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Posted by on Jun 25, 2009

Public speaking disasters, lessons learned, and portable generators

As we speak, I am administering a webinar for the Stor of J on the new faceted search interface. I am not presenting, just answering questions for our enthusiastic crowd of librarians and faculty.

I enjoy the immediacy of webinars; they have become the online equivalent of live theater. The movie might be slicker, but the possibility of disaster is always looming and so the excitement level is higher. I do not think you can be considered an accomplished public speaker until the thing you are speaking about crashes beyond repair and you hold your composure and whip up an interesting anecdote about the weather or your flight over. This most definitely applies to presentations in person.

I would love to start a discussion about your most memorable speaking disasters as there are wonderful learning opportunities to be gleaned from disaster. Some of mine are as follows with lessons learned in parenthesis:

1. No electricity for the purposes of presentation. Fine for laptop, not so good for projector. Lusaka, Zambia (Lesson learned: bring a portable generator as carry-on).

2. No internet. Accra, Ghana. (Lesson learned: make screen recordings of your presentation using Camtasia, Captivate or some other screen recording software. Play as video, make the video fullscreen and pretend internet is working.)

3. No access to internet for security reasons. Rutgers University. (Lesson learned: make sure one participant brings a laptop and have your presentation on a memory stick.)

4. Not aware you were scheduled to give a presentation. Lusaka, Zambia. (Lesson learned: once electricity is up and running, assume you are one of the speakers for the conference. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, that way you will never be caught off-guard. Walk in to large conference room with prerecorded video for use at the conference booth and play that as presentation. Gesture wildly, enunciate theatrically, and pause dramatically. Answer 2 part questions by saying “I would like to answer the second part first.”)

5. Lack of attendees. New York University. (Lesson learned: Promotion is important.)

6. Lack of understanding in the audience (=lack of my proper explanation) from

  • language or cultural barriers. Seoul, Cairo, Tunis, Alexandria. (Lesson learned: less is more as far as details are concerned. Images are universal so make presentation visually based.)
  • complexity barriers. Accra, Pretoria, Freehold, New Jersey. Sometimes the “thing” you are presenting has so many dimensions as to render itself meaningless. (Lesson learned: Pick a few facets and apply them to the audience at hand. Focus on their need; what do they want to do with this “thing”?)

There are many others, but if you have any you would like to share I would love to hear them!

The above are some pictures from my aforementioned presentation in Lusaka, Zambia. The large conference room itself felt like some of the deleted scenes from Xanadu were filmed there, while the eland were grazing out front of the conference hall. The hall was smack dab in the middle of Lusaka and suffered frequent power outages not to mention sketchy internet connectivity. If you want to see some more of these images, they are on my Flickr page.

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2 Comments

  1. “I would like to answer the second part first.”

    Fabulous, funny, and helpful post! Thank you.

  2. You are more than welcome, Shelley. Presenting can be a daunting task and all too often we keep up less than stellar efforts secret. But really it is the failed attempts which learn from. Take care!

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