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How A Movie Director Could Have Avoided Prompter Meltdown At CES

Jan 7 2014, 9:36am CST | by

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How A Movie Director Could Have Avoided Prompter Meltdown At CES
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How A Movie Director Could Have Avoided Prompter Meltdown At CES

My advice to anyone delivering a presentation? Practice. A lot. You could be an unlikely social media hit when you fail to practice, and all for the wrong reasons. On the opening day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, ‘Transformers’ movie director Michael Bay was the unfortunate victim of either a malfunctioning teleprompter or a prompter operator who lost his place. Either way, title="link to event">the event was a disaster.

Bay appeared on stage in front of hundreds of reporters to help launch Samsung’s new 105-inch curved ultra-high definition television. Samsung Executive Vice President Joe Stinziano asked Bay a simple question: “How do you come up with these incredible ideas?” After stumbling through the first sentence he said, “the type is all off.” Stinziano tried again. “Just tell us what you think. How do you think the curve will impact how people enjoy your movies?” Bay became increasingly agitated and then said, “Excuse me. I’m sorry.” And with those parting words, he left the stage leaving a stunned Samsung vice president alone on stage.

Bay took to his blog and admitted that he was embarrassed by the event. He explained, “I got too excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down — then I walked off. I guess live shows aren’t my thing.”

Live shows are not “anyone’s thing.” It’s not natural for us stand in front of hundreds of people, click a remote in our hand to advance slides, and to deliver a presentation. Nobody is born as a naturally gifted PowerPoint presenter. And that’s why skilled communicators practice far more than the average speaker.

A few years ago I worked with the CEO of one of  the world’s most important tech companies as he prepared for a product launch at CES. He had spent more than $20,000 on his presentation (yes, presentation design can be very expensive. I know a medical device maker that paid $250,000 on a multimedia presentation for one of its products). These product launches are serious business. Once we crafted the narrative and hired an outside vendor to design the slides, it was time to rehearse. Since we were about a month away from the event I suggested that the CEO practice delivering the presentation out loud every day.

“You’re kidding. I’m too busy,” he said.

“I am not kidding,” I responded. “You’re launching a major product on a global stage. You owe it a little time. Once a day for twenty minutes. Heck, you can even rehearse it out loud in your car on the way in. Just do it once a day.”

On the day of the product launch, all systems were good to go. The presentation was gorgeous and the CEO had all the confidence in the world—until the presentation crashed half-way through event. The CEO paused as the person behind the computer tried to fix the problem. Once it became clear that the computer would have to be rebooted, the CEO gently waved his hand and dismissed the fix. Instead he continued to deliver the narrative just as he had practiced. The CEO thanked me profusely for forcing him to practice. “I would have been completely lost without it,” he said.

After the keynote I just assumed the reporters in the audience had noticed the problem, but amazingly, no one I spoke to thought anything had gone wrong. “Did the presentation really crash? I just thought he had paused for a moment. I didn’t know anything was wrong,” one reporter told me.

That last statement brings up another lesson. If something does go wrong, don’t call undo attention to it. One of the greatest ad-libs to a technical glitch happened in 2007 during the launch of the iPhone. You can find it on YouTube under the title Steve Jobs TV Jammer Story . The clicker had stopped advancing the slides and, despite a couple of attempts to fix it, it became clear that Jobs would have to wait until someone in the back resolved the problem. Steve paused, smiled, and said, “You know, when I was in high school, Steve Wozniak and I – mostly Steve—made this little device called a TV jammer.” He continued to tell a very funny story about a prank they would pull on dorm residents as they watched Star Trek—jamming the TV reception and then, just as someone got up to fix it, magically restoring it. The audience roared, the clicker started working, Steve was smiling, and the rest of the presentation went smoothly.

People like Michael Bay are incredibly talented and passionate people. He should take the stage again to share his ideas. The best thing for Bay to do is participate in another product launch and to make light of his first appearance. Self-deprecating humor is a good way to overcome a slight embarrassment. Second, he should practice his next appearance many, many times. And third, if something does go wrong again, don’t take it too seriously.

Carmine Gallo is the communication coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including The Apple Experience , Secrets To Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty and the international bestseller The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs . Carmine’s upcoming book, Talk Like TED , reveals the 9 public-speaking secrets of the world’s top minds. Sign up for Carmine’s newsletter and follow him on Facebook or Twitter .

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