Today we have a special guest post from one of our WIP Summit Speakers, Louise Pachella. Louise shares her experience with technical difficulties before a recent virtual speaking event, and how she overcame them.
Webinar Worst-Case Scenarios: Set Your Presentation Up For Success
It’s every speaker’s worst nightmare — technical difficulties right before a presentation.
Surprise! My dual monitors went on the fritz the night before my latest webinar, leaving me no time to contact tech support or get new hardware. After a brief panic, I pivoted into disaster management mode and created backup plans. Fortunately, my preparation led to a (nearly) flawless webinar, allowing me to solve my ridiculously bizarre problem the following week.
Problems are unavoidable, but there are steps you can take to minimize the effects. Planning not only saves you stress, but nimbly sidestepping unexpected obstacles endears you to hosts and proves you a competent and reliable guest. With the right preparation, you can even present without electricity or an internet connection.
Follow these tips to take your speaker reputation to the next level.
(Note: I’m using Zoom as the standard and I’m assuming you’ll be speaking alongside a host. Please adjust for other applications like Google Meet or for presenting alone.)
Creative Exercise: First, think about everything that could go wrong before or during your presentation. As a writer/creative, how many horrible things could you throw at a character in your position? What’s the worst thing you could do to them that could feasibly happen in real life? We probably don’t need to worry about a hybrid zombie/werewolf invasion, but you never know. How would your character wiggle out of it? If you can prepare for these possibilities, you’ll be golden.
Practice: You’ve probably practiced speaking, but have you also practiced navigating Zoom, sharing your screen, and toggling between windows? Ask the host or a friend to set up a practice meeting in advance so you can familiarize yourself with the controls. Are you confident that you’ll find your slides, use presentation mode effectively, share the correct screen, access speaker notes, and monitor the chat box? Does your microphone pick up rustling papers or nearby helicopters? What happens if you need to switch between screens? Do you know how to adapt between a single monitor and a dual monitor setup? The quicker and more smoothly you can do this will communicate your professionalism. Don’t let people see you fumble. It undermines their confidence in what you’ll say.
Professionalism: While you’re practicing, look at your screen with fresh eyes. What will attendees see? Can they see your computer desktop or browser tabs and bookmarks? Better not have anything questionable in sight! What’s physically behind you if you’re not using a virtual background? Do you have a nicely ordered bookcase with a few fun knickknacks, or piles of laundry with random housemates walking by? If your computer can’t accommodate a virtual background and your real one isn’t professional, consider hanging a screen behind you. Whether it’s plain or beautifully tied to your brand, it’ll prevent your audience from becoming distracted or judgey.
In case of camera malfunction, adjust your settings in Zoom to show a nice profile picture or logo when your camera is off. Check your name setting too. Is it correct, or are you logged in as your child or spouse? Update it with the name you want your audience to see, possibly including your title or website and pronouns (like she/her).
Computer Performance: Don’t you hate it when you launch Zoom to join a meeting and it decides to update? Try to get ahead of it. A half day or so prior to presenting, give your computer a once-over. Does the system need to update? How about any of the applications you’ll be using? Take a moment to restart your computer entirely. This is a great time to close the 472 tabs you have opened in your browser too. Free up your computer as much as you can so it doesn’t struggle when you need it most. Your modem might benefit from a reboot too.
Get all of this done early enough that you can get your system back up and running. Log into everything you’ll need just to make sure there won’t be hiccups or delays later. Try not to reopen your 472 tabs, but have everything you need pulled up on screen before you join your meeting. If you have reason to expect a problem (an incoming storm or last-minute hardware glitches like mine), be honest and forthcoming with your host while also reassuring them you have backup plans in place. Then… don’t forget to prepare those backup plans.
Upload/Email: Once you’ve finalized your slides and handouts, save them as PDFs and send copies everywhere. If there’s a host organization, send them a copy or add them to an online drive they can access. You may have to reduce the file size, so learn how if you don’t already know. Be sure to advise them whether to keep the files private or distribute them to attendees. If you’re hosting your own webinar, consider asking a friend to attend and make sure they have a copy. If you have a technical issue (like when my monitors kept randomly turning off), ask your assistant to have the visuals opened and ready on their computer. You can speak while they share their screen. Ask them to advance the slides as needed. It’s also helpful to send your assistants pertinent links to copy into the chat box on your behalf. Things like your website, link tree, or your book on Amazon.
Consider emailing yourself copies just so you have an alternative means of accessing your documents if something happens with your primary computer. Open the email and download the document instead of leaving it to float in the phone’s cloud. If you have speaker notes that pop up on your screen, print out a hard copy. Highlight important lines and keep your finger on your place so you can look up into the camera periodically without getting lost. Hopefully, you know your content inside and out, but nerves and stress can play with your memory. Have this backup copy handy, even if you don’t end up referencing it much.
Other Backups: Having a co-host can be a valuable backup. They can continue the Zoom if you get dropped rather than the meeting ending for everyone. They can also be the voice that notifies you if you’re frozen or on mute. They can share your slides if they’re not working on your computer. If you’ve got someone else handling your visuals, what can you do to share your voice? Fully charge your phone prior to the presentation. Download the Zoom app and keep your account logged in and updated. Write your meeting’s ID number and password on paper. If your electricity or internet connection fails, you might still log on via your cellphone network or call in to the Zoom audio. If your computer has a spotty connection, switching over to your phone may be less desirable, but more reliable. These are last-ditch efforts, but they’ll really highlight your dedication. Honestly, if your situation gets any worse than this, no one will fault you for rescheduling.
Be Aware: Consider the date and time of your presentation. What’s the lighting like? Does the garbage truck come by during that time frame? Does the mail arrive and set your dog off into a barking frenzy? Do your kids get home from school and come barging in, asking for a snack? Close your window, put the dog in another room, leave a bowl of snacks on the dining table, and slap a note on your office door that says you’re only to be disturbed if there’s a fire or a significant amount of blood.
Reminders: Leave a To-Do checklist on a sticky tab on your monitor. Either before you enter the Zoom Room or before you present, handle tasks like putting your phone on Do Not Disturb, plugging in your external microphone, turning off anything in the room that might add background noise (like electric fans), close your window or curtains if necessary, ensure your camera height is where you want it, begin the recording (if that’s up to you), and don’t forget to UNMUTE! Try to log in as early as possible to give the host time to spotlight you and go over any last-minute instructions. Decide who will monitor the chat and facilitate the Q&A. Your strong start and seamless transitions will make you shine.
Have These Handy: Keep a cup of water nearby in case of coughing fits (bonus points if it shows your brand logo). Always have access to a pen and paper to jot down questions or ideas to follow up on. If you have props to enhance your message, either keep them closely off camera or make a nice display (why not showcase your books?). Speaker notes are useful, whether it’s every word of your presentation or simply an outline of the topics and main points to include. If you get sidetracked, it’ll help you get back to the point. You can check off your most critical points to ensure you don’t forget to mention any.
Learn to Tapdance: Not literally, of course. Be prepared to entertain your attendees if something unexpected comes up. No one likes moments of awkward silence as a presenter or host fumbles with a live technical issue. Though it's difficult to concentrate on troubleshooting while holding a conversation, think of a few things you can toss out to keep people distracted for a few minutes. Can you ask everyone to chime in where they’re logging in from? Ask how the weather is? Tell them to drop their genres or book titles in the chat. If you can’t multitask, ask your host or assistant to engage with the audience for a minute. You can ask for patience while you address your problem, but try not to draw too much attention to it. Some people won’t even realize anything is amiss until you say so. Maintain their confidence by projecting that you’re on top of things.
Make It Right: You might not win every time. If the presentation fails, offer to make it up ASAP. When possible, rerecord it by the next day and give attendees access. If you haven’t already, share your slides in a PDF. Perhaps offer a free consultation or other bonus as thanks for their patience. Don’t leave a bad taste in their mouth. Frame everything as positively as you can, despite the difficulties.
Taking so many precautions may feel redundant, but you’ll be glad you did if disaster strikes. I know it saved me a lot of stress. The bizarre problem with my dual monitors randomly switching on and off terrorized me until I realized I could create a workaround. Knowing that I had backups in place allowed me to sleep the night before my presentation. The following week, after the pressure was off, I spent a couple hours with tech support and purchased new monitor cables. Eventually I discovered the cause of my perplexing problem and resolved it.
A very minor and extremely well hidden setting had been changed…
Louise Pachella is a funeral director, embalmer, and fledgling writer. She’s currently writing her first nonfiction books (Embalming For Amateurs: The Casual Reader’s Guide to Dead Bodies and Funeral Fun! Adult Activity & Coloring Book). Louise also educates authors on how to portray death and funerals in stories. Learn more at www.HisAndHearsePress.com.