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Compulsive obsession with details will save your neck when giving presentations

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detailsIt is funny how short, simple conversations have lasting impact.  My Dad is a photojournalist and when I was about 8 years old (1974!), he shared some tips he had learned from giving lots of presentations and slideshows:

“Always bring extra slide projector bulbs, as you never know when one is going to burn out.  Never assume that there will be an electrical outlet near where you have to plug in your equipment; bring a long extension cord.  Always leave the house early in case you get lost on the way to your destination.  Arrive early to check out the space where you will be presenting in case you have to move furniture.”

Twenty-two years later, when I chose to become a self-employed consultant and trainer, his words echoed in my ears as I traveled all over the U.S. giving presentations in hotel ballrooms, corporate training rooms and conference centers.

Based on some terror-filled moments which included a smoking laptop in Frankfurt, Germany, realizing that I had loaded the wrong presentation onto my laptop as I started a talk to a large group in Washington, DC, improvising 20 minutes of air time for a radio guest that was 20 minutes late, having materials not show up for a high-dollar workshop I was presenting and feeling my skirt split down the back as I crawled under a desk to plug in my laptop, I developed a guiding set of beliefs for presentations:

  • Materials shipped ahead of time might not arrive
  • Your laptop could blow up at any time
  • Classrooms or conference rooms are never set up the way that you request
  • Any guest presenters in virtual or live events will screw up logistical details and get confused as to when, where and what they have to present about
  • Equipment will break
  • If you bring only one set of clothes, you will rip or spill coffee on them

And based on these beliefs, I developed the following practices:

When traveling out of town by plane to an event:

  • Ship your materials via Fedex (sorry Airborne Express – too many screw ups to recommend you)and have them arrive the day before you do.
  • Don’t rely on Fedex’s record that the materials were received, talk to a live person at the location and make them swear that they are physically looking at and touching the materials.  Don’t settle for less!
  • Create a one-page cheat sheet of presentation location, street address and contact person with two alternate phone numbers and carry it with you on the plane.  (You may do all your logistical arranging with the client using his or her phone number at the corporate office.  But if you both travel to the event, they will not be at that office number.  Get his cellphone number and hotel info.)
  • Put one set of presentation-ready clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost.  If not, bring a credit card in case you have to buy something new.
  • If you are going to a different country, check on the voltage requirements and ensure you bring a trusted power adapter for your equipment.

For presentations:

  • As soon as you get to your location, set up and test your equipment.  Schmoozing, coffee and furniture re-arranging can wait.
  • Check and double check to make sure you bring the right presentation, and right version of the presentation, to the live event.  Am I the only one that does last-minute changes to a presentation and mistakenly saves it to the wrong place on my hard drive?
  • Fully charge your laptop battery, and bring a backup if necessary, even if you are planning to use a power cord.
  • Always arrive at least one hour early, 90 minutes early if teaching an all-day class.
  • Don’t hesitate to re-arrange the furniture to make it a better environment for you and the participants (I personally detest chairs and tables in rows, and often group them in a circle or clusters to encourage dialogue among participants.  Obviously this won’t work for a huge presentation in a theater.  Use your judgment and make sure the environment matches your desired outcome for interaction.)
  • For god’s sake (and that of your audience), do not use a podium.  They are dreadful and make you look like the most boring, stilted and conservative presenter on earth.
  • Make a hard copy and electronic backup of your presentation, in addition to the one you have pre-installed on your laptop.
  • Ask your client if they have a backup machine in case something goes wrong with yours.
  • Bring an extension cord (thanks, Dad).
  • Fire up your presentation and the projector, and play with the lighting in the room.  If you have to choose between too much and too little light, choose too much.  Dim lights put people to sleep.
  • Sit down in a number of different seats around the room to check for visibility of the slides and clarity of the projection.
  • Identify a copy shop near your venue where you can make hard-copies of your presentation if all equipment fails.

For presentations, teleclasses or radio show interviews involving outside guests:

  • Send confirmation email with details about the topic and event immediately after confirming date with guest.
  • Send at least 2 follow up emails with the key information repeated in bold or a different color, up to the day before event (date, time, location, topic, phone number of location and your cell number in case of emergency).
  • Ask guest to reply to your email to confirm they got the details.  If they don’t respond, call them.
  • Get your guest’s cellphone number in case of emergency.
  • Give your cellphone number to guest.
  • Specify the time zone of the appearance in bold, CAPITAL LETTERS or another color.  If your guest is calling in, use their time zone for the confirmation.  (Example:  “The event starts at 8am Pacific Standard Time, which is 9am Mountain, 10am Central and 11am Eastern”)
  • Figure out a backup plan in case your guest is a no-show.

For webinars or web-based training:

  • Ensure you have a stable internet connection. Designate someone else to host the meeting as a backup in case yours goes on the blink.
  • Start the online environment at least 30 minutes before the class start time to test for bugs and to make sure everything is working correctly.
  • Have a backup in case the technology fails, such as emailing the presentation materials to participants.
  • Send the participants multiple reminder notices with login instructions.
  • Designate a technical support person with a different phone number and email to trouble shoot participants through logging into the online environment in case they get locked out.

While your client, guest presenter or participants may feel slightly over-supported with information, it is so much better than experiencing the terror of standing in front of a room one minute before you are due to start your presentation with 100 pairs of eyes staring at you as you wipe sweat off your brow while frantically fumbling around with lights, cords and your laptop.

Anything you have learned about the benefit of obsession with details in your presentations?

Filed Under: Managing your business

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