Scott Hanselman has shared a great story about the things that can happen before (and during) a technical presentation, particularly a complex one.
My personal favorite demo-gone-bad moment from my 12+ years as a presenter was the Visual Studio Launch in Washington, DC, where I was demo monkey for Brian Goldfarb, and upon starting the second demo, my machine decided that it no longer wanted to type normal English characters when entering a filename, but rather was displaying the little white boxes that say “there’s a character here, but I don’t have the font loaded to display it.” Eep!
Tried several times swapping back to the PowerPoint machine, and back to the demo machine, which was my personal laptop, which I’d brought specifically because I wanted to run the demo bits on bare hardware that I trusted, and which we’d diligently tested the night before, with no problems.
We decided to have Brian take questions, while I rushed backstage, yanked my machine off the KVM, tried a couple of things, and quickly decided that a reboot was in order. Rebooted, plugged it back in, and BAM, working again!
Unfortunately, from where I was backstage, I couldn’t really hear when Brian was talking, so I had to crane my neck to see him, and when I saw him pause, jumped back into my demo and did the entire second demo from backstage, complete with a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” joke that got a good laugh.
It was probably one of the more tense demo moments I’ve had, but the audience took it in stride, and we even got several nice comments about how we handled the situation.
Definitely proves Scott’s point that you really never know what’s going to happen during a presentation, so being as prepared as possible is really important. But even then, you still need to be ready to think on your feet.
It also highlights the fact that if you’re up there presenting, by and large the people watching you want you to succeed, and will always give you credit for a good effort, even if things beyond your control go wrong, a generosity that I’ve needed on more than one occasion.