The Moving Picture: Perils of Presentations
Posted Feb 15, 2005

This past fall I gave six 6-hour presentations over eight weekends in six different cities, taught a 2-day seminar in Las Vegas, and helped present three 3-day seminars in northern Virginia. Lots of travel, which was fun, and I enjoy presenting, but the long days often got brutal, and the lessons learned by me and my fellow presenters were often harsh. (I emphasize the harshness so you won't start thinking, "Jan went to all these great places and all I got was this lousy column.")

Lesson One is prepare for failure, primarily that of your hard drive and/or computer. One fellow presenter didn't bring along a digital copy of her presentation, so when her computer failed to boot that morning, she had no Plan B, despite the fact that a second computer was available.

Fortunately, she remembered that she had posted her presentation to her own FTP site, and downloaded it from there, getting started a few minutes late and somewhat worse for wear. Had she brought her presentation on a USB thumb drive, she could have made the switch in nothing flat. I can't tell you how many times I have used my 500MB Verbatim thumb drive before, during, and after my presentations.

In addition, I had stored my presentation and all sup-porting files on a Maxtor external USB drive I carried with me—a requirement given the size of the video files in my presentation. When I had my own bout with hardware failure (a video port that suddenly failed to output to the projector), I switched over in no time, since PowerPoint already was installed on the spare computer.

However, my luck was due to change, since I hadn't packed the installation discs for the video editing application I needed for the afternoon's presentation. Luckily, an on-site tech fixed the laptop by the morning break. I do give myself credit for backing up my laptop to a LaCie external drive before all trips, which helps stave off concerns about permanent data loss. Fortunately, this proved unnecessary, but it did help me sleep at night, as did bringing installation CDs for all critical applicatons on all subsequent trips.

Lesson Two is to scope out the location of the presentation room long before the curtain goes up. In the first five of the 6-series tour, the room was either in the hotel, which was very easy to find, or an easily identifiable location, like the trade show Digital Life at Jacob Javits in New York.

By the sixth presentation, in my old hometown of Atlanta, I strode off the elevator of the Omni hotel 30 minutes before showtime, confident in my ability to find the room and set up with sufficient time for one final cup of coffee. It was definitely a bad sign that neither the front desk nor the concierge knew anything about the presentation location.

After running through every meeting room in the hotel, I finally logged onto a computer in the lobby to discover that the presentation was actually in the Georgia World Congress Center—several blocks away. They were sending out search parties as I arrived about ten minutes late, flustered and sweating. Needless to say, it wasn't my best performance.

Lesson Three is to test every single aspect of your presentation on the delivery computer, which admittedly is often tough to do when the delivery computer is shared. In one training class, a fellow presenter had spent two weeks setting up a room full of video editing workstations, each computer complete with microphone, VHS deck, time-based corrector, and 1TB storage drive. Though she had very competent technical assistance, just getting everything up and running was an impressive feat.

She gave her opening presentation across the hall in the conference room on a generic computer. She copied her PowerPoint slides over, which worked fine, but when it was time to play a demonstration DVD, all hell broke loose.

Though she had played DVDs on that computer in the past, in the interim, someone had installed Real Player, obviously accepting all installation defaults including that Real become the default player for DVDs. She was expecting Sonic CinePlayer to open when she inserted the DVD, but instead got RealPlayer, which was completely unfamiliar.

Even worse, for some reason there was no audio. I glared at her technician to prod him to assist, but he ignored me. I stepped up in his place, only to find that I couldn't even drive the mouse, since it was an optical mouse positioned on a glass table. Never tried that combi-nation before, and recommend against it.

Fumbling badly in front of the 12 students, I finally got CinePlayer running and then discovered what the technician obviously knew all along: the computer was connected to the room's sound system, not a separate pair of speakers we could drive with an onboard knob. He had no idea how to run the room's sound system and neither did I, leaving me to just stand there and look foolish when I was introduced as a "video editing expert with over ten years of computer and audio/video experience."

Gosh, I love presenting!