How Do You Respond When Equipment Fails During Your Presentation?

Equipment will fail. Your laptop computer will suddenly display the “Blue Screen of Death.” The bulb in you projector will suddenly “pop!” Your presentation will suddenly “freeze.” It is one thing when these unfortunate events occur while you are in your office or in your hotel room. But, what do you do when this happens while you are presenting to your client? While you are in the middle of a training class? While you are speaking to hundreds of people in a meeting room?

And, trust me, this will happen to you. It has happened to me. Twice, I have had my laptop “die” during a six-hour training a class in Advanced Excel tips. The lesson that I learned: Always use a portable fan that sits underneath my laptop. The fan plugs into a USB port so there is no need for a power cube, and you can purchase a model that folds up and fits neatly into your travel bag. Laptops throw off a lot of heat – especially when they are used for extended periods. So, a portable fan is an “essential” part of my  equipment setup.

Projectors also get hot and their bulbs will either suddenly “pop” or just quietly “die” on you. If I am using my  projector, I carry a spare bulb with me; but I NEVER attempt to change it mid-presentation – the projector is much too hot for that! Frequently, I will be using my client’s projector on-site and I don’t expect them to have a spare bulb on hand. So, whether it is my own projector or my client’s, I make sure that I know how to access the  ”sleep button” and I look for opportunities to put the projector to sleep during a lengthy presentation. Just as your audience needs an occasional break, so too does your projector.

Before I go any further, let me share my philosophy about equipment and technology: “It is not a question of IF; it is a question of WHEN your equipment fails.” It will at some point.

What do you do when your equipment fails? How do you respond in this situation? How do you recover and manage to keep your audience’s attention and engagement? How do you maintain your composure? How do you continue to project a professional presence?

First, remember that it is you – the presenter – who has the knowledge and information that the audience wants to hear. You, and the topic that you are presenting are the reasons that people are in the room. Your PowerPoint and your equipment are tools to assist you in making your presentation. Do not allow equipment failures to distract you from your message. Do not allow equipment failures to distance you from your audience.

My preference is to continue with my presentation when the equipment fails. I do not try to fix the equipment while my audience is sitting in their seats. I will call for a short break at a natural point in the presentation. If I can repair it quickly, I do so during the break. If not, I go with my backup plan. You must have a backup plan. You must be prepared with several options for continuing your preparation. Expect, and plan for, the inevitable equipment failure. Here is a list of the items that I put into my backup planning package.  I always travel with:

  1. A backup copy of my presentation on a USB hard drive.
  2. A “Package for CD” copy of my presentation on the USB drive - including all hyperlinks, photos and media files – in case the equipment that I need to borrow or use does not have the same version of PowerPoint that I used to create my presentation.
  3. A clean copy of my handout – and any related documents – that can be quickly copied and distributed if the original copies are lost or if we require extras.
  4. A “3 into 2″ prong adapter in case I need to plug my equipment into a 2 prong, ungrounded wall jack.
  5. A 12 foot extension cord with at least six “plug-ins” in case I need to adjust the placement of my projector and laptop.
  6. A USB expansion adapter that can extend at least 3 inches and has at least 4 ports.
  7. My own handheld “clicker” to advance the slides. These connect to a USB port.
  8. A digital clock that is big enough and bright enough for me to see the time in a variety of lighting conditions. I do not want my audience to see me looking at my wrist watch during my presentation.
  9. Extra batteries for all of my equipment – including my laptop.
  10. The portable fan for my laptop that I referred to in this article.

Prepare your presentation. Prepare yourself. Prepare your recovery from an untimely equipment failure. Your audience will support you and respect your professionalism when you continue your presentation despite an equipment failure. Project your professional presence.

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