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The Disturbing Frequency of Presentation A/V Failures

Have you ever had an A/V (audio / visual) failure during a conference presentation? You are all ready to go with your talk and the projector will not work, the slides will not load, the audio is on the blink, your multimedia refuses to play?

July 2, 2012
 

Have you ever had an A/V (audio / visual) failure during a conference presentation? You are all ready to go with your talk and the projector will not work, the slides will not load, the audio is on the blink, your multimedia refuses to play?

I had this experience recently, as the conference talk I was all set to give would not display on the projector from my laptop. My new MacBook Air was refusing to send the PowerPoint to the projector, or the projector was refusing to recognize the signal. The onsite conference tech did all the usual things - changing the the display preference on my computer, detecting the displays, toggling mirroring, and re-plugging in the cable. Nothing worked. In the end I took a backup copy of the PowerPoint I had on a USB stick, loaded it up to a Windows PC, and ran the presentation from that device.

A failure to get any signal to a projector is thankfully rare. The problems usually emerge when presentations include lots of video, audio and animations. In some huge percentage of presentations that I have seen the audio refuses to load, the video will not play, or the animations fail.

If anything the epidemic of A/V conference presentation failures is only increasing. A growing proportion of presenters are showing up with complicated slide decks and with a myriad presentations applications. Keynote, PowerPoint, Prezi, and a panoply of media files and formats embedded in the presentations. Often presenters will be revising their slides up until the last moments before the presentation, and will want to use their own laptops to run the talk. When the A/V technology fails presenters can easily become flustered, and take steps that make the problem worse.   

I am not sure what the solution is for what I see as a growing epidemic of A/V presentation failures. First, we have no real data or metrics on these failures. We tend to think that these failures are idiosyncratic, where I think they may be systemic. We tend to blame the presenter for A/V issues, where I see a failure to create robust, tolerant and simple interfaces between computers and room A/V inputs. We believe that if we adequately staffed our A/V professionals during conferences that we can solve the problem, and fail to understand that we will never be able to afford enough A/V professionals to deal with fragile systems.  

The work of A/V professionals has gained greater value in direct relationship to the growing complexity of A/V systems, and as the perceived costs of A/V failures grows. My sense is that the work of A/V professionals has become ever more challenging, as the world's of A/V and IT have converged.

If you are putting on a big conference I recommend taking the time to track all A/V events. Gather data on any A/V problems or failures, collecting as much contextual information as possible.  Capture and catalogue this A/V problem data, and do what you can to share information with both colleagues and vendors.  Set a goal of "zero A/V negative events" for each conference that you run, and commit to doing whatever it takes to work towards this ultimate goal.

Tell us about your presentation A/V disasters.

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