How to ensure a smooth presentation—and head off technical crises

Target your talk at the proper level for your audience, and prepare for the inevitable technological glitches that could derail your enlightening oratory.

As speakers, we want to deliver a perfect presentation that knocks it out of the park and leaves our audience knowing they just learned something unforgettable.

We also have those other moments, the challenging times when it looks like nothing is going right.

Recently, I spoke at an event that was special to me—a large national conference of my peers. This presentation had to be perfect, but due to some major technology challenges, it wasn’t.

It could have been disastrous. Instead, because of careful planning, plenty of rehearsal and high-quality content, our organization is getting positive national coverage about the subject.

Here are five pointers to overcome obstacles and make yourself memorable-for the right reasons.

1. Take a unique approach. That doesn’t mean naming your session with some silly catchphrase or pop culture reference like “Pokémon Go and Marketing for Millennials.” Convey your expertise by shedding new light on the subject. You want your attendees to walk away saying, “I have never thought about it like that before.”

Think of how author Malcolm Gladwell takes concepts you know and puts them together, drawing conclusions you might not have reached on your own. That’s what attendees expect from an expert.

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2. Assume your attendees are smart and talented. One of my go-to presentations is about how to get the job you want; I’ve tailored it to executives looking for their next great opportunity. To advise people already at the top of their careers, you can’t use the stock advice about proofreading your résumé and sending a thank-you letter. Instead, you have to give specific, meaty examples of how to be selected for a CEO opportunity.

This same approach should be used in all presentations. Assume your audience members are smart, talented, innovative people, and cause them to think differently. Talk about the philosophy, theory or science behind your suggestions and, if possible, the proven results.

3. An event’s importance is directly related to the likelihood that the technology will fail. Technology can be wonderful. Yet every speaker has experienced a setup where the LCD projector isn’t connecting properly, the microphone is attached to the podium, the computer “clicker” is missing, your files didn’t load correctly or some other ghastly impediment.

The best plan is a combination of using technology (but not relying on it too much) and having a paper copy ready just in case the tech fails you. I always bring a clock and set it within eyesight so I can pace myself without looking at a watch. If your tech fails you, you won’t have the clock on the screen, either.

4. Use attendees’ time respectfully. Starting and ending on time is a must. Practice your presentation out loud—using a timer—a day or two before the session to help you plan your pacing. Most speakers use the same presentation, with minor edits, for sessions of different durations. Practicing it a day or two out with a timer will help you solidify your pacing specific to that event.

Additionally, determine whether someone is introducing you or you are introducing yourself, as well as whether announcements are planned at the start or end of your session so you can factor that in.

If the technology fails, don’t spend a lot of time trying to fix it. Devote a minute or two, and then delegate it or move to a low-tech alternative. Don’t waste the time of the smart, talented people who came to hear an expert share knowledge.

5. Use a mix of communication styles. We have all heard adult learning theory, and affording audience members opportunities to read, share or do can certainly help them absorb the data. Going beyond that, different people will retain information better if it’s offered in a story, an image, a photo, charts, graphs or statistics. (I am a numbers person, so I respond best to statistics.)

I also try to let people talk—without those familiar, time-consuming layers: “Discuss in a group, and pick a scribe; now have your scribe tell the rest of the group what your small group talked about.” It can be just as effective for the learners if you say: “You have about five minutes. Chat with the people near you. Tell each other how you might use this information when you get home.”

Some people need to speak it so they can absorb it, but they don’t need to be babied. This goes back to using their time effectively and treating them like the experts they are. Don’t get bogged down in discussion.

Debbie Trueblood is executive director of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association.

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