Always have a plan B.

Back when I worked at BlackBerry I had the opportunity to deliver the product launch keynotes that introduced our new products to the world. No pressure, right?

One of the valuable lessons I learned was how to prepare and manage the unexpected. When it comes to technology presentations the ‘demo gods’ aren’t always going to be on your side - and you need to be ready. A failed demo, slide slip up or presentation mis-step doesn’t have to destroy your presentation, but it can.

If you follow tech like I do, you might be reminded of the keynote Steve Jobs did where his demo failed on account of bad wifi prompting him to demand the media turn off their wifi enabled devices. Giving your audience an ultimatum of turning off their wifi or ending the demos doesn’t do much for creating a positive audience experience.

A few years later I’d be sitting in the front row of the audience at Salesforce Dreamforce watching as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella struggled through a demo of their Cortana voice assistant, trying time and time again to get it to work. The tech not working was one thing, but the repeated failure sapped Cortana and Nadella of credibility.

In both these situations we learned the value in having a backup plan and being able to quickly switch gears to plan B without the audience knowing the wiser.

In one of the worldwide product launch demos I had to do we had a voice assistant (think Siri, but for BlackBerry) that we were trying to showcase at one point in the 90 minute keynote. During rehearsals it was working maybe 50% of the time. Our tech was solid, but we were depending on Wifi to relay the voice commands back to our voice processing service and the venue we were at was made entirely out of concrete (not great for Wifi signals).

Having learned from Jobs and Nadella, I went in to our keynote with a plan B and even a plan C. I spent hours rehearsing not just plan A but all three options and the transitions between them so that they would be seamless and perhaps even undetected by the audience - critical to maintaining confidence in our tech and maintaining control of the room.

Fortunately, the wifi held on and the voice demo worked (when it did, I saw the product manager fist pumping in the balcony from the corner of my eye on stage), but having backup plans gave me the confidence to step on stage having planned for the unexpected.

If you want to learn the tools I use for preparing, rehearsing and delivering product launch presentations and demos, sign up for our next Presentation Skills Masterclass workshop series. You can learn more and book your spot here.

Jeff Gadway