I recently taught a course in Denmark to a group of business executives, and in the process I was reminded of one of the most basic presenting tips: show up early.
My presentation was scheduled for 8:30, so I arrived at 7:45. I actually got to the neighborhood earlier and enjoyed a cup of coffee while I reviewed my slides. I figured an arrival at 7:45 would be fine, and consistent with my goal to always arrive early to set up my computer and arrange the room. Usually, this is an easy process; I just plug in my laptop and check the sound, then wander around the room a bit to get a feel for it.
It quickly became apparent that there was a problem: the sound didn’t work. This was a concern because my presentation included quite a number of videos. A good way to limit the effectiveness of videos is to have no sound. Silent movies faded away for a reason.
I am quite familiar with sound issues. As regular readers might remember, my new computer was stolen earlier this year, just before I was scheduled to present to a big group in Los Angeles. So I am using my aging Lenovo, which has limited outlets.
For most presentations, I bring along a pair of Bose external speakers. When all else fails I can just plug them in. On my trip to Denmark, however, I didn’t bring speakers because the host reported there was no chance of sound troubles, and I wanted to travel light so I didn’t have to check a bag.
When the tech person couldn’t get the sound working, we moved to plan B, a loaner computer and a flash drive. Unfortunately, when you paste a presentation onto a flash drive most of the video links fail. So the loaner computer produced sound but had no videos. Fixing this problem was possible but time-consuming.
Option C, pulling the files from DropBox, failed for the same reason: the embedded videos no longer played in the presentation.
By this point, it was now 8:27 and just minutes from the official start time. I then realized another problem; this group of Danes was an exceptionally punctual group. Everyone was ready to go.
And then, at the last instant, the tech person produced a set of external speakers. I plugged them in and it worked.
Luckily, the class started on time and the sound worked. Still, it was a stressful situation, and instead of spending the time before the presentation looking supremely in control and chatting casually with participants, which is my usual routine, I had been stressed and scrambling.
I had three big learnings from the Denmark incident. First, it is really essential to arrive early. I arrived early but clearly not early enough. Looking back I should have arrived a full hour in advance. The time I forgot to account for properly was the 15 minutes before the presentation; this is actually an important part of the event; it is the time when you want to set the stage, to look confident and in control.
Second, have a backup plan and test it. In the end, I was pretty exposed on that presentation. I had two backup systems – a flash drive and Drop Box – but both ultimately didn’t work. That was my mistake. In the future, I’ll test the backup systems so they work when needed.
Third, don’t trust your host. If there is something you will need that isn’t available in a typical office bring it along. Remember that if the presentation doesn’t go well, it is ultimately your problem, not theirs. You can’t blame them; that just makes you look bad.
I ended up having a terrific time at the program, and it seemed to go very well. The rough start, though, was a good reminder of some presenting best practices.
For more tips and insights on presenting, get a copy of my new book: How to Wash a Chicken – Mastering the Business Presentation.