When PowerPoint attacks – and improv fights back

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Last June, I had the privilege of speaking at Harvard University at Nick and Nikki Morgan’s Public Words Speaker Forum.

One the second day of the event, we were treated to presentations from some of Public Words’ clients, who were videotaping their talks for speaker reels, and to examine their style in detail.

One such speaker was Tim Washer, whose presentation was about the use of humor to humanize the face of a large corporation. Tim is a seasoned comedy writer and actor, who has worked on popular shows such as Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

But something went terribly wrong with his audio visuals, and his presentation was plagued by a series of technical errors. What happened next was a brilliant display of using improv to not only deflect errors, but to create an entirely new, and arguably better presentation.  We were crying with laughter in the audience in response to his off-the-cuff responses to a blank screen and out of sync audio and video. Like when he said:

I think we did this as English as a second language. And we dubbed in the English afterward. Looking at it now I realize it was a mistake, because we all speak English.

As you watch the clip, please realize that all of Tim’s comebacks are improvised and not part of his original presentation about using humor in corporate settings.

(View the clip on YouTube here.)

I think he has a new vocation — teaching improv skills to public speakers and PowerPoint cowboys who will inevitably deal with similar technical challenges. I would sign up in two seconds, since being around Tim for two days made my sides hurt I was laughing so much. He is a smart, funny and skilled professional and a hell of a lot of fun.

Read Tim’s account of the unplanned diversions from his talk, and what he learned from the experience here.

And your own When PowerPoint Attacked Me stories are welcomed in the comments, since lord knows we have all had them. 🙂

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7 Responses to “When PowerPoint attacks – and improv fights back”

  1. Pamela,
    Thank you for posting this – Tim handled the situation with grace and humor!

    As a professional speaker who teaches presentation skills and as a member of an improv comedy team, I appreciate his survival tips, especially #4 – take an improv class. I often use improv games in my presentation skills classes to help people get comfortable thinking on their feet and handling the inevitable technical glitches, unexpected situations and audience questions.

    I agree with you that Tim would be great teaching improv skills to speakers!

  2. […] Last June, I had the privilege of speaking at Harvard University at Nick and Nikki Morgan’s Public Words Speaker Forum.One the second day of the event, we were treated to presentations from some of Public Words’ clients, who were videotaping their talks for speaker reels, and to examine their style in detail.One such speaker was […] Original post […]

  3. Tim Washer says:

    Pamela – thanks so much for posting this. I loved your presentation at this event, and your story on the importance of responding quickly to opportunities has inspired me numerous times since June.

    Cheryl, thanks for the kind words.

  4. I was presenting at our company office in Edmonton, and although the projector could “see” my notebook computer, my presentation would not project. We switched to another notebook computer, same result. I didn’t have my slides on a memory stick, so we switched back quickly to the desktop PC hidden in the podium, and I improvised, pulling up websites and playing videos I had intended to show anyway. Long story short: I presented pretty much what I was going to, but much more spontaneously, without slides, and to this day my colleagues are talking about how effective it was. Improv rules, and my prior classroom teaching experience helped.

  5. Leisa LaDell says:

    Boy, wish I had been able to see this yesterday. Last night I led a WebEx meeting with PPT, and two YouTube videos that were a critical (not just ancillary) part of the presentation. Yes, I should have known better than to try that in the first place, but, we had tested it in advance and all worked fine. Fast forward, of course you know where this is going – neither video would not play for all but one participant. I could have used some clever quips. Instead I just put on my ‘game face’ and did the best I could, but was really disappointed and the whole thing ended up feeling a little flat.
    = – \ Yep – I’d like that workshop, too!

  6. Cheryl Dolan says:

    I was at Tim’s presentation and I think it was the best recovery I have ever seen!
    One of my PPT attack stories comes from last year when I was presenting with 3 others – we used my computer for the slides. One person had thrown out a significant challenge to the audience and there was a moment of stunned silence as they were trying to make sense of what he was asking. Suddenly on the screen popped up the message: CONNECTIVITY PROBLEM, CONNECTIVITY PROBLEM! At that exact moment my computer had tried to unsuccessfully start the antivirus scan. The sudience exploded with laughter which immediately changed the energy in the room!

  7. Terrific! This reminds me of how grateful I am to have been teaching since the pre-digital era so that, unlike many of my younger colleagues, I can survive when the power goes out and I have to teach live, without SmartBoard, laptop, or projector.

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