Imagine you are in New York City awaiting a subway train that will bring you to a venue where you will deliver your first formal presentation in front of a crowd. You are standing on the platform nervously holding your notes and you are focused on memorizing the bullet-point content. You have numbered the note cards because a friend told you that nervous speakers sometimes drop them and are so panicky that they cannot work out what order they should be in when they pick them up. You have recently joined a public speaking club to try and become an exceptional speaker. Your job is in the financial insurance industry, and strong presentation skills are the recipe for success.
As you stand on the platform a few feet from the edge, a subway train screeches to a halt. Commuters pour off the train like highly focused soldier ants. There is jostling and hostility as frantic people squeeze their way on and off the train. It was then that the unthinkable happened. As you were glancing at the note cards awaiting the last of the crowd to exit the train, someone grabs a few of your cards and disappears into the mass. As you stand there with confusion and panic on your face you wonder, “What has just happened here”? You step onto the train to get to your destination, and dread sets in. You now have incomplete notes to guide you through your presentation.
The person on the train was my youngest brother Brian, it turned out that this was just to be a minor hiccup in his public speaking endeavors, he progressed quickly, got noticed and promoted, and now lives the “high life” working for a major insurance carrier. He concluded that the person who “stole” some of his note cards at the subway station in New York that day may have thought that he was handing out flyers or coupons! His outgoing personable demeanor and proficiency in presentation skills gets him invited to speak at his company’s conferences throughout North America. He has even been part of a group that has had the privilege of teaching presentation skills at the United Nations (UN).
In the 13 years I have been immersed in public speaking, I have learned that one of the most important criteria for presenters is to be prepared and to have the confidence to deal with the unexpected, i.e., things not going quite as planned. It’s critical to understand what can go wrong and also to be able to deal with the unusual “snags” that you couldn’t possibly conceive (think subway train incident!). Preparation and confidence are the two main components that can help keep the Gremlins at bay. The more you present, the quicker you will learn what can go wrong and how to prevent it or deal with it.
What are some of the stumbling blocks that I have experienced or witnessed?
1. I was presenting a 1 hour seminar to about 100 people at a technical conference. My presentation was being delivered in a university auditorium. I had a lavaliere lapel type microphone which worked exceptionally well. During my presentation I had a question and answer session and some other audience interaction exercises. Unfortunately there was not a handheld microphone and a helper available to go to the person asking the question and make sure the question being asked was being heard by all. I had to make sure I repeated the question back to the audience to make sure they understood the dialogue. See my previous article on success strategies for using microphones at http://davehillspeaks.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/exceptional-presenters-get-noticed-and-promoted-%e2%80%9cbefriending-the-microphone%e2%80%9d/
2. I was asked to use a new net meeting software program a few days before I was scheduled to deliver a technical training session. I played with it to try and work out any potential kinks ahead of time. I worked with an administrative assistant to make sure it worked smoothly from computer to computer. A set of instructions including a web link to log into the online presentation, were e-mailed to the trainees. Gremlins visited right from the start, some people had not opened the e-mail and were looking at a “blue screen” (they had logged into the “old” net meeting site). In addition, some people who did manage to log in were unable to get the new software to work and could not view the slides.
3. Some time ago I attended a net meeting to listen to a technical training session. For some reason the presenter had given control of the PowerPoint presentation to someone on a different computer. That “helper” was supposed to move the slides as the presenter went from point-to-point. Unfortunately the helper moving the slides was not fully fluent in the presentation and most of the slides did not relate to what the presenter was saying. In addition, the slides would occasionally flick backwards and forwards as the helper tried frantically to find the correct one. See my previous article on net meeting success strategies at: http://davehillspeaks.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/attention-grabbing-presentation-skills-%e2%80%93-%e2%80%9cnet-meeting-presentations-%e2%80%93-what-happens-when-your-cranky-baby-argues-with-a-top-executive-on-a-conference-call%e2%80%9d/
4. At a recent 1 day workshop on “Attention Grabbing Presentation Skills for Technical people – Get noticed and promoted” I arrived 1 hour early to set up and make sure the audio visual equipment was working etc. I immediately found that the audio system that was supposed to be supplied was not there. Luckily I carry all sorts of backup equipment to deal with these types of issues. My small laptop size speakers were not perfect but they were adequate so the audience could hear the content of some video segments I use to illuminate some of my points. See my previous article on audio-visual success strategies at: http://davehillspeaks.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/attention-grabbing-presentation-skills-–-get-noticed-and-promoted-–-preparing-for-audio-visual-disasters-–-“the-bulb-on-the-projector-popped-and-the-teachers-freaked/
General success strategies for dealing with “Gremlins”
1. Think of all that could go wrong, ask other presenters what they have experienced, and develop some form of backup plan. The sooner you learn about “snags” the better prepared you will be and the lower your anxiety level will be. Back-up plan, back-up plan, and back-up plan, prepare, prepare and prepare!
2. Develop an equipment checklist that also includes success strategies to counteract any potential issues. Keep adding to it when challenges come about. Learn from your mistakes, other people’s misfortunes, and do not repeat them. For example, my checklist now includes “make sure there will be a handheld microphone and a helper for the question and answer session and other audience interaction segments”. Another benefit of this is if the lavaliere microphone fails, I now have a handheld microphone as a backup.
3. Get to your venue as early as possible, set up the equipment, and test everything. If using new technology give yourself plenty of time to learn the vulnerabilities (months before important events if possible). How many times have you seen a presenter come into a conference room 10 minutes before an important presentation and get frustrated, hot, sweaty, and “leaking” anxiety because the laptop wouldn’t “connect” with the projector?
Final note: The importance of gaining an understanding of “Gremlins” should never be underestimated. Anxiety (fear of failing in front of our peers etc.) is one of the main hurdles for many speakers. Understanding that Murphy’s Law prevails (“If something can go wrong… it will”!) and being prepared with a plan, and the confidence to deal with it, are what you are aiming for. Exceptional presentation skills will get you noticed and promoted, it’s worth the effort.