Monday, November 2, 2015

Technical Difficulties

By Steven S. Vrooman

You can't speak in public without technical difficulties. After TEDxSanAntonio last year, I shared some of those problems and how we overcame them.

I'd like to do the same this time after the "NACAS Talks" event at the 2015 National Association of College Auxiliary Services Convention. I think is is helpful to see some of the difficulties you might not see when you sit in an audience. It is important to note that it is not just you. Expect disaster and you will almost be prepared.

It is, of course, also helpful to see how people overcome these problems. So this blog entry will highlight three problems and their solutions.

Always Be Ready to Bail on your Slides

Fellow NACAS Talker Ray Seggern and I were talking after the session, reminiscing about our times at TEDxSanAntonio. He spoke in the infamous 2012 year, which was beset by a host of technical difficulties, during which host Molly Cox made the still-repeated joke that this year was "EDx," since there didn't seem to be any technology.

Ray, who was the tenth or eleventh speaker at TEDx, had seen the technical difficulties increasing, and he had a simple plan. He said, "I was going to try the slides once, and if it didn't work I was just going to go on without them." This is always a very difficult thing to decide to do. But, trust me, when your audience sees how ready you are to go on without the slidedeck, your credibility skyrockets.

The slides were edited into his footage for the final video, but when you watch it, think of his talking with nothing behind him.

This is, incidentally, why you should avoid what Garr Reynolds calls a "slideument" slidedeck, which squishes three totally distinct functions into one big set of visual aids which doesn't serve any of those functions very well. The functions are visuals the audience should see in real time, the takeaway visuals or information you want them to have and your own speaking outline. 

Of course, most people seem to just want to use their Power Point as their outline, which often leads to boring people with their backs turned reading slides to a sleepy audience. But when the tech fails, what do they say?

Twice now Ray Seggern has adapted to these difficulties BECAUSE he did not have a slideument. Each time his speech was great.

Clickers Will Fail. Have a Plan

It seems less troublesome for a clicker to fail than the whole slidedeck, but in some ways it is almost worse. You don't really ever give up on the deck, and there is the chance of saying "next slide" to the tech person, so you can go on, which is what I did at NACAS. But in some ways it might be best to just cut the cord to your deck and just talk.

This time, although we all used the clicker during rehearsals that morning, by the time almost a thousand people were sitting in the audience, something was interfering with the RF signals. Perhaps it was the weird glowing routers under some of the chairs as everyone hopped onto the wifi. Who knows?

In any case, Ray was unfortunate enough to have to go first this time, and so he had to muddle through with a clicker that didn't really seem to work.

When he sat down, he told me to press the button hard and wait. I thought maybe it didn't work at all and the tech guys were just reading his gestures and advancing slides on their own. So when I went up, I figured on failure, made a joke about pointing the clicker behind my back  and said "next slide" 70 times.

Harry Max, who went up after me, was given a different wireless presenter. Didn't work. His solution was the same as mine.

The genius solution was Myric Polhemus:
He very dramatically would raise the clicker in the air, as if the elevation made it magically work. Genius fingers? What was likely happening was that the gesture was so dramatic that the techs were able to advance the slides for him when he made it. 

I am totally stealing this fantastic solution, which I am now calling "The Statue of Polhemus" from now on, in his honor.

Fonts Will Ruin Your Life

I should know better. But I loooooovvveeee Rockwell Condensed:
I embedded the fonts the way you need to for a presentation. But, nope. Didn't work.

And since my fetish font is "condensed," when it gets converted to the default font it spreads the text out, ruining everything. 

I even put the font files on the thumbdrive I used to give the techs my slides. They installed the fonts on the Mac they were running things from. Nope.

I've now learned that Macs can't or won't do this with files made in Windows. Ugh.

So they had to hook up my laptop to be able to do the show, which was actually kind of troublesome for them, running multiple inputs on multiple monitors. 

The problems for me were two: First, it took quite a long time to get fixed, so it was a good thing I arrived at 6:30 am for a 9:20 presentation. And, of course, that was time I was hoping to be practicing... Second, because I had to run this off my computer, it meant that they couldn't send the image to the below-stage monitors where presenters can look to see what slide they are on. Thus, I had to commit the keynote party foul of turning around to see where the slides were. 

The lesson for me, and also for you, is this: Always bring a default font-only option to the party. I wouldn't go so far as to say you should only ever do default fonts, as design is important and Rockwell is rad, but have a simpler backup just in case.

In Closing

It always fails. 

Okay, not every time, but from the perspective of a larger event, it will always fail for someone. If you do this often enough, it will happen to you. Be ready to bail.

Bail on fonts.

Bail on clickers.

Bail on slides.

Only your message for and relationship with the audience matters. Don't let technology kill the connection.

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