AV techs always get blamed when things go wrong. The presentation won’t load, a video doesn’t run, the speakers send ear-splitting feedback, or the talent can’t be heard. The truth is, problems with technology are more likely the fault of the presenter. As a special events planner and a frequent speaker, I can attest that most presentation disasters are caused by lack of presenter preparation.
Last week I saw one presenter abandon the room in total frustration when the video he was relying on to be the climax of his remarks wouldn’t run. On another day, I watched an emcee stare blankly at the audience confessing he was having a “brain freeze” and couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do next. The week ended with an expert historian delivering a talk to a packed room. Unfortunately, no one could hear her because she kept moving away from the mic making it impossible to hear her soft-spoken voice even in the closest seats. Compounding the problem, she shuffled papers as if she was hunting for clues about what she intended to say.
None of these presenters had invested sufficient preparation time in honing their remarks, nor were they willing to rehearse in advance, a small extra effort that would have ensured a better performance. Had the first man rehearsed, techs would have known there were problems with his video in time to do something about it. The second man would have laid down a mental memory path that would probably have prevented his freeze. The timid, disorganized historian could have been fitted with a lavaliere mic that she couldn’t avoid, or at the very least, she could have been coached to help her delivery.
The old adage “practice makes perfect” is true. This is why before touring, rock stars hole up for weeks in advance rehearsing every aspect of their shows. It’s also why the most mundane one-mic ballroom meeting presentation deserves the same amount of attention.
Here are some tips to help presenters succeed, and to help you prepare for your best delivery when it’s your turn at the mic.
Respect every trip to the podium. No matter how many times you’ve presented, how confident you are, or how busy your week has been, each situation and audience is different and requires preparation. You have been asked to speak because people feel you have something to offer. Return the compliment by giving the audience your full effort by preparing to do your best. Always update and customize your show for the occasion and audience you are addressing.
Use established presentation software such as Keynote or PowerPoint. Keep it up-to-date and know which version you used to build your show. Software that requires an Internet connection to pull your show from the cloud is very precarious because you are at the mercy of the quality of the connection in the hotel or conference room. Often, it is inadequate.
Avoid relying on videos because they are frequently the source of technical difficulties. Just because a video looks good on your computer does not mean it will when projected in an auditorium or hotel ballroom. PowerPoint was never intended to run video and most of the time, it won’t! If you must use video, download the file and save it on your desktop separate from your slides. Create a back-up by also having it on a thumb drive.
Know how to run your software. It’s amazing how many presenters show up with a presentation built by an assistant or the company PR staff but have no clue how it works—an implosion waiting to happen when the speaker takes the podium and is expected to run his or her own show.
Bring your own laptop and all of the necessary cables and know how to connect to projectors. Most meeting, conference, and civic group presentations are done with bare bones AV support. Often the presenter takes the podium in do-it-yourself mode with nothing more than a dangling projector cable and a hot mic. By providing your own computer, its connectors, and a remote control, you gain the confidence that comes from being familiar with your equipment and software and reduce the hiccups that can happen when a presentation is created on one computer and shown on another.
Always bring slides with you on a thumb drive and when possible, e-mail them to the event planner or the AV techs in advance. This serves as a back-up in case something happens to your laptop. For those occasions when your show will be loaded onto a house computer, providing it in advance enables AV techs to load and test it.
Show up for rehearsal, it builds confidence! Rehearsal gives you time to trouble-shoot your presentation and get the feel of the room. If you can’t rehearse at the venue, set-up in a conference room at your office or deliver your show at home to your dog.
An on-site rehearsal includes a sound check that will let the AV techs adjust levels to your voice and give you the opportunity to learn where the speakers are so that you don’t walk in front of them causing that ear-bleeding squeal everyone hates.
Use this time to practice advancing and reversing slides, especially if you are using an unfamiliar remote control or someone else’s laptop.
Rehearsal lets you get used to the lights so you don’t look like the proverbial deer in the headlights when you take the stage for real. Theatrical lighting is very bright, but without it, the audience can’t see you and the video we’re trying to record will look awful. Don’t ask for the lights to be turned down.
Speak into the mic! Poor acoustics, soft or low voices, background noise, and people with hearing impairments make it imperative to use a microphone. A mark of a true amateur is the statement, “I don’t need a microphone.” Yes, you do!
Know your material well enough and/or have notes with you in case your visuals fail. Remember filmmaker Michael Bay’s famous come-apart at the 2014 CES show when problems with a teleprompter left him speechless? He admitted to trying to “wing it,” but without his script he was lost and stalked off the stage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcA6CY6M7dY
Many speakers rely heavily on their slides to guide them through their presentations. It’s easy to get completely flustered when the electronic crib sheet disappears! Always have a back-up.
Know what to do when a problem arises. Real pros press on regardless and trust the AV techs to resolve issues. Leaving the stage or stopping to try to fix problems on your own is like letting go of the steering wheel when your car starts to skid. The right answer is to hang on and turn the direction you want the car to go. The same technique works when presenters need to fend off disaster. By stopping, making jokes, or getting flustered, you divert the audience’s attention from where you want it to be—on your message. Instead, hang on and turn attention away from, not toward the problem. Stay on point and trust the AV techs to do what they do best–save you.