A participant in a recent program on “PowerPoint CPR” asked me how I prepare for equipment failure. Irma Perry, a former Toastmasters International Director, put it this way: “I wondered if you come prepared with ‘extra’ equipment, in the event of equipment failure — been there done that, but used ‘paper handouts’ as I didn’t have extra equipment.”
Good question, because it’s bound to happen, isn’t it? My wife hates it when I talk about Murphy’s Law, but I consider it a positive thing: if you recognize the reality of Murphy’s Law, you plan to overcome its effects.
My definitive answer: it depends.
It depends on a lot of things.
- How essential is the slideware? (Usual answer: not very.)
- How am I traveling? Airplanes limit me more than if I have my minivan.
- What kind of backup will be available? (Don’t guess at this–talk to knowledgeable people at the venue.)
I know colleagues who never use slideware or handouts, just so they’re not held hostage to equipment. On the other hand, a well-prepared deck of slides or set of props can add impact to a presentation. Dr. John Medina says images help an audience understand and remember what you say.
“Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10 percent of what was said,” Medina said. “But add a picture to it and you’ll remember 65 percent.”
So image-based slideware can really help. However, slideware is only an aid. It doesn’t replace the presentation; it supports it.
For me, Plan A will usually involve an image-based set of slideware to support the presentation. Currently, I carry my own laptop, but depend on the venue’s projector. (I hope soon to be able to bring my own LCD projector, one that will be both affordable and compact.) If the slideware is essential, and I am driving to the venue, I will bring an older, larger projector, but I forgo that if I’m flying to the venue.
Also, I tend to depend on a Web page as a “handout” if I’m flying or if I do not know how large an audience to expect. For instance, when a colleague and I spoke at the NISOD conference in Austin, TX, we were scheduled at the same time as over 30 other breakout sessions. Depending on who else is scheduled, and even on the location of the room, we could wind up with anywhere from 5 to 150 people. So we made a detailed Web page for support, and included the URL as a slide. (We wound up with standing-room only (estimated 110 people), although the room was the most remote and inaccessible one in the conference center! If we had brought the 40 we would otherwise have printed, we would have been woefully short.)
But if the numbers are well-established and I’m driving (or will have access to printing facilities at the venue), I will use a fill-in-the-blank handout to guide note-taking during the presentation–again, something research shows helps understanding and retention.
Plan B involves backup materials on a flash drive I carry with me. Plan C involves those same materials on Google Drive or Dropbox.
Plan D? Be able to present naked. That would be quite distracting to the audience, and of course you don’t actually present naked (although I have heard about cruise ships like that), but being able to do so frees you from much of the stress around equipment failures, or the failure of UPS or FedEx to deliver your ship-ahead props on time.
Making Plan D work
There are a couple of simple steps to making plan D work.
- Show up way early in any case. If there are equipment issues, get them figured out before the audience ever shows up.
- Assuming the worse, when the audience shows up, do not mention the equipment failure! They will never know what you had planned to do; they will only know what they see. This isn’t to fool them, but to avoid disappointing them.”I had a magic unicorn to show you, but I forgot and left it in the hotel room. Oh, well!”If they’re disappointed, they will fail to benefit from the solid information they do get. And because you know how to organize and deliver effectively (you do, don’t you? If not, let’s talk), their experience is almost certain to be better than they expected. Why rob them?
It’s all about the audience
Remember that speaking is not simply a cheap way to share information. It’s mainly about giving the audience a meaningful experience. So make the supporting technology work for you. Don’t let it make you work for it. That way, when it doesn’t work, you can chuckle and move on. Your audience will not suffer, and you’ll get a new story to tell!