The lights dim. A lone presenter walks up to the podium, shuffles his notes and hits the projector switch. Nothing happens. He tries again. The tension mounts. All eyes are focused on the presenter as he breaks out in a sweat and starts randomly hitting buttons.

There's nothing that strikes greater fear in the heart of a presenter than the thought of equipment failure. After all, the entire audience is relying on you. So it makes sense that a good presenter will have a number of tried and tested techniques for dealing with equipment meltdown. We asked readers to share those tips with us. In this article we've decided to defer to their expertise! Here's how they responded…

1. You're stranded in a technology-barren meeting room. Your presentation is recorded on your laptop and there's no projector in the room – how do you cope?

The overwhelming advice from readers was to keep your cool. As one reader explained, "I wrote the presentation so I know it by heart and I have an index card with my key points. I know my material…I can do it in my sleep!"

According to another reader, "You wing it. You should be thoroughly familiar with what you are going to present and be able to deliver it without your computer-based presentation."

In other words, a truly professional presenter knows their material – slides should be a garnish, not the entire presentation. If you're familiar with your material, but need something to prompt you, try as one reader suggests: "Use your laptop to trigger your memory, and deliver your presentation without props. Promise the audience that you will print out any relevant graphs or diagrams after the session."

Several innovative readers suggested that if you can't do without visual aids – create your own! 
"Grab a flip chart, masking tape and markers. Translate the key points to the flip chart paper. Between your flipcharts and the handouts you've given them - things should go fine."

"Connect your laptop to a printer and generate handouts. Then create full-size overheads to use with an antiquated overhead projector. Then breathe a sigh of relief and wait for the most appreciative audience of all time!"

"Find a whiteboard or easel with large paper and write two words down for each agenda item. Use the whiteboard and/or large paper for illustrations."

"I act out my presentation – charades style – while using available props such as potted plants and speaker phones to create a theatrical set. I award points to audience members if they can 'guess the concept."

2. You've planned to visit several Web pages over the course of your presentation. When you arrive at the facility, you realize there isn't an Internet connection in the room – what do you do?

If you work in a technology-savvy organization it's easy to forget that the tools you take for granted in your office may not be available elsewhere. But remember: a true professional doesn't make any assumptions. As two seasoned respondents explain, "Stay away from relying on too much technology in your presentations. I find the old tried and true manual approaches work best sometimes."

"Don't assume you'll have an Internet connection...ask during your planning phase. Have a backup 'offline' copy of the Web pages you're referencing ready as a reference (a non-responsive server could also sidetrack you from time to time)."

Remember, if you have no idea what to expect from a particular facility, it pays to establish a relationship with the facility manager before you're in a crisis situation. It's part of your responsibility as a presenter to ensure that the equipment you need is present. As one reader suggests, "Establish a good contact with the facility and make sure they understand your needs before arriving…I carry extra cables and have a selection of adapters. Usually I check out the facility the day before the presentation."

Of course, the material from a particular Web page may be vital for your presentation. If this is the case, plan ahead. There are several short-cuts to visiting a Web site during a presentation. All it takes is a little advance preparation. Try one of the following tips:
"If you're planning to visit Web pages, you should cache them ahead of time on a zip disk. If you haven't cached them and have time (and a zip disk), find an Internet connection and cache what you need."

"Insert a hyperlink into your presentation. Or scan the page into your PowerPoint slides or cut and paste the information in."

If you didn't do any of these things and you're in the midst of your presentation, you could try and salvage your professionalism with one of these strategies:
"Summarize the points to be made using the Web sites, draw story boards on a whiteboard and give URLs."

"Put URLs in the handout notes, make references to them, and tell the audience they may browse at their leisure."

Don't forget, no matter what kind of equipment glitches you encounter, the most important thing is: "Let the show go on – never let them see you sweat."

3. Your planned presentation is an AV extravaganza with PowerPoint, video, Web links, and audio effects. Your meeting rooms however are in high demand, and AV technicians have just informed you that you can have just one of the following pieces of equipment:
Laptop Video
Projector Audio

Which do you choose and why?

It looks like the projector is the preferred prop for professional presenters. It was selected by 75% of the respondents! As one presenter put it, "I can always use overheads with some secret gimmicks to maintain interest. It's my knowledge and style that is the reason I am there. I will survive."

The projector's versatility won points with all of the respondents. Almost everyone who selected the projector suggested that you could create slides or overheads beforehand, and still keep the audience involved in your presentation. As one veteran presenter pointed out, you can avoid the worst disasters by planning ahead.

"You can re-create nearly anything with a projector while you're presenting. I'm assuming you'd have your own laptop (to use as a script). Who in the world would bring their presentation on a disk and hope the in-house laptop can support what's on it???"

Another respondent argued in favor of the laptop:

"I should be prepared enough to do without the video and, if time allows, copy the video to the laptop. The audio equipment is not necessary as the laptop should have a sound card, so I can connect the microphone to the laptop and use it if necessary. The projector would be missed, but I would have to rely on myself to convey the messages the projector would be showing."

There you have it! Hopefully these survivor tips will help you salvage you own presentation in the event that disaster strikes.

Read meeting dilemmas solved by the Meeting Guru.



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