When bad things happen to good speakers


A sugar packet at a local Chinese restaurant had this wisdom to share, “Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want.”  With that profound thought in mind, I’m sharing some of my worse speaking experiences so you can make your SAS Global Forum presentation better.

The time I tried the live demo
In a past job I was responsible for training co-workers to use a new web-based application.  I thought doing a live demo would make it so easy  and quick.  This way they could see exactly how it worked and it would save me from creating a PowerPoint package.

You guessed it – technical difficulties.  The computer decided it was not going to run the application.  I had to call IT and after 15 minutes, they couldn’t get it to work.  I had to reschedule the presentation and we had to delay the application roll out because no one was trained. My boss wasn’t singing my praises that week.

Experience I received:

  • Backup plan 1. Have an AVI or MP4 of the demo. An application like Camtasia allows you to tape your desktop.  However, you may still be in the situation where the file refuses to play.
  • Stage check. Test the application prior to the talk to resolve any connectivity issues. Consider using your own computer since you can control more of the variables, such as knowing the computer can play the media file.
  • Backup plan 2. Have a PowerPoint with screen captures that you can use.

The time I didn’t have my presentation with me
Last year at the SAS Professional Forum in Marlow, UK, I was presenting some SAS Enterprise Guide tips and tricks. [Join me at the SAS Global Forum 2013 when I present “SAS Enterprise Guide More than a Gift from Outer Space” again.]

When I got on the podium in front of 50 people, I realized the wrong PowerPoint file was loaded. It was a 20-minute presentation and a break schedule immediately afterwards. What was I to do? Long story short, I ran to get my presentation in the other building and within 5 minutes I was able to start.  The audience was restless and I was stressed out from all the drama.

Experience I received:

  • Be prepared. Have a copy of the presentation on a thumb drive on your person.  Consider emailing a copy of the presentation to yourself that you can email to someone else if your thumb drive dies.
  • Trust but check. Double-check the computer before you start because you will still have time to load the presentation.

The times I did not rehearse enough
This has happened to me a few times. Either I start coughing, run out of breath, or speak in a higher voice than normal during the presentation.  My nerves just get the best of me!  Typically, this occurs because I’m not as rehearsed as I need to be and all that energy just takes over. Not only is this situation embarrassing to me, it is also uncomfortable for the audience.

Experience I received:

  • Hydrate. It a good idea to make sure you drink plenty of water hours before the talk so your throat does not get dry. I keep bottled water near me during the presentation and carry some cough drops in case of trouble.
  • Rehearse your main points.  Write your main points in the PowerPoint Notes section.  For each slide, you should know the main points that you need to discuss and how you want to say it. [See “Creating Engaging SAS Global Forum Presentations” for more presentation tips.]
  • Rehearse your pacing. Ensure you can hit your marks, thus you control your pacing. A 20-minute talk means you need to finish within 18 minutes so there is time for questions. Once you learn the pacing, you don’t have to talk so fast and you can relax.
  • Rehearse aloud. Practice speaking so you can ensure your voice projects properly.  Do not count on the microphone to do all the work.  There is nothing worse than thinking the speaker was trained by a mouse.
  • Rehearse upon arrival.  There are several rooms set aside for presenters to for practice.  Take advantage of this offer.  You may want to ask a friend or another presenter to watch your talk and give some feedback.

The times I watched others get experience
Here’s some other last minute tips based on other’s experiences.

Experiences I witnessed:

  • Check Your Look. Look at yourself in the mirror.  Is there anything on your teeth?  Did you cut your price tags off?  Is your shirt ripped in a noticeable way?
  • Check Your Body. Avoid the Potty Dance during your talk by using the bathroom earlier. Oh, double-check that zipper and those buttons.
  • Maintain Focus. Arrive early so you are on time. If you know you are next on the stage, then be ready.  No one enjoys waiting while the speaker is chatting on the phone, making origami from his notes, or putting on her makeup.
  • No Slurping! If someone brings you an ice cream before your talk, decide if you want to throw it away or give it to an audience member. No one wants to listen to you slurp your ice cream.   How about a general No Eating while Presenting rule?

Your Experiences
Do you have some tips to share?  Maybe things that have happened to you or that you had to witness? Leave them in the Comment section below.


About Author

Tricia Aanderud

Principle, And Data Inc.

Tricia Aanderud is SAS BI evangelist, who is often found pursuing design tips, programming tricks & other experiences to share on her Business Intelligence Notes for SAS Users blog. She has co-authored two books with Angela Hall about the SAS BI toolset (Building Business Intelligence with SAS and The 50 Keys to Learning SAS Stored Processes). Her company, And Data, Inc, is headquartered in Raleigh, NC, where she lives with her husband and two bratty cats. She invites you to share your opinions about this topic.


  1. Pingback: 10 presentation tips from a first-timer - SAS Users Groups

  2. Ronald J. Fehd on

    ... and for handlers, those who pin the microphone on the tie, or which side of the cleavage?

    make sure that the microphone is underneath the *-back-* side
    I pinned the mic to one woman on her leading/front side: i.e, the one toward the audience.
    and she could not be heard when she turned her head back toward the screen to highlight.

    Lots of Great Points here.

    Make sure you're in the Redundant FlashDrive BackUp Redundancy club.

  3. Pingback: More presentation tips - know your audience - SAS Users Groups

  4. I couldn't agree more - any attempt to entertain is better than 50 mins of the talking head.

    I wonder how many people were trying to signal you that your fly was open and you thought they were making odd gestures or needed a potty break? 😉

  5. Jan Klaverstijn on

    Hi Tricia, great tips. How much we can learn from other people's mistakes. Let me add a lesson learned by a colleague (no, really). It is always a good idea to turn off the microphone on your neck tie if you make a quick visit to the bathroom before the presentation.

    See you in a few weeks, Jan.

    • Oh my ... that is hilarious! Probably a good idea to keep turned off period. When you start people will let you know it's off and that's better situation - based on your colleague's experience anyway!

  6. Jonas ... oh no! Sounds very dramatic ... and dark. 🙂

    I agree about enjoying the presentation topic. I have been asked to provide presentations on material I didn't care about. I think the audience can sense the lack of passion - that's when they start asking the questions or start checking their email.

  7. Jonas Kjellstrand on

    Tricia, what joy to read - in a good way :), these are the untold happenings that occur to all of us and some time, in short stuff like this happens... and you only learn from the own experience. I had a professional speaker trainer tell me that;
    1, get there early - meaning in all your preparation makse sure you both physically get your presentation done early, physically get to the location early - that allowes you to both dry run and "feel" in the location properly, get there early mentally - meaning when you start your presentation it has already run to completion a few times i your head already, this allowes you to improvise should something happen.
    2, God is in the details - make sure YOU like what you are to talk/present about and pay attention to the estetics of it all if you use visual aids, if you dont make extra sure that you have the details for the words down properly.
    3, Have fun - try to be the energy that you want come across, and if you have fun you are less likely to get stressed yourself from any misshaps - infact, a misshap can quickly be turned around to be an adventure for the audience.

    first time I had to rely on these3 steps was when adressing over 300 people at a EU conference, I had 15 minutes to present, and the power went out completely... emergency lighting came on and we were told over speakers that no need for alarm... I ended up using my remaining 8 minutes to present unplugged, a naturel... it was the scareist most fun thing that I ever done - and turned out well recieved.


  8. Another tip, that I have "experienced".
    Do not have multiple presentation files for different customers with similar filenames. e.g Presso.Telstra1.ppt, Presso.Telstra2.ppt, Presso.Optus1.ppt.
    Chances are that there will come a time when you will pull up the wrong presentation with all the wrong customer branding.
    Been there, done it. Just embarrising

  9. What a great article Tricia! Also super fun to read everyone's additional stories as well. I was at a conference once (just to be clear, this was not SAS related) and got to watch an author give a keynote to 1000 people .... drunk. Yep, you read right the guy was toast. He slurred words and then started hiccuping. I was waiting for the cane to appear from the curtain to pull him off stage. The audience just sat there stunned.

  10. Douglas Donofrio on

    I empty my pockets beforehand. I've seen far too many people absently jingling pocket change that made the presentation feel like a Christmas pageant. I've also been victim of suddenly pausing awkwardly as my cellphone vibrates with an incoming call and throws off my rhythm. It's better to leave them in your satchel and minimize your own self-inflicted distractions.

  11. Oh wow .. in front of that many peeps! Good thing you didn't pass out next!

    With all that nervous energy - you just get forgetful. You are correct - just going through the rehearsals helps your brain go on "auto pilot" and saves you some blushing.

    The good thing about some of these situations it that it seems to make you more human to the audience and they like you better! Some of my flops I really had more people talk to me after the presentations. Sometimes I think it's worth it to flop a little so you seem more approachable. 🙂

  12. Great anecdotes and tips, Tricia, I enjoyed reading them. Your blog had me flashing back to my very first SUGI presentation back in San Francisco in 1987. That was before we had laptops, thumb drives OR PowerPoint (gasp!)! I actually had to use PROC GSLIDE to create 35mm slides and hand-carry them with me on the plane. I thought I had done a good job of preparing: slides were arranged rght-side up, in the correct order, my oufit was in order, no lipstick on my teeth, I knew the presentation backward and forward. I jumped on the stage in front of a packed house--over 400 people--and began talking. I felt great, sailing through, smooth as silk, for at least 15 of the 40 minutes I was alotted. Then I happened to glance over my shoulder and there on the big screen behind me I saw...my title slide! I was SO prepared with my talk that I completely forgot to advance he slides! I was able to make a joke of it, everyone had a good laugh at my expense (while I quickly clicked through about 20 slides) and I managed to finish--but boy was I embarrassed. Moral of the story: when you practice out loud, do so with the slide clicker in your hand and also practice pushing the button!

  13. Maura Stokes on

    My tips of the moment:

    Practice the hardest parts, by themselves, over and over.

    The pause is your friend.

    Wear dark-colored skirts and pants if you are going to sit on your coffee during your presentation. I'm just saying ....

  14. Nascif Abousalh-Neto on

    Awesome tips, thanks for sharing! I am building a pre-presentation checklist and this will be a great starting point!

    • Good idea - please share it when it's complete.

      Here's another one:
      If you are using a laser pointer - bring extra batteries.

      This is starting to sound like a military operation! 😀

  15. Oh how frightening... Some useful advice/tips. I'm sure you're on track for SASGF13?

    An almost stressful experience I had at a local SAS user group meeting was when my laptop (that was being used for the presentations) wasn't recognised by the connected projector. Fortunately we had a back up laptop with the presentations loaded via USB drive and only a slight delay. Can never be too prepared!

  16. Chris Hemedinger
    Chris Hemedinger on

    I was there for the UK experience. It was originally a 50 minute talk that Tricia already compressed to 25 minutes for the scheduled time slot, and then further compressed due to the slide mixup. Still, the audience loved it and Tricia did a great job. However she might have been feeling, she came off with grace under pressure.

    From my own experiences, there was that time that I started my talk while missing just one thing: an audience.

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