I don’t fear spiders. I don’t fear snakes, but I do fear LIVE PRESENTATIONS

In case you missed it, there was an epic fail last week when Microsoft unveiled their new tablet.

Microsoft Surface Tablet Presentation Fail.

When the poor (or actually very rich) Microsoft chief executive Steve Sinofsky went to demo the tablet’s rich media capabilities, it promptly failed. Watching Steve continue to deliver his carefully scripted and professionally coached patter while desperately trying to restart the now-bricked tablet was hysterical…until I started remembering all the times it happened to me.

My first epic fail happened years ago while hosting a sales event at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun.

I don’t really expect much sympathy from readers, because, after all, I was staying at the Ritz on the company dime. But there are probably fewer places in the world harder to run a business meeting than the Ritz in Cancun. I had spent months putting together the event, attracting buyers from Staples, CompUSA (remember them?), Costco, and others. Fresh out of grad school and in front of not only these hard-boiled buyers, but also senior management from the parent company, I was anxious and eager to put on a great show.

So naturally, two slides into the presentation the bulb in the projector blew. Luckily for me, the projector has a spare bulb stored in the case. Even so, the sweat was already starting to trickle down my nice Armani suit as I struggled to replace the bulb. One more slide through and the spare bulb blew. It didn’t take long for the buyers to smell blood in the water and suddenly I was being (loudly) heckled by the buyers, who now viewed me as an annoying, parking lot speed bump on their way to the beach and cold beer. Trying to do a song and dance just made things worse, and the last thing I remember is seeing a mass exodus as the buyers vanished en masse.

It was while working for that same company a few months later that things went from bad to worse. We were attending CES to introduce a new cord management system.

The holy grail for any manufacturer is the Wal-Mart buyer. Toting around the power of gods, these buyers can literally make or break a company or product line. Buyers in these positions typically turn their badges around so you can’t read their name, position, or company, and try to remain under the radar. We happened to know what he looked like, so as he approached our booth we went into high gear. I proudly brought out the latest sample and was prepared to show how easily it could be opened. Except that I couldn’t get it open. I could not get the top off of the “easily open cord manager” as the buyer approached. Our VP of Sales saw me struggle and quickly snatched the product out of my hands and went at it. Digging his fingernails under the lid, he brought all the might of his Cornell wrestling skills to bear on the small plastic box. Unfortunately for him, the plastic lid was stronger than his nails and as he pulled harder, his nails gave way. He ended up bending each nail backward all at once. The last thing I remember was my VP of Sales turning tail and running away from the Wal-Mart buyer, silently howling in a mixture of pain and frustration. Wal-Mart never did end up stocking the product.

The last fail happened in Rimini, Italy, at a global sales meeting.

With sales directors coming in from all around the world, we all had carefully prepared PowerPoint presentations ready-to-go fo each day. In addition, each sales director had a fine-tuned presentation showing how amazing they were at managing their territory. As expected, the first morning kicked off with a few hours of preamble and then the first of what promised to be many incredibly boring presentations. As we broke for a traditional long Italian lunch, none of us were looking forward to retuning. A few hours and several glasses of wine later, we returned to the hotel’s conference room only to discover that each laptop in the entire room had been stolen while we were gone. My two memories are the hotel manager arguing that it was simply impossible that the laptops had been stolen – we must have misplaced them – a claim he continued to argue for nearly an  hour. He even went so far as to insist we each search our room to be sure we hadn’t left them there by mistake. More importantly, though, was how well everything went after that. Forcing us all to use a white board and engage with the audience instead of simply reading off a PowerPoint presentation resulted in one of the best sales meetings I’ve been to.

Since that time, I’ve learned to never rely on anything working live. Showing a new product? Have a picture at the ready. Showing a new website? Have screen grabs ready to show when the site goes down. Using a projector? Bring printouts and a white board marker. Be prepared and have a good restaurant with a great bar picked out in advance for the aftermath.

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