What To Do When Everything Goes Wrong
Or, really, what to do before everything goes wrong. Because at least once in your presenting career, EVERYTHING will go wrong. Most issues have to do with technology: the Internet connection is bad, you’re missing the right adapter, you forgot to request AV equipment in the first place, the sound isn’t working. What can you do to try to head these problems off at the pass?
One thing to remember is that, at a conference, the Internet is not your friend. Depending on the size of the conference, it may be a matter of a weak signal in the conference rooms, or that the host is relying on guest Internet access that isn’t working like it should – any number of things, really. But the net effect is that you’re stuck in a room, minutes to go before your panel or presentation begins, and the video clip or webpage or whatever it is that you’re relying on as part of your presentation is. not. loading.
There are some ways to prepare for this: if you use PowerPoint, it’s very easy to upload video/audio clips into the presentation itself. Yes, depending on how many clips you have, this can make the file enormous, which can create its own problems, but it frees you from worrying about being able to access the clip online. Similarly, you can upload the clip(s) to your laptop or to a thumb drive. The idea is to have backups of any video or audio clips, and be prepared to switch them out at a moment’s notice. For this reason, it can also be helpful to keep a backup on a cloud server – I use Dropbox, but anything will do and those travel with you even when you lose the thumb drive.
For webpages, it can be helpful to have screenshots available should they prove inaccessible. It obviously won’t have the functionality of the site, but it will give a sense of what you’re talking about.
Speaking of thumb drives, this is also an indispensable tool to have if you happen not to have the right connectors for your laptop (or if your panel decides that they’d all rather use one laptop than trade them out between papers). Put your presentation on the thumb drive and it can be loaded onto just about any other device. One thing to be aware of is that if you created your presentation on a Mac, say, and you’re loading it onto a Microsoft laptop/PC, the file may not be recognized by the host device; for that reason, it can be useful to save your presentation to two thumb drives: one that’s formatted for Mac OS, and one that’s been formatted in DOS (you can choose this in Disc Utility on Mac).
Also if you have a Mac, you can usually bypass all of this by making sure to carry two dongles at all times – one with an HDMI plug, and one with a VGA plug. Make it part of your conference packing process; having them will save you a world of pain.
Sound can be the biggest issue, but if it’s a conference of any size it’s also generally pretty solvable: ask for the facility tech person to come help. Hotels and conference centers definitely and absolutely have a tech person, and your conference fees are paying for them. They can usually solve a problem faster than four media studies academics playing with buttons (and I say this as the go-to person in my family for all things tech hookup; I’m almost always much better off asking for the help of the tech person than I am trying to figure out a given place’s specific system).
One other issue I’ve run into multiple times and, in fact, keep running into because apparently I never learn is that you cannot count on there being a printer available for you to print out that last-minute copy of your paper. There are ways to get around the need for a printed copy, generally involving a tablet or laptop, so it can be helpful to get used to reading from one of those AND to annotate the file as you would a printed copy.
Finally, although I don’t do this, some people will make photocopies of their slides to hand out – for note-taking, and also in the event that the slides fail. The main thing to keep in mind is that at some point, something is going to go wrong; it happens to everyone, and people are usually more forgiving of problems than your nerves will tell you.