Three unexpected events that could happen in your next presentation


Fonts display as gibberishEarlier in the week I attended the SAICSIT conference. Three “unexpected” events occurred at the conference which I think is worth thinking about. Afterall, we learn from our experiences and those of others.

The three events were

  1. Your slides display incorrectly.
  2. Your data projector packs up…
  3. Your sound system starts speaking back at you 🙂

Only number one is preventable

Your slides display incorrectly.

Be careful about which fonts you use in your PowerPoint. Not all fonts are installed on all platforms. You can prevent this in a number of ways:

  1. Do not use non-standard fonts.  But let us face it, that can be boring…
  2. Embed your fonts. I’ll post separately on this issue, but remember that it may make your presentation lots bigger and you will not be able to edit the presentation on the other PC.
  3. Take the fonts with to install on the target PC. Of course watch for copyright issues and you’ll need some time to prepare the PC you use for your presentation.
  4. Use your own notebook on which the presentation work.  However, this introduces some more problems which provides for a trade-off.  Switching to your PCs may be time-consuming and thus look unprofessional.  At some events it may not be allowed, so check before the time. Some data projectors are still finicky (especially if older) and your PC may not work that nicely with it so check before the time that it works. And remember that it may not work as expected, or your PC may break before the important presentation, so purely relying on this option is probably not that wise…

Regardless, of which option you decide to use, make sure that you have tested the PowerPoint before the time.  Some presenters at SAICSIT clearly did not.  One of my students, Laurie, would have been in a similar position if she did not. For some odd reason on her last slide where she credited the Creative Commons images she used, the font were suddenly 65pt size… it showed basically the first two credits… She tested the presentation on the PC to be used before the time, so nobody but us noticed…  This experience prompted me to contact all speakers in the session where I was chairman to in the break before the time go through their slides to make sure they seem correct. Maybe all session chairman should insist to do so…

So you are in it, and you did not test… What to do? Well please don’t say “I did not want you to read it anyway…”.  If that was really the case why on earth show it to the audience in the first place… In the presenter’s defense he carried on with his message, clearly not too dependent on the slides to help him through. And that is good because the second case could have happened to him as easily.

Your data projector packs up

Is your message clear enough that you can carry on using a white board or flip chart? Do you really need all the detail on the slides? How dependent are you on your slides?  If you feel you cannot “chalk-and-talk” your presentation and still get the essential message through, you have a problem… A preparation problem, I’d call it. Mostly you might be lucky and the data projector does not break… but was your message clear?

I am not against PowerPoint, but if your story fails because you are overly reliant on PowerPoint I think something is wrong… and the data projector is only a small part of it.

At SAICSIT I was not listening in the stream where it happened, but the presenter apparently handled it very professionally, continuing on a flip chart… impressive feedback. Well done!

Your sound system starts speaking back at you

This was by far the funniest one I’ve seen in a long time.  Some minutes into the presentation a voice starting testing the system… “Testing, testing, one, two… one, one, two…”, then it was gone, but then started again, more of the same, some African language thrown in… Of course the owner of the voice were nowhere to be found!? The audience found it hilarious. The presenter, my good friend and colleague Jean Greyling kept his cool. He commented on divine intervention…  which given the speakers were roof mounted and therefore coming from above were hilarious. It took some time for somebody to find the source of the divine intervention, but Jean managed to pick up his talk and continue, still finishing in time.

What saved the presentation was (i) Jean keeping his cool… (ii) using humor to diffuse the situation, and (iii) knowing his message clear enough to adapt to the consequential time span difference.

The audience know one cannot plan for everything…

I am sure the audience felt sorry for the presenters in the second and third examples. The situations were truly out of control of the presenters; the presenters weren’t blamed.  The presenters, in all three cases handled it quite fine.  In fact I think their way of handling might have gotten them and their message noticed even more.

These presenters have turned the negative experience into a positive experience.

Ask yourself: Are you prepared enough to handle your next presentation glitch?

Please share your worst glitches with everybody by leaving it in the comments.

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4 Responses to Three unexpected events that could happen in your next presentation

  1. Jean Greyling says:

    I need not mention my worst glitch – it has just been done! Thanks Reinhardt for giving it a positive angle 🙂

  2. […] an earlier post I reminisced on some things that can go wrong during your presentation. If we believe in […]

  3. Laurie says:

    And that’s why you’re the professor and I’m just the student 😉

    Thanks for checking it before hand!

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