If you use technology to support your presentation it's just a matter of time before it fails you. Ending up like this guy in this 1995 Apple commercial is every presenter's nightmare. The secret of success is not just in doing everything possible to reduce the risk of technical failure. The key is in the recovery and in the contingency plans you have in place (something the fictional character in the commercial did not have). For example, you can have two notebooks connected to your projector or a notebook and an iPod (via S-video in) just in case your computer unexpectedly acts nuts (see video). Today I often travel with just the one PowerBook and keep a PDF of the slides on a USB drive that I upload to one of the client's PCs just in case my computer acts up. Earlier this year a client's new Epson projector inexplicably would not recognize my PowerBook. That's never happened before and I would have been dead in the water, but I brought a USB drive with the the PDF file. It worked perfectly. There were no transition effects, but that is not a big deal. The show must go on, and it did...from the backup PC.
Even the master of the demo and the keynote, Steve Jobs, is not completely immune from technical glitches. It's been a while since Steve has had any serious bloopers in a keynote. Still, "Shitake happens," as Guy would say, even to Steve Jobs. But Steve and crew always have backup systems there that can be accessed at the flip of a switch (and he has indeed flipped that switch a time or two over the last few years). Our buddy Seth Godin sent me a link a couple of weeks ago to this YouTube video on Apple keynotes and demo bloopers over the years. I linked to this video in a February post called "nobody's perect" (the typo really was an accident and just too ironic to fix). There have not been too many Apple bloopers, but edited together here in one montage it is really quite amusing.
Jobs: "That's why we have backup systems"
Peter Cohan in his 2005 book, "Great Demo: How to create and execute stunning software demonstrations," provides a great axiom: "The pain and embarrassment potential of an bug appearing is directly proportional to the importance of the demo." Concerning bugs, mistakes and crashes, Cohan says this:
"It is inevitable. No matter how strong your development organization or how well OC'ed your software is, you should still expect to find bugs. The best way to deal with bugs is to plan on them happening!"
— Peter Cohan, "The Demo"
Peter Cohan's book is excellent and is required reading for anyone who does presentations with the help of technology. This book is not just for those making software demos. Lot's of great advice from the front lines.
Zen and the Windows demo
Microsoft has certainly had its share of bloopers of the years too. Such as the (in)famous Windows 98 crash on stage.
The "Yup" heard 'round the world
Bill Gates and Conan O'Brian (below) on stage.
Show only what they need
"...show only the specific capabilities your audience needs to solve their problem, their Critical Business Issue," says Cohan. "While you may generate additional interest if you show other capabilities, you run the huge risk of boring, alienating, or complicating your demo." Cohan also stresses that you run the risk of running in to bugs or crashing. You gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.
Larry Osterman: "I'm glad you're enjoying this"
Larry Osterman may be wondering if his demo of voice recognition was really worth it. Osterman's voice rec demo was a very small part of a longer demo and he eventually recovered and the feature seemed to work well, but the initial trouble he had was jumped on by the media. I guess the moral of the story is if you are going to demo something which is a bit risky (in this case perhaps due to the room not the software) it better be worth it.
In hindsight it doesn't seem worth the risk. Even if the demo on speech recognition would have worked perfectly, it does not seem like that big a deal. People on Macs and PCs have been using voice recognition for a very long time. Is this new? And in a demo situation where it is dicey, why take the risk? It just does not seem like there was really anything to gain. And while the glitch was actually small and corrected, the media pounced on the "failure." This glitch in the Microsoft presentation, if viewed in context, was not a big deal. But it is a sobering reminder nonetheless that any glitch can be taken for a PR spin. Take a look at this clip again. I do not know which is worse, the demo gone bad or the corny reporters covering (and totally distorting) the story. Read the reports here, and here. Read Larry Osterman's blog post on the incident here.
The Origami demo fumbleruski in Korea
How many executives does it take to run PowerPoint from an Origami? Apparently more than three. Too bad there's no video for this Origami demo fumbleruski. Read about it here and here in this Korea Times article, "Origami Stumps CEOs in Jobs-Style Presentation."
• How to be a demo god by Guy Kawasaki
• Presentation Aikido (part 1)
• Presentation Aikido (part 2)
• Tips for demoing your company
• Dos and don'ts for presenting at DEMO
• Tips on giving a 90-second demo
• Five Tips For A Great Software Demo