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PRESENTATION SKILLS: Murphy's Law at Work

Recently, I had the opportunity to train a group of engineers on presentation skills, getting them ready to deliver presentations to approximately thirty Navy sailors. Obviously, when you train on presentation skills, you particularly want everything to go right — from the equipment to the PowerPoint slides. In addition, we had offered to video tape their presentations so they could get a clear — before and after — picture of their improvements. This day was a testimony to the motto “Be Prepared,” and to the inevitability of Murphy’s Law.

The night before I had flown in from Memphis and picked up the training materials from the office for the next day. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to back up the PowerPoint slides onto my laptop from the flash drive Sue had provided me. I had also told Sarah to tuck a new LCD light bulb in the bag because I knew the lamp life on the LCD projector was getting low.

We arrived in plenty of time on the day of training. I inserted the flash drive into my laptop and opened up the PowerPoint presentation. So far, so good. I decided to enlarge a piece of clip art on one of the slides; as I was saving the document, an error screen came up telling me that the file had been corrupted. To make matters worse, all the files on the flash drive had been deleted! In disbelieve, I removed the flash drive, reinserted it, and checked again. Nothing! Luckily, I had stored a copy of the PowerPoint file, including the video and sound files, on my laptop. So we were still good to go.

Sarah alerted me after video taping the first set of presentations — what we were calling the baseline presentations — that the video camera was digitalizing all the video. We had promised participants that they would have a before and after sequence to compare their progress. After a quick huddle, Sarah and I decided to send her off to Comp USA nearby to purchase a new video camera. As a small business, I so value the ability to make quick decisions. One hour later she was back up and running.

Just as Sarah was getting back with the new video camera, the light in the LCD projector went out. Luckily we had brought the spare, but didn’t realize that the projector has to cool down for an hour before the new light can be installed. During lunch we made the installation, but the new lamp stayed on less than a minute. We had a thought that it might be the lamp hours counter, so after a bit of scrounging through the menu listing, we changed the hours back to zero. Still, the lamp went out after just a few seconds of being on, with a strong smell of overheating even though the fan was on. By then, one of the engineers returned from lunch and suggested it might be a particle of dust from changing the light that was interfering and causing some overheating. Finally, on the fourth try, the light stayed on. Given that every participant needed to use the LCD projector for their presentation, this was the miracle we needed.

So, what are the lessons learned? Don’t trust a flash drive to never crash; back up everything; think through options ahead of time if equipment failures occur; and be grateful when you have a room full of participants who are patient and understanding.

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