Three Tips: When The PowerPoint Crashes

A reader recently sent me an e-mail about a speech he gave earlier this month:

“I had a talk yesterday that could fit into the classic ‘Murphy’s Law’ category for presentations.
The panel started 15 minutes late due to technology difficulties. The first two speakers managed to get their PowerPoint slides up and running, but when I got up to talk, the computer froze again, and I couldn’t access my slides. I had about 10 minutes before the scheduled session was supposed to end (and we were to have Q&A at the end).  I basically had to wing it.

I wish you were there, so I could learn about the 1,000 things that I did – but should not have done – in a moment of speaker crisis management. I kept my cool, tried to make light of the situation, and focused on audience needs, interests, and priorities, but I think that’s about all I had going for me yesterday.”

Actually, it sounds like this speaker did just about everything right. He maintained his humor, exhibited his flexibility, and remained focused on the audience’s needs – and by doing so, he demonstrated his competence as a speaker.

Here are three suggestions for what to do when the technology fails:

If Your Audience Doesn’t Know, Don’t Tell Them: If your technology fails before your speech begins – and without the audience’s knowledge – don’t tell them! Little is more lame than speakers who start their presentation with an apology, such as, “I was supposed to show you a PowerPoint, but it’s not working, so we’ll just wing it.” Instead, just wing it! Remember: PowerPoint slides should be used to reinforce your story, not tell your story. Therefore, their loss should merely be a bummer for you, not an obstacle for your audience.

Remain Calm: Things happen. Your audience understands that. So demonstrate your competence as a speaker by remaining totally nonplussed while working to solve the problem. If the problem can’t be solved within a minute or so, stop trying. Move on to your “Plan B” – delivering the talk without slides.

Always, always, always print out a hard copy of your PowerPoint slides before your talk: Those hard copies have gotten me through a couple of speeches when the PowerPoint crashed. Don’t tell your audience what the non-existent slide was going to show – just explain the concept to them. For example, if you were going to show a three-legged stool, just say, “Imagine a three-legged stool. The first leg represents …”