If you forced me to rank the places where I would most prefer not to look like an idiot, the Harvard Kennedy School would come in fourth. Or maybe sixth. Some of history’s most eminent figures have spoken there, like Jack Donaghy.
But even after a successful tech-check before the presentation, things can go terribly wrong. Especially if you’ve embedded videos into a powerpoint presentation.
I was attempting to show two commercials, but another video popped up, and what’s worse, the audio was out of synch with the video. But here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Take a deep breath and relax. You’re still in control of how you respond. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from a decade of standup comedy is that audiences are incredibly empathetic. If you’re having a good time, they are. If you’re stressed out, they are. Audiences want you to be successful. It’s important that you understand and remind yourself that they are rooting for you.
2) Bring backup. I always carry a copy of my presentation on a USB stick and load the file on a backup presentation computer if available — the AV folks usually have one.
3) Bring a short 3-4 minute video about your topic on a DVD. Give it to the AV folks during the tech run-through. If there is a problem, they can play your video to give the audience something to watch other than you sweating, while the tech folks are resolving the issue.
4) Take an improv class. You may have to do it on a dare. I came very close to running out of my first improv class in 1998 at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater. It was scary to get through, but has changed my life. Give it a shot.
5) Have an alternative slide-free version of your story ready to tell. It’s important to be ready to present a compelling case without powerpoint slides, as I sometimes have to do when negotiating with my wife. Hard to believe but history has witnessed a few speeches that went pretty well without foils and an overhead projector: the Gettysburg Address, the Sermon on the Mount and King Henry V’s Crispian Day speech. To be fair, one of those speakers relied on 3×5 index cards and was a fictional character.
6) Get a Mac.