Thereís one sure way to make your presentation weak. I had the ill fortune
of experiencing such weakening a couple years ago. Perhaps you can learn from
The year was 1997. I was still a novice presenter, and I was to make a
90-minute presentation to the NLRB about using the Internet. There would be
about 100 people attending. I was nervous.
I prepared for many hours, and when the day arrived, I was more-than-readyÖ
or so I thought. Aside from the normal anxieties of speaking before a large
group, my primary concern was the possibility of technical difficulties. I was
away at a resort hotel -- far from the wealth of tech support and back-up
plans available to me when making presentations "at home."
My anxieties, for the most part, were unfounded. My hardware and software
worked as advertised, the audience was lively and interested, I was able to
answer most of the questions asked of me, and though I ran well over my
allotted time, the audience seemed to appreciate my long-windedness.
Afterward, many members of the audience approached me with questions and
comments. The comments were mostly praise, which made me feel just great. Ahh,
I thought, this was a good presentation -- and better yet, it was now behind
But I was in a delusional state. A sobering comment from an audience member
quickly brought me out of it.
"Mike, I really enjoyed your presentation. I just wanted to let you know,
though -- and Iím sure not too many people caught it -- but you have a
misspelling on one of your slidesÖ"
I didnít hear too much after that -- at least not too clearly. It was one
of those moments where time seems to stand still -- where objects in your
periphery become fuzzy, the volume of your reality lowers to near zero, and
you grope to make sense of an apparently incomprehensible situation.
During this "non-time" I had a brief conversation with myself, which
consisted entirely of mental stuttering. Eventually, I snapped back to
reality, where everything was painfully clear, and the gentleman before me was
finishing up his sentence, "Öso thanks again, and be sure to run that
presentation through your spell-checker."
At that point, I did what I think any sensible person would do in such a
situation. I did a big mental scream: AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Then I put on an embarrassed smile (very easy) and thanked him for pointing
out the error to me.
How could this have
happened, you wonder? Donít most presentation software packages come with a
Of course they do. I foolishly (yet purposefully) did not run the
presentation through a spell-checker because it was so chock-full of URLs and
Internet terms that I thought it would take forever to run a spell-check on
it. PowerPoint 97, unlike Word 97, does not allow you to set the spell-checker
to ignore URLs. (PPT 2000 will ignore URLs if you make them hyperlinks
instead of just plain text.)
Mad as hell at myself, the first thing I did when I returned to my office
was fix the one mistake that was pointed out to me. Of course, I also
sat down and carefully read through the presentation slide by slide to make
sure there were no other abominations in itÖ since I had a presentation coming
up for the FBI a few weeks later. What I did not do, however, was run the
spell-checker. That would just take too much timeÖ
You can see where this is headingÖ
The FBI talk was for a group of similar size and importance. Again,
everything went smoothly, and when I finished, there was a lot of applause and
some formal expressions of gratitude. I was feeling fine. This, I thought, was
definitely a good presentation.
As usual, members of the audience approached me afterward with comments
that went like:
"Wow, great job! I really enjoyed your presentation, especially the part
"Mike, that was fascinating. You know, I never knew thatÖ"
"Hey, that was a fantastic presentation, though you may want to fix the
misspelling on the slide whereÖ"
EXCUSE ME! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!
As you may have guessed, that was no mental scream. In fact, if you were
anywhere east of the Mississippi on December 5th, 1997, you
probably heard it pretty clearly.
When they released me from the asylum weeks later, you can bet that the
first thing I did was spell-check that presentation! Yes, I finally sat down
and went through the onerous process of having the spell-checker hang up on
every part of every URL, on every too-new Internet term,
and, of course, on every misspelled word (of which there was only one
-- the one pointed out to me by the FBI attorney -- really!). I did not care
how long it would take.
And how long did this take me?
Iím not kidding. I clocked it. Eight minutes.
This, of course, sent me back to the asylum. But Iím out now -- no longer a
threat to myself or others -- and enough time has elapsed for me to be able to
tell you about it calmly. Iíd like to think that something good has come of
these two minor tragedies (itís the only way I can maintain my sanity). The
primary benefit is that I am now a spell-checking maniac. I canít even
scrawl out a quick grocery list now without running to a dictionary. And while
hanging out at the other end of the spectrum might not be all that healthy (at
least thatís what my therapist says), I figure itís got to be better than
where I was previously -- loserville.
And Iím hoping that even more good will come of these mishaps -- that
perhaps some of you will learn from my mistake. So, if any of you have a paper
or presentation that is loaded with uncommon terms (Internet or otherwise),
and you are completely lacking in good sense, please take note: USE A
You wonít regret it, and it probably wonít take as much time as you might
have guessed. Even if it takes an hour, it will be an hour very well spent.
You can be certain that, before submitting this piece to LLRX
for publication, I spell-checked it more than once. You canít be too
careful. One of my mentors told me that I should also be sure to proofread it,
but I was on a tight deadline and had a lot of things going on at work -- I
didnít think that it was really worth my thyme.