Back in the sixties, I was a Boy Scout.
In those days, its membership was still exclusively for boys and the association adhered to the ideals of its great ‘Chief Scout’, Lord Robert Baden-Powell. His approach on structure, ethics and laws of membership were formulated during the Edwardian era, so the tenets of the period, along with his experiences during the Boer War, most certainly influenced his thinking.
Girls were considered perhaps a tad too delicate for the rigours of tracking, signalling, camping, chopping wood and minor surgery… so they had to make do with joining the Girl Guides. The Guides was a parallel, but ‘slightly less arduous’ (a likely falsehood) organisation set up by Agnes Baden-Powell, the great man’s sister.
What was the attraction of the Scouts? Well, there’s definitely something there because, let’s face it, highly influential individuals and even heroes have been members. Take Chris Bonnington, Richard Branson and David Attenborough. They are among the parade of legends who were proud to wear their ‘Woggle’ (see note below). For goodness sake, the adventurer and dare-devilish Bear Grylls is the current Chief Scout and you can’t get much tougher or courageous than him. Crikey, even my personal rock idols of the late 60s and early 70s, like David Bowie, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, were Scouts in their time. All these giants, like me, took their oath to uphold Scout values, keep the Scout Law and do their duty to the Queen. Gosh, like my patrol group in the Sittingbourne 4th, I was in good company.
So, what memories (from me aged 15 and a half) can I still muster up today?
Here’s a few:
- Memory 1. The fear of possibly getting caught and viciously beaten-up as we crawled, trepidatiously and trembling, through the snaggly undergrowth of the ‘deep-dark-woods’ at midnight on our cross-country ‘wide-game’. It was a grit-building exercise devised by the heartless divisional Scout leaders of Kent, and we were tasked to ‘capture-the-flag’ of our rivals, the feared and much fêted Sittingbourne 3rd Scouts.
- Memory 2. My sense of achievement, heart fit to burst, as our Scoutmaster pinned the shiny Pioneer merit badge to my shirt. I had successfully fashioned a working, self-flushing latrine from rope, tree branches, a curved bark flow channel, and a tipping metal bucket filled with water. Thomas Crapper, the famed Victorian sanitary engineer, would have been proud.
- Memory 3. The look of terror in the eyes of my childhood friend Trevor, as we newly qualified first-aiders gingerly attempted to disengage a felling-axe blade from his bloody boot/foot/toes, while simultaneously applying a tourniquet to his upper-thigh to stem the blood-loss and avoid his total demise. At the time, the handle seemed longer than his entire leg and the head improbably large; likely it was weightier even than the blade of Charles I’s executioner at Banqueting House in Whitehall in 1649.
Sounds awful doesn’t it? But you know what – sitting here today and looking back – I can honestly say the Scouts was a major positive influence on my life. I reckon a fair few of my contemporaries, Scouts and Guides, would say the same. You see, we learned how to sort things out. How to make the most of limited resources. How to work in a team. We were taught to be fundamentally honest and we did practical things that might elude today’s youngsters brought up on a diet of Skylanders and Lazergames.
The most important Scout motto of all was: ‘Be Prepared’.
In his tome, ‘Scouting for Boys’, Robert Baden-Powell explained that ‘Be Prepared’ meant you should always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty according to Scout Law… but we knew he also meant: THINK AHEAD AND PLAN FOR ANY EVENTUALITY.
Which brings me around nicely to the second part of my story today. Can you, as a public or business speaker Be Prepared for any eventuality.
Does it matter? Yes, it does, absolutely. You see, no matter whether the event is a product launch, a keynote speech or a simple training session with industry partners, it can all go south in a spectacular way if you are not properly prepared for any, and every, potential equipment or venue fail.
I don’t say this lightly. I’m speaking from experience. Despite detailed instructions to staff and to venues, some day, somewhere, someone will get it wrong. Guaranteed. Over the years, I’ve turned up in concert halls, theatres, training rooms and private alcoves in restaurants only to find that there is a simple jack plug missing; they don’t have an extension power cable; the projector doesn’t have the same connection as your laptop; the VGA or HDMI cable to the monitor is only two-feet long when you need to present from the opposite end of the room 25 yards away; and much worse.
My Seven-Point Checklist of Venue Success:
- As the speaker, you are the captain of the ship when your presentation sets sail; so you need to take charge. You can’t afford to leave it solely to your local team, the venue hosts or an events organiser.
- You need to specify the equipment you require, pre-event and in detail. Don’t leave anything to chance. Work out your plan and send it to the venue as check-list of sound, screens, monitors, lighting, cables, relay equipment, technical support and more. Even if you have your own mobile gear and you only require a table for your laptop and projector and seating for the audience, still send them a check list. explain what you will be bringing and what you need for them. Get their acknowledgement and cross check it against the original. Call and check again if something is not right.
- Request an image, floor-plan and dimensions of the venue. The hosts should plot the presentation platform or podium area for your agreement; pinpoint the position of monitors or screens and projectors; the layout of guest seating; etc.
- Do the same with event timings. Top-to-bottom. Soup-to-nuts. A full schedule, from your arrival to the audience goodbyes and close-down; so that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Presentation-timings and event-flow will be an area for me to back-fill in a future blog, so watch this space!
- Ask them about the key back-up equipment that will be available on the day – in case of damage to projector, screens, etc. – plus get a run-down of the cables, adaptors and extensions that they will provide at your disposal.
- Arrive early and give yourself time for testing everything. If you are already in town and can get there the day before, arrange to go in and set up in advance. If the first opportunity is the same day and you are kicking off at 08.00am, then set up and do sound checks at 06.00am. We’re talking principles here of course… you need to do whatever is appropriate for your event. If it is a 3 day symposium for 5,000 people, then it is likely wise to arrive a tad earlier…
- Get yourself a ‘TravellingMan Smart-Presenter Pack’.
What’s a TravellingMan Smart-Presenter Pack? Well, it’s a small 10in x 8in x 4in soft padded bag containing my personally curated collection of vital electronics gear that will save your life in the case of venue miscommunication or event equipment failure. Think of it as ‘first-aid for electronics’. I carry a unit like this to every presentation, and have done so for 25 years. Trust me, it has saved the day on many occasions. Maybe, one day, we’ll get around to selling the pack, but in the meantime the list is yours, free of charge.
My Seven-Point Checklist of Vital Electronics (along with Amazon.com images for specs – you can look out these or substitute alternatives as you wish):
- Logitech Presenter R800 – there are several different models of ‘clicker’ but this one rocks. It controls your laptop presentation and has a laser pointer. The venue may have a clicker to hand, but trust me, get your own and you won’t regret it.
- Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter – this is a lifesaver for sure – it plugs into the HDMI port of a distant monitor (or projectors with a HDMI port) and connects your laptop wirelessly. It works in Windows 10 ‘extend-screens’ mode; simply click on ‘connect to a wireless display’. This baby totally fixes the problem of short HDMI or VGA cables and allows you to leap-frog physical obstructions and recalcitrant waiters. Note: It’s powered by a USB port, so if your projector or monitor does not have one then the device can alternately be powered by any USB powerbank or separately plugged-in USB phone charger.
- Several Video Port Adapters will help you mix and match with whatever the venue throws at you. There are a multitude of options for these, all of them useful. There is the HDMI to VGA; the Displayport to HDMI; the USB-C to HDMI, and so on. You must start by knowing your laptop output ports (which vary machine to machine) and you need to work out what you might need from there. I’ve got USB-C ports on my laptop, so I carry adapters for that… including a multiway adapter featuring HDMI, VGA and USB options. Ultimately, whatever your output, you’ll need to be able to convert to VGA, HDMI, Component or Displayport and occasionally a USB port.
A couple of options below.
- Extra Cabling. It is always advisable to carry extra wires, regardless of the gear above. Some comes in flat format, which can save space. Again, whatever your source format you need to work from there – but basics are to carry are HDMI, VGA and USB cable extensions of some 30-50 feet. These can be coupled with your adapters to find the right solution for the equipment. Male-to-female gender-changers can be useful plug-ins too. If only life were so easy…
- Jack-plugs – these are the golden oldies. They’ve been around for ever, but some venues still have full size jack-plugs in sound equipment, so your audio cable 3.5mm micro-jack just might not fit… better to carry an adapter for that too.
- Electrical extensions – OK, so a big drum of cable won’t fit in your small neat bag but it doesn’t hurt to pack a light-weight extension. The power you will be consuming is very low, at most about 100 watts incl. sound and projector (without mainstream lighting), so you don’t need heavy cables. If you want belts and braces then grab a multiway adapter to plug into your cable, or replace both with a multi-outlet powerbar.
- Gaffer tape… enough said. Take some with you. The number of times I’ve seen a hapless banqueting assistant try to cover wires with bits of old carpet or hold them down with a half-inch wide roll of Sellotape… It’s just not right; in fact it can be downright dangerous. Loose cables = tripping = busted equipment/possible death falling off a stage. At the very minimum keep a patch of gaffer tape stuck to the bottom of your laptop – it could be your salvation one day.
So there you have it. Like the Scouts and Guides of the 1960s, presenters too can ‘Be Prepared’ if you choose to follow my advice:
Step One – Get onto the organisers of your next show and run my first checklist on venues.
Step Two – Whiz down to your local Tandy, Fry’s, Dick Smith’s or Amazon with my second equipment checklist, and get shopping. Oh, and don’t forget a spare batteries for your clicker… you never know when you might need them.
There’s no time to lose. Like the 4th Sittingbourne Scout Group, your next event could be a winner or loser depending how you play your wide-game…
Enjoy the show… and break a leg (BTW if you do actually break a leg, then don’t panic, you can strap it up with your Gaffer tape).
Note: For the uninitiated, a ‘Woggle’ is a device to fasten the neckerchief, or scarf, worn as part of the Scout or Guide uniform. It was originated by a Tasmanian Scout in the 1920s and comes in many shapes and patterns.
Pictures/credits: Pixabay, Scout Association, JB, Amazon, World Scout Shop