Ultimate disasterThe worst training session I ever gave was a complete disaster from start to finish. I was supposed to give the session with a colleague as part of a training day and we had divided up the content so that we each covered roughly half of the topic. On the day we were due to give the presentation in the afternoon following a keynote speaker. Unfortunately the person organizing the day was coming up from London and missed her train meaning that I had to step in with a different colleague and manage at least the first part of the event. The first speaker arrived but unfortunately her presentation didn't open and then crashed the computer so I was pushed on in her place to give my session: without a co-presenter, having only revised half of the content, with no slides and with someone from the IT department behind me trying to fix the computer. Overall not my finest hour!
Lesson: if I can get through that disaster then I can get through anything. The important thing is to stay calm and not let the panic show through to the audience. I'm not sure I did that with this particular session but thinking about it helps me to keep composed when things go wrong in other sessions.
Trainers toolkitEquipment failure is never a good thing, especially if you had something to do with it. I usually present from a laptop connected to a computer which requires a special connector. Usually I keep this with my laptop but I have mislaid it and even had one fail on me which makes it hard to present! I also once had a laptop crash as I was setting it up to deliver a session across the city from my office. Luckily I have colleagues who are very speedy on a bicycle so they were able to rush a new one over to me.
Lesson: buy two of everything you can and always carry one with you. I now have a mini training toolkit for emergencies which contains everything from laptop connections to a doorstop. This helps to avoid most problems if you manage to forget something or something breaks.
Version controlNow that I work in an area which involves advising people how to manage their information I'm more careful about keeping track of different versions of a presentation but this wasn't always the case. I once gave a conference presentation on using Pinterest in the library and was halfway through before I realised that I was sharing an old version of the slides which were missing the vital part which explained what Pinterest was! Luckily I was able to do a live demo but it did stop the flow of the session.
Lesson: always proofread your presentation. And then proofread it once more. By rehearsing the presentation you'll get a feel for it and it others can be your audience they will hopefully spot any errors or missing bits before it gets to the big day.
Backup your backupsOther times something has gone wrong with the slides such as the font randomly changing or even the file being corrupted which has left me scrambling around.
There have been times when something has gone wrong with either the presentation file or the computer just as I'm giving the session. Once the font had randomly changed to a teeny tiny size which was unreadable because I hadn't embedded it before presenting on an new machine and another time the file was completely corrupted and although I had an online backup the internet only just worked enough to allow me to download it.
Lesson: you can never have too many back-ups of your presentation. Save it on the laptop, on a memory stick and in the Cloud - whatever works for you. The important thing is that you can access it. If it's a short presentation then it might even be worth printing out handouts for people to be able to follow along. If all else fails then you might have to talk without slides. Although this is a challenge it does force you to think about the content of your presentation in a different way.
In every presentation scenario you are bound to get the one person who knows more than you (or at least thinks they do). I train librarians in scholarly communication and research support which is a very fast moving area and I don't claim to know everything. I've done a couple of training sessions where people in the audience have been quick to point out problems or different interpretations (usually in the most obnoxious way possible!)
Lesson: you're never going to please everyone and it's pointless to try. The best you can do is prepare so that you can anticipate the questions you might get and have the answers. If you do get a question you can't answer then be honest and admit you don't know. Offer to find out or throw it open to the audience - it's always good when you can learn something new.
The point of this post isn't to terrify you if you have to give a presentation but to reassure you that these things happen to all of us. It sounds like a cliche but they really do make good learning experiences and in the end they can increase your confidence. Over time you will find that you're better able to cope with disasters and very little will phase you. This was always the source of my anxiety about giving presentations and I suspect the same is true of a lot of other people as well but I promise that it does get easier.