I guess it happens to everyone: that presentation that goes completely wrong from the get go. I had one of those this week. My laptop was acting up to the point that I took it to the IT department. They diagnose the issue as a hard drive failure. Not too big a deal, the machine is still under warranty and I do tend to back up regularly. We pulled a couple of folders that I use most often and had changes since my last backup a couple of days previous and they sent me away with a loaner. While I’d worked out most of the presentation in a blog post on our intranet, I hadn’t built my slide deck yet. No problem, build the presentation on the loaner and we’re good to go.

20 minutes before the presentation, the class using the library space that I was also going to use clears out and I start the set up. It’s then that I realize that this loaner is old enough that I don’t have the correct video adapter cable to allow me to present from the laptop the slide deck is on. No sweat, I’d just had my laptop returned, I’ll pop the presentation onto a USB drive and put it in my laptop. Loaner isn’t seeing the USB drive…

Let me cut to the chase. It didn’t get any prettier from there and I’m quite proud of the fact that a long string of expletives didn’t come flying from my mouth and my discus training wasn’t put to use on these portable devices. In the end, the presentation came off. It would have been better to have been able to use the computer given that I was presenting on effective use of search engines (even the wireless crapped out so I couldn’t demonstrate what I was talking about, nor could the participants try anything!). But I think that I got my message across and there was some good dialogue around the topic.

The take-aways from the experience were two-fold. First, it was a reminder that one must truly understand the topic one is presenting on. A situation like this tends to quickly bring any gaps in knowledge to the forefront as one ends up improvising the presentation around a structure that is thought through but inaccessible in any documented form. Second, no matter how comfortable one is with the tools one is using, it is always best to test out everything far enough ahead to ensure that it will work they way you intend. There will never be any guarantees. My time as a performing musician taught me that on a regular basis. If the network goes down, there’s not a lot one can do at the time, but the show MUST go on. But the better prepared one is, the more one can roll with the punches.

Although the folks I was presenting to recognized the epic failure of the technology, they still got the message and found it useful. They seemed appreciative and seemed to benefit from the topic. In that sense, the presentation was a success. In that I was reminded of some important key lessons in teaching with technology, it was also a successful learning experience for me. Off to prepare next week’s presentation!

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