. Know your topic cold and keep your soft skills sharp.

Remember, you’re in a position of leadership when you stand in front of a crowd. How you respond to an unplanned or stressful situation is an opportunity. It speaks volumes about your ability and willingness to lead.

How have you responded to a tech meltdown? Where were you when the tech went out?