live presentations

Perfecting Live Presentations Even When Your Tech is FUBAR

At 10 seconds before going live, one of the three panelists was still, to use another military acronym, MIA; despite a good tech prep she couldn’t connect to this new non-Zoom platform on the day of. 

At 10 seconds before going live, one of the three panelists was still, to use another military acronym, MIA; despite a good tech prep she couldn’t connect to this new non-Zoom platform on the day of.

The military coined an acronym decades ago that’s appropriate for 2020: FUBAR. As in: “The situation, Captain, is FUBAR.” Most of you will be familiar with the definition; others can Google it. So, what happens when the technology for the live panel you’re moderating is FUBAR? You do what marketers have been preaching to brands all pandemic: You pivot. You try not to panic, reminding yourself SNAFUs are an inevitable part of the preponderance of tech and livestreaming these days. And you rely on your advance preparation.

By E.B. Moss

I have plenty of experience as a moderator; from helming the very first panel on Voice at CES (and thanks to the pandemic, potentially the last) to discussions with leading media personalities at the NAB Show and I’ve hosted probably 100 podcast episodes. So, when one empowerment expert I was about to interview asked if I was “all set” she was surprised at my reply: “Sort of. Just a little nervous. I get a little of that imposter syndrome,” I confessed. This stunned her. “Why would that be? How many interviews have you done?” I acknowledged that, at the time, it was probably 40 or 50 and in answer to her next answer, no, I’d never dropped the ball or screwed up to any real degree. “So,” she said, with a touch of tough love, “get over it.”

when live presentations go FUBAR

She was right. Easier said than done, of course, but, for me, one benefit of pre-production panic is the compulsion to over-prepare. And that’s not a bad thing.

Don’t Panic: Prep

When I was asked to moderate a panel on data and metrics recently—a topic not in my comfort zone—I drew upon my over-preparation compulsion; I researched the speakers and topic up one side and down the other then “phoned a friend” (OK, maybe three friends and two former coworkers) who are experts in the data space.

Then, as I do with my podcast interviews, I wrote out my intro and a flow for the questions I’d ask the panel. I encourage quasi-scripting of your session – if you can “write the way you speak.” As a storyteller I like a set-up, a through-line, and a resolve. Lining up anticipated questions in some kind of order or thematic chunks allows you to bring the audience along with you on a connected journey.

But, as you’ll see, you can’t be held to that flow or even the very questions you crafted.

Practice Makes Perfect. Sometimes. 

After quelling my high-anxiety about the content itself, the conference coordinator for the data panel scheduled a tech rehearsal with the new-to-us platform being used for the live session. We received a one-sheet afterward of how to log in on the day of and “what to do if.” Let’s just say that the latter was definitely applied.

Every aspect of the technology that could crap out did crap out. Again, live. It was FUBAR from the start.

At 10 seconds before going live, one of the three panelists was still, to use another military acronym, MIA; despite a good tech prep she couldn’t connect to this new non-Zoom platform on the day of.

Well, that’s why there’s prep, improv skills, and not being married to flow. My written-out questions could be reallocated. So, away we go with the two existing panelists.

Vamp till Ready

I do their intros, ask Panelist #1 the first question, and then ask the second panelist to reply when…ruh-roh…her mic doesn’t work. Following the “what to do if” sheet, she logs in again. Nothing. The first panelist and I are vamping (luckily, he had a lot to say on the topic of data) and finally Panelist #2 appears again and, hurrah!, she’s audible. I recap the question for her, and she answers like a champ.

I begin to allocate the questions intended for Panelist #3 when about five minutes into our 25-minute panel, she appears on screen like magic! Hurrah again!

As the moderator, you are choreographer, entertainer, and timekeeper. Do I, as moderator, help Panelist #3 catch up and weigh in on the first question? There’s having a flow, and there’s going with the flow. I made a call and decided, yes, let her also answer it. She answers beautifully. We’re on a roll. My flop sweats abated.

Knowing my questions and the content fairly well after that prep work is what enabled me to roll with it all a little more easily.

Until my computer battery starts turning red. And, so did I.

Panel Unplugged

I pose another question to the group and let them have at it while I excuse myself from the live shot and rush, laptop in hand, to my wall socket. To be fair, I’d been on battery for only around 45 minutes; it should never have died that quickly. But I salvage it without missing much of a beat, giving it a few more minutes of charge to get me through the remaining 5-10 minutes of the panel. I’m back in the black and revert to the live shot on just battery.

Now we’re cooking—but note to self and you dear readers: Never trust just battery.

At this point, I needed to confirm how long we have till it’s time to wrap the session. I post in the “backstage” chat we were trained to use, asking the conference lead how many more minutes we have. Nothing. I realize the speaker-only chat is on the fritz.

I work the question into the live conversation: “Oh, hmm, I think we only have a couple of minutes left, so let’s wrap up with projections for the future…” Panelist #1 answers… I toss to Panelist #2 and… whammo. Black screen. No warning: no “your laptop will shut down soon” notification. Blackness. I’m praying they can keep going without their moderator!

I rush to the wall socket again to try to rejoin. Nothing. My laptop chose that moment to do an update install. Coincidentally, at that minute I get a text on my phone from the conference lead to wrap up. Indeed, the speaker-only chat hadn’t been working. So, now I’m multi-screen multitasking. But there’s nothing I could do. Our 25 minutes were up and so was I.

But that’s not all…. I heard from Panelist #1 that he was unceremoniously disconnected from the streaming platform moments after my computer died.

I also heard from a friend (see phone a friend, above) immediately afterward who was laughing so hard she was almost crying, saying, “That was such a 2020 panel.” So true. I laughed along with her, only mourning the brilliant takeaways and flow I had planned so carefully.

The operative word in all this? Planned.

Remember that line about how humans plan and God laughs? Yup. Especially in 2020. But all these tech snafus were a lesson in learning the ability to vamp till ready, a reminder of how important it is to do your prep—through which I did learn, by the way, a lot about attribution, analytics, you name it—and another example of getting by with a little help from my friends.

And that, after all, is also what 2020 is all about.

E.B. RossE.B. Moss is a strategist, podcaster, and writer who creates content and “explanatory journalism that drives revenue and humanizes brands. She also profiles executives through her podcast, “Insider Interviews with E.B. Moss” and guest hosts/produces Advancing Diversity podcast for MediaVillage where she was formerly Head of Content Strategy. She ran ad sales marketing at Food Network, Lifetime and Westwood One and now helms marketing consultancy, Moss Appeal. To inquire about help with a B2B podcast please email [email protected]

Photo by Eternal Seconds on Unsplash.

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