I’ve been presenting technical content for several years, and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my career. It’s forced me to learn new things, given me self-confidence, and launched my career. I feel every person could benefit by sharing what they know with others.
I’ve had the opportunity to present hundreds of times – in-person to small user groups and at large conferences, online to one person or hundreds. As I present, I’m working with technology – the laptop I’m using, the projector I’m connected to, the SQL Server I’m running demos against. Technology can and will fail. As a speaker, this can be downright terrifying.
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” – Thomas A. Edison
You can prepare so you’re able to continue presenting when there is a problem.
The first piece of advice I give to anyone considering speaking is, “Talk about what interests you. Not what’s popular or what that great speaker you look up to talks about. You’ll give a better presentation if you love the subject.”
The second piece of advice I give is, “Practice, practice, practice.” Knowing what your topic is, what you’re going to say, and what you’re going to demo will give you a huge confidence boost if something goes wrong. You need to practice what you’re going to say, out loud, several times so you understand how long it will take and how to transition between ideas. You need to practice your demos so you know what results to expect. You need to practice transitions between your PowerPoint and your demos so you know what to expect.
You also should have backups of your presentation files – slides and demos, VMs if necessary. Store them on a USB drive and online (OneDrive or Google Drive, for example). This will give you extra peace of mind – and help if the failure is your laptop! (And this has happened. I know people who have had their laptops stolen, lost, or died in the first 10 minutes of their presentations.)
When something goes wrong, the first thing you should do is remain calm. Stop for a moment, take a couple of breaths, and assess the situation. Depending on what has gone wrong, you have many options.
If you have a demo failure, don’t spend the remainder of your session trying to fix it. Describe how the demo should have behaved and move on. You can always fix the code later, then post the demo for people to download and run themselves.
If you have a VM failure, take questions while you try to bring it back up. Again, don’t spend the rest of the time trying to fix it. If the VM won’t restart, talk through your demos, explaining what would have occurred. This is an opportunity to answer questions and use the whiteboard.
If you have a projector failure, find the right person to fix it. Can’t fix it? This is where preparation comes in. You can talk through your slides. You can have additional question and answer time. You can have a whiteboard session, explaining your concepts and demos.
If you have a laptop failure (thankfully, this hasn’t happened to me!), you can ask to borrow one from someone in the audience, copy down your backups, and move on.
Failures won’t happen every time you present, but if one does occur, be prepared by practicing and having backups. Don’t let one failure stop you from presenting again. You have too much to share with others! Learn from what went wrong and move on.