Visuals: Avoiding a disaster!

Presentation Tip: Visuals: Avoiding a disaster!

This month I offer an extended tip as I share my observations of presenters that have endured awkward moments while using visuals. Awkward moments may happen to many of us, it is how well the presenter handles that moment is what I look to learn from. The presenter I will speak about this month, I happen to know fairly well. He is what I call the epitome of a prepared presenter. In fact, I’m convinced he has a contingency plan for his contingency plan. Curious?….the presenter is… yours truly, moi, me!

Presentations: Planning for presentation disasters isn’t enough!

TIP: Rehearse a presentation disaster

Many of us develop contingency plans for visual presentations. A back up handout in the event PowerPoint gremlins decide to visit our laptops, back up CD’s, a supply of cords, connectors and e-goodies that would make any Radio Shack outlet proud.

Some of the preventative measures I follow for off site visual presentations:

  • Back up CD of my PowerPoint presentation
  • A clean desktop with a single shortcut for rapid presentation access
  • Ability to remote access my server files for a copy
  • E-mail myself a copy of the presentation
  • Ability to print handouts onsite or near site in an emergency

Few of us have had the experience of implementing a contingency plan. Many professions routinely train or I as I call it, rehearse for emergencies to have the response and experience of handling an emergency. In my case, I had the…ahem…privilege of rehearsing a presentation emergency in front of an audience.

Not a recommended approach!

Just last week I delivered a presentation on “Presentation Mistakes Presenters Make” to an association that I am active in. Little did I know I would be creating my own testimonial. First, as a Presentation Coach I’m often heard to rant, I mean coach individuals about the perils of …no make that, resisting the seductive temptation of making last minute changes to presentations. My goal is to consider the final visual cut to be completed one week in advance. Yes, I hear your gasps…one week in advance…not one day in advance! Apparently I should follow my own coaching. The day before I found myself tinkering with my presentation slides. Am I the only presenter that has experienced the phenomena of a burst of creative energy that leads to the oh so famous last minute changes?

Last minute changes often lead to last minute surprises!

Not only does the presenter toss aside the meticulous rehearsal time all in the name of presenting unrehearsed material…it was the last minute after all…no time to rehearse all over again. Recognize anyone?

I didn’t realize the impact of what I considered an innocent habit of mine would have. When I create a revised version of a PowerPoint presentation it seems to make sense to me to name the file FINAL. Stick with me on this one, when I revise the FINAL, it becomes FINAL FINAL… I can probably find files on my hard drive that may as well be called FINAL to the Power of Ten.

As I stood before the audience presenting some version of FINAL, I began wondering if the slides were really mine. They looked familiar; too bad they didn’t seem to go along with my verbal delivery. Battle stations…battle stations everyone…a presentation disaster looms ahead.

Now for the simple task of locating the more appropriate version of FINAL, and maintaining a professional composure with the hopes of not having to duck the trajectories of various farm produce being hurled at the stage. I had on previous occasions rehearsed and stopwatch timed the reboot of my laptop in the event of a crash…one minute forty nine seconds by the way.

TIP: Move on in presentation if a technical glitch can’t be rectified quickly

(less than two minutes)

Far too many times I witness presenters use up valuable presentation time dealing with technical setbacks. Often I see the moment elevate to room chaos as I watch even the audience become part of the event. Technical direction in the form of shouts from the audience to the presenter…do this…no do that…followed by a small team of audience members as they huddle around and push and prod the offending device at stage front. The sign of a presentation professional is the ability to recompose and deliver what the audience came for. Technical setback events should be minimized and then they become minimal and less noticeable.

Earlier I mentioned it would be wise to rehearse a disaster. I still had to quickly locate the FINAL version of the file, something I hadn’t rehearsed. Locating a file quickly and in mid show does have its moments. It’s not required to make a public service announcement, simply recompose. I told the audience I was going to do something, added a simple quip, calmly and quietly located the file and resumed. This is the part where some presenters can become flustered, mutter apologies or some other form of colourful communication under their breath.

Later during the presentation I used the event as a practical coaching example of handling distractions or interruptions. It was hard hitting and relevant as they openly offered their own experiences and resolutions. Relevant enough that a couple of audience members came up to me afterward and made reference to how well I had built the technical distraction into the program. Sheepishly I added…well, not exactly. Talk about a relevant learning experience.

Show your audience utmost respect. Minimize and simplify the presence of any technical or other setback.

Composure is one of the most powerful tools a presenter has.

Composure will come from your readiness to adapt to a new and unfamiliar circumstance.

Rehearse you reaction to an event to build new and responsive professional presentation behaviour.

I have since rehearsed locating a new file in mid show and simplified where I locate the file directory through desktop shortcuts for quick emergency access. Got it down to eighteen seconds flat.

Have you rehearsed your contingency plan? Or is it still in planning?


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In the meantime,

Great Presentations…and that’s FINAL

Richard Peterson, North America’s Presentation Coach™
Remember these three “P’s” – Prepare, Polish and Present!”


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