Dealing with Tech Failure

How many times have you seen it happen? You’re at a presentation and the PowerPoint doesn’t work. Or the projector doesn’t work. Or the wireless mike doesn’t work. Or the video doesn’t play. Or there’s feedback on the audio system.

Things happen. Sometimes there’s someone to blame. Sometimes there are equipment failures. Sometimes you didn’t bring the right connector. It doesn’t matter. Technology has failed. If it fails you, what can you do?

  1. Be cool. If your PowerPoint screws up, don’t worry. If your remarks are compelling enough, you probably don’t really need the PowerPoint. Rather than spend a huge portion of your allotted time trying to make it work, just deliver the presentation without it.
  2. Learn to project your voice. If you are going to speak before groups of people, you have to be able to make yourself heard by the person sitting farthest away, without amplification. Not by yelling, but by talking louder and projecting.
  3. Video in a presentation is a tricky proposition even if everything works properly. Anything more than a short clip gets tedious for the audience in a hurry. But if you insist on including video in your presentation, be ready to describe the entire content of the video if it doesn’t play. That’s what TV newscasters have done for decades when the film, the tape or a live feed doesn’t work.
  4. Focus on your main message points and don’t let tech failure ruin your presentation. At a luncheon a few years ago, a St. Louis consultant to non-profits had colossal tech issues. The PowerPoint was too small to be seen, the video took a long time to load and then it was almost inaudible. But she struggled through. Her message—that the best way to communicate to donors is with stories about the people who’ve benefited from your services—came through loud and clear (despite her many tech problems).
  5. See #1. Be cool. At a PRSA-St. Louis luncheon a couple of years ago, right after the panel discussion began, the power went out. Curtains were opened to let in some light and the program continued. Without microphones, without amplification, without technology. The panelists (all of whom were college instructors) spoke loud enough to be heard throughout the room and the program went along without a hitch.

Technology is wonderful. But be prepared to make accommodations when technology fails.

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with Tech Failure

  1. elmayuga says:

    David, you are spot on with these words of advice! I recently had a presentation on social media using Prezi, when all of these things happened simultaneously, but I pressed on. It felt like I was “tap dancing” in front of an audience of 30 people, and I thought I bombed, but people sent e-mails to say how much they enjoyed my presentation. The worst presentation that you give is the one that you DON’T give!

  2. Great, succinct advice! I teach presentation skills, and students have a tendency to either shy away from technology altogether, or build their whole presentation around it. Your advice helps steer to the effective middle. Thank you!

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