Tldr; My first keynote was a massive technical disaster. Four laptops and 3 projector breakdowns later, it was complete. However, using principles I learned from “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte I made it through…and I think people even enjoyed it! Jump to the bottom for the five lessons learned.
Last summer I had the honor of being asked to present the keynote for the 2014 Codestock conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. I couldn’t have been more excited about the opportunity and the message I wanted to deliver: Becoming an Outlier. I walked into the auditorium a full hour before my talk so that I would have ample time to complete a tech check. It turned out, an hour wasn’t near enough time.
My laptop decided it wasn’t interested in syncing with the projector, instead producing a fuzzy postage stamp style display in the center of the screen. We toyed with settings for 30 minutes to no avail. Time was running out. It was time to start calling for backup machines. Thankfully multiple people came to my aid. The first machine was so old that it couldn’t play my full HD video without severe stuttering. The second lacked Powerpoint. And finally, the third machine we tried in a 15 minute fury looked promising by initially displaying the slides and playing the video. I sprinted to the back room to finish configuring the machine with the necessary fonts and source files.
I was nearly done with this configuration when the machine crashed with a blue screen of death. No one wants to see this 5 minutes before a presentation.
The owner assured me we could get it booted and finished installing the font in time – after all, it had an SSD. Sure enough, with about a minute to spare, and just as they began reading my bio, the machine was ready! Whew.
I stepped on stage and raised my hands in the air in excitement when the Mac projected successfully to the screen. “We’re going to do a keynote!” The crowd could certainly see the relief and excitement on my face. The presentation started great, but smooth sailing didn’t last long. I heard a gasp and some giggles from the crowd. I whirled around to see that the projector had gone black. Ouch. The machine was fine, it was the projector itself. But I was determined to stay upbeat and share the message so I forged ahead. The projector proceeded to come back on, then die out again a couple more times throughout the presentation. But I smiled, laughed it off, and continued speaking without it.
- Prepare a plan to handle broken tech. If a failure has happened once, it will likely happen again.
- Do your tech check as far in advance as possible. You need more time than you think. Trust me.
- When things go wrong, smile and laugh. It relieves tension and helps clear the head. It shows the crowd that you’re not rattled and thereby puts them at ease. This little trick should help keep you at ease as well.
- Remember that the crowd is rooting for you to succeed. They are sitting there and have no interest in wasting their time. Roll with the punches and forge ahead.
- Frame the unexpected as an interesting plot twist rather than a failure. You have a choice in how you respond when caught off-guard. This applies both on stage and throughout life. Remember, the crowd wants to see you succeed. No one wants to sit through an hour of embarrassing failure. The crowd will feed off your negativity or your positive vibes. No matter the circumstances, the crowd will look to you to help frame the experience. Present with enthusiasm, no matter the struggles along the way.
Finally, remember, you set the bar for any reactions. No one will be more excited about your topic than you.