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Presentation Horror Stories with the Digital Analytics Power Hour

As someone who is punctually challenged (the only event I was early for was my own birth) I hope you’ll forgive me asking this thought-provoking question:

What does Halloween mean to you?

Yes, let’s move past the fact that Halloween is long passed and it’s now Thanksgiving time. Humor me.

So to me, Halloween means getting the *beep* scared out of you by one thing or another. That could mean graveyards at midnight, dangly spiders (me) and hipsters (also me).

This year, it occurred to me there’s one thing that strikes fear into my heart more than all else…


Based upon the mounting evidence in my professional speaking career, it is my firm belief that there are wicked little gremlins screwing around with our presentations. I’ve learned a lot about presentation horrors in my 12+ years of presenting, but I thought…


What could be more fun than bringing three of the analytics community’s favorite analytics presenting experts?

That’s right folks; the gentile gents of Digital Analytics Power Hour have finally graced the Present Beyond Measure airwaves! Tim Wilson, Michael Helbling and Jim Cain joined me for a virtual campfire presenting horror story session that is sure to delight and dismay.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll be mostly grateful you weren’t us when these horrors unfolded.

Let’s keep the spooky spirit of Halloween alive with these timeless tales of presenting woe!

This is one bone-chilling, howl-packed episode; miss it at your own peril!

In This Episode, You'll Learn:

  • The most hilariously entertaining presentation snafus my guests have encountered
  • Insider tricks on how to prepare for presenting disaster
  • Handling unique cultural challenges such as international audiences & food trucks
  • How to learn from your presenting goofs & roll with the punches

[bctt tweet=”#PODCAST: Our Spookiest Presentation Horror Stories with Digital Analytics Power Hour #pbm @tgwilson @mymotech”]

Resources & People Mentioned

How to Follow the DAPH Boys:

Upgrade Tip of the Day:

  • Tim: Always use a statement slide with a powerful phrase to break up content & send your big message home.
  • Michael: Keep a folder of charts and graphs handy for reference.
  • Jim: Always listen to tips from the experts, and never stop learning.

A Special Message:

By the way, do you struggle to get your insights remembered & acted upon? Chances are, your analytics presentation could use a tune-up. Come get front & center with me at my live workshop touring around the US with the Digital Analytics Association.

Thanks for Listening!

Thanks so much for joining me. Have some feedback you’d like to share, or question for the guys? Leave a note in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the left of the post. Subcribe to Podcast - iTunes

If you liked what you heard, I would love if you could leave me a rating or review in iTunes. Ratings & reviews are extremely appreciated and very important in the rankings algorithm. The more ratings, the better chance of fellow practitioners getting to hear this helpful information!

And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates and never miss a show.

Special thanks to Tim, Michael and Jim for joining me this week. And as always, viz responsibly, my friends.


Click here to view the transcript for this episode.

<spooky music> Welcome, welcome to a very special Halloween edition of the Present Beyond Measure Show – at Thanksgiving time. Today's guests are three wild and crazy guys who regularly blow up the airwaves with their scary-smart analytics expertise and razor-sharp humor. Stay tuned to find out who's creeping around…Present Beyond Measure Episode 010. <spooky laugh>

<announcer> Welcome to the Present Beyond Measure show where you'll learn the best tips, tools and techniques for creating and delivering data visualizations and presentations that inspire data-driven decisions, change hearts and enlighten minds. If you're ready to get your insights noticed, remembered and acted upon, you’re in the right place. Now your host, Lea Pica!

Lea Pica: Hello my listeners. Welcome to the 10th episode of Present Beyond Measure. This is a very special episode. When Halloween was around the corner, I thought it might be really fun to gather kind of a spooky collection of presentation horror stories. I have a few that are fresh in my mind.

This is a topic very near and dear to my heart because no matter how many precautions I take, no matter what I do, it seems like there are tiny gremlins completely messing with my presentations. Whether it's technical issues, a tough audience, weather… I don't know. There’s actually one my favorite Super Bowl commercials was by Emerald Nuts and it shows this office where everyone is hitting the 2 PM afternoon slump and it says when you hit your 2 PM slump Robert Goulet comes down from the ceiling and messes with the stuff on your desk. I thought that was hilarious and I've come to believe in my heart, my deep soul, that Robert Goulet is also coming and screwing with your presentations. I know he is with mine.

I couldn't find a better way to honor these presentation gremlins at Halloween at Thanksgiving time than bringing on three of the analytics communities favorite gents direct from the Digital Analytics Power Hour. These guys present pretty much as often as my toddler crashes our bedroom at 3 AM. They couldn't resist the chance to share their darkest presentation tales of woe. Now I loved recording this episode. It was so much fun. I can't wait to share with you.

Now before we jump in, I’d just like to take a moment really quick to mention that my workshop with the Digital Analytics Association in lovely Atlanta, Georgia is just around the corner. You can catch me live on December 10th for, it is a virtual firehose of tips on how to upgrade your presentation and DataViz skills with best practice principles based in neuroscience and tons of tricks that are gonna save you valuable time. So if you are in Atlanta, and you're ready to create slides and charts that create a measurable impact on your credibility and your indispensability, you're ready for a workshop with me. 

<spooky music> Hello, I am thrilled to introduce today's guests. They host one of the only digital analytics podcasts and every episode they dish out a heaping bowl of analytics prowess with a side of rapier dueling wits, or trialing trio – I don’t know…They actually hosted me on their episode 17, which was very nice of them, and today they've offered graciously to share their deepest, darkest presentation horror stories in honor of Halloween near Thanksgiving time.

<spooky music>

Lea: Too much? My first guest is rocking a senior partnership at Analytics Demystified. His undergrad degree is in art and design, which to this day amazes him because he can't draw a straight line without a ruler. He stumbled into the world of effective communication because he stutters and stammers his way through daily interactions and he realized that doesn't work well when you're talking about data. Please help me welcome the grumpy cat of analytics, Tim Wilson!

Tim Wilson: Bahhh!

<Lea laughs>

Tim: Oh, hey. Is this thing on?

Lea: Yeah…

Tim: Hey, Lea.

Lea: Oh, hi – thanks.

Tim: Lemme wreck your professional demeanor and intro.

Lea: My next guest is the analytics practice lead at Search Discovery. He started loving visualizations of data when he figured out that it helped him explain what was going on with the web trends reports he was creating, and it's just been history from there. But being a public speaker doesn’t actually come naturally since he's an introvert, which I can relate to, but he figures if Tim Wilson can do it, so can Michael “Hot-lanta” Helbling. Welcome.

Michael Helbling: Howdy y'all!

<Lea laughs>

Michael: Not bad for a Cleveland boy. Yeah!

Lea: Oh – oops. I will say Michael, that my favorite part of every episode of Analytics Power Hour is your intro of the next guest, the CEO of Napkyn and Babbage Systems, if I said that right. Introducing the artist formerly known as Jim Cain, who’s from Canada.

Jim Cain: Hi! That’s all I got – Hiiii.

Tim: He’s still working with the use of the word ‘rapier’ earlier.

Lea: Oh boy.

Tim: Trying to keep it clean here for ya.

Lea: I should've known. Yes, we are keeping that clean label on for tonight gentlemen. So welcome, welcome, welcome! I’m so excited to have you guys on finally and I didn't get to actually say this on your episode but now since it's my show I can say it – I can't wait to grab the low hanging fruit with our key KPI's today.

<All groaning>

Jim: And Lea, from us to you, I mean you're just such an analytics and presentation guru ninja that we’re just delighted to be here, yeah.

Tim: We’re glad your podcast has made it. You’ve had the quality tips dropped by the likes of Eric Feinberg and Jim Stern and you decided you just needed to regress right to the mean by getting the three of us on.

Lea: That's how I roll.

Jim: It’s great to e-meet you.

Lea: It’s so great, except we met in person though. I invited you guys on today since you're not only analytics rock stars, but you’re heating up the measure speaking circuit and that inevitably means that you’ve encountered some insane presentation snafus at some point or another, and as a special Thanksgiving time Halloween themed episode, yes, I thought it’d be great to share some of your worst presentation stories, horror stories, either your own and stuff you've seen elsewhere. So, why don't we start with our personal horror stories. Tim, do want to kick this off? I think you have a few nuggets.

Tim: I may have a few. This is interesting because I am pretty nervous about presenting and I prepare pretty obsessively and get pretty damn comfortable with the material. I think I’m ripe for a horror story if I have to present with very short notice with something that’s supposed to be eloquent and in depth.

But I will say one of the horror stories, I think I handled it okay, was one you witnessed it, was when we were in Australia a couple months ago and you could tell every presenter was there early because all of us wanted to hook up and make sure that, hook up our AV to be clear, and be sure that things were working. And the guy, the A/V guy, wasn't there only like half an hour before the whole conference started before he was ready to try stuff and everybody who hooked up their projectors, their laptops, it wasn't working right and he kept shifting things around and he didn't have adapters, and it was kind of a mess. I was maybe the second or third person to test and it worked and we got it working and I tried it. It seemed fine but by two people after me when they were trying to test theirs, it didn't work and so he shuffled some stuff around so lo and behold by the time I got up to present and plugged in, he kind of fiddled with settings and I was using Prezi, which I have a total love/hate and it’s tilting towards hate relationship with it, but I got up and in about five seconds knew that my presentation was wrecked. Random stuff was clipped. Text was not showing up. Images were cropped in funky ways. And so I had to delivery a 30 minute presentation with not knowing what was gonna happen when I hit the next clicker and I think I handled it.

It is not helped by the fact that the night before we talked about presentation disasters and like Jim Stern had made the comment he said, “Yeah, what’s the worst is when something goes wrong and the presenter just can't stop referring to it throughout the whole presentation. You know what? They saw it. Just stick with it.” So I basically stuck with it except for cases where literally something was missing were I would say something, hit click and something totally random would happen. So I had a few little asides that I just somewhere in the rat portion of my brain something just came out of my lips and it seemed to work okay. Everybody knew that the presentation was completely jacked and the organizers felt horrible and they were pissed at the AV guys and I feel like I recovered. I don't think it distracted a whole lot from the content, but I'm certainly never going to look back on that presentation without thinking of it as the time the connection of the video was just completely screwed up.

Lea: That guy was the worst. I mean, I remember I know some people cut it close but I couldn't believe how not ready he was and the fact that he had set everyone up and had tested and then decided to completely change the configuration the minute everyone went on stage, including for me too, which resulted in an interesting snafu of my own. But I have to say you handled it so well because it was hilariously funny where some parts like you would build up the anticipation and there's only one thing to do when you would click to reveal it, only like the top half of the sentence came out and you just were like “br-br-br-br” and the place just died and I think that was really pro.

Tim: Anytime you can insert the word redacted into a presentation spontaneously, you’re living the dream.

Lea: That guy was awful. And he definitely stole my dongle. So yeah, that was a classic and I was there to witness it but really the handling was very pro, so I would say stuff’s gonna happen. Just roll with it. People want to laugh and you know like don't make it feel like it's the end of the world or I guess they will see it that way.

Tim: When I saw it I was so comfortable with the material that it was a constant track running through my brain of “Holy crap this is screwed up. Holy crap this is screwed up…” but at the same time 85% of my attention was focused on the content and the delivery so it wasn't disastrous, but man if that had been like the third presentation I had ever given at a conference and I'd flown to another continent to do it, I would have needed to go change my pants afterwards.

Lea: <laughing> Well, thank you for that. That’s a good one. Michael, do you have anything to share with us?

Michael: I might have a tale or two. For whatever reason, my bad situations or horror stories usually tend to be around how much energy I’m projecting or not projecting in the given talk or presentation. I guess I tend to be a little bit low-key and so people have called me out on that but I remember one time. So I got a chance to present at eMetrics Toronto. It was actually my first time ever presenting at eMetrics and so I did a great job. I really prepared like Tim Wilson style and people really liked it, and so one of the people who was there came up to me afterwards and he said, “I thought you did a really great job. Would you want to come and present to a conference that we’re putting on in Vancouver?” and I was like, “Of course I would!” Like who wouldn't want to go to Vancouver? To do the same talk right? So I get there, of course I don’t do any prep because I’ve already done all the prep so I’ve got this cold, right? Of course, no, you don’t. And that’s the thing, I didn’t and you don’t and you still have to basically prepare as much as you had in the past, but I didn't. And so I redid the presentation. I totally messed it up. It went poorly, and I was just there, like I was so embarrassed I left the conference early after my talk. I was just like, “Alright I’m out. I’m sorry,” and you know I don't know that John Hossack has ever talked to me since. Sorry John if you’re listening to this. I’m sorry I let you down. Anyway, it was pretty terrible. But yeah, definitely around thinking about preparation, being excited about the content as if you’re for doing it new for the first time, even if it's not the first time. That's a valuable presenting lesson that I learned that day. Those poor people in Vancouver think I’m a shmoe.

Lea: Well, maybe this is your chance for redemption. I can offer that platform to you now.

Michael: Un-likely.

Lea: Yeah, I agree. I’ve done my “Get Their Attention” session probably ten times at this point and each time, and I’m actually doing it again next week, each time a week before I start with a daily run through and then like ramp-up towards just because I'm never fully confident that I have the whole thing down. That seems to help a lot.

Michael: Occasionally there's a presentation that I’ve feel like I’ve given 100 times and I’ve learned the same thing. It’s not going to take me as long to ramp up the eighth time that I've given it, but to think that, “Well, I gave it a month ago. I rehearsed the heck out of it before I gave it then. I'll be fine.” That doesn't work either. The first time I do a run through saying “Ooh yeah, I need to kind of polish this thing up a little bit.”

Jim: I think we talked about this when we covered something similar in our podcast but this is going to blow Tim away. Tim, are you sitting down? I don't really prepare very much for stuff. I don't. I’m serious.

All: NO!! Really? <sarcastically>

Jim: Yes, seriously. I look well put together but it’s a sham.

Michael: Which is funny if you go to our Facebook page and look at our banner that we threw together. You have the most professional speaker looking photo because you got that little like bud mic thing.

Tim: He had to go to Russia to get that headshot.

Jim: Hey – I went to Russia and all I got was this lousy headshot.

When I present I haven’t looked at the slides in six-months or I wrote them in the hotel the night before or so when I'm done I'm just pleased I didn't swear too much. Then I ask a few people how did that go? And I do have a good story about Russia to share. But the only issues I've ever had were when I first started, you'd end up getting that slot on the last day of the conference right after lunch and you’d be basically presenting to your mom over Skype. There’s no one in the room. The minute you see me on a couple of those ones. And then go in and you wing it and then so it doesn't matter how good or bad a job you do it’s like seven people and it’s uncomfortable. So you just try your hardest. Those aren’t fun. The other thing is as my rooms have started to get bigger, I've noticed some real diminishing returns in the “wing it at the last minute” routine.

<All laughing>

Michael: So strange.

Jim: I know right? So here’s a tip – don't write it in the bathroom the morning of. There's a little tip from Jim.

Lea: Like on the wall of the stall right in the bathroom or on a notebook?

Jim: This is not an explicit show…

Tim: It’s awkward to have to run off the stage back to the bathroom to check what bullet point number four you were going to make.

Michael: That’s always delightful when you are presenting and a bullet point or a slide content surprises you.

Jim: That was brilliant what I wrote. We’re actually, rather than me just periodically going, “Hey have you got space?” like I normally do when I speak, we’re actually trying to put together a series of events for me to speak at next year, referenced actually to the designer who’s doing the deck the evolution of Tim's presentation. Because I’ve seen it like six times and every time it looks better. You know what I mean? Maybe preparing has some payoff. I’m going to throw it out there.

Tim: Or repetition. If you say the same damn thing 27 times, by the 27th time it might not have 14 stammers and diversions in it.

Jim: But my Russia story is not too bad, so I was asked to represent North American analysts at a session in Russia last year and I flew over with my wife and we had a lovely week and it was quite a large room. It was probably 6 or 700 people. Right before I went onstage, and again, half the pictures of my slides are of my kids in the tub. I didn’t even care. I just threw it together. You’ve seen this presentation before, it’s on my de-motivational pictures and stuff. So I'm about to go on stage and they go by the way, speak a little bit slower so the interpreter can keep up. I was like, “What?!” And there like this for the first time we've ever done it, but everybody’s going to be wearing a headset and you have an interpreter live translating you into Russian. I hadn’t thought about that. I throw a lot of one-liners when I my present and a lot of them may be really colloquial like I just hadn’t thought about it. And I was like “Okay here we go” and I started to present and either the translator was really good or he was just trashing me. It’s not like I could tell because I don’t speak Russian. But he was translating so well that my wife was in the next room watching it on like a closed-circuit screen and she thought I was speaking Russian. So that was cool but there was about a 10 second delay between me telling a joke and the audience hearing the joke. Russians are not a smiley people so I’m in front of 700 people and I’m like blah blah blah – ta da! and I tell my little joke and there’s like a long pause of a sea of blank faces and I’m like aw crap. Like 10 seconds later everybody’s like <laughter> It was weird. It was like video lag in real life and it was a little off putting to have the jokes being laughed at 10 seconds after I told them and now I’m trying to talk about multi variant testing or something. That totally threw me but you try to talk slow and play it through.

Tim: We deal with that every time we record would get our translator trying to translate the Canadian stuff that you're saying and we have to try to figure out what you are talking about… It’s just kind of a constant challenge we have to deal with on our podcast every couple weeks.

Jim: It’s the magic post production, aye?

Lea: You notice no lag whatsoever. It’s a really good show. Alright, those were great stories and now it's my turn and I don't even know how to choose which one so I may not even choose. Something that each of you guys talked about made me think of one of my horror stories. So one was being surprised by what came by a slide that showed up. I was giving a talk and my final motivational piece is “You are your presentation not your PowerPoint.” It's like this call to arms, and the night before I had some very late I had switched the layout of that slide and it switched around two of the text boxes perfectly so that when I read the slide it said, “You are your PowerPoint not your presentation” which was the worst way to end that.

Tim: Remember if you don’t get that powerpoint right you’re done.

Lea: I had just spent three hours talking about making your PowerPoint great and how you are the most important ingredient and this and that and it was the absolute worst way to cap that off.

Michael: But how did you recover?

Lea: I just burst out laughing and I said, “Children, there so many lessons in this that I’ve just talked about,” and I said, everyone was laughing and obviously it was just like a complete fluke.

Tim: The classroom will disregard, the jury will regard…

Lea: Exactly! Do as I say, not as I do. So that was an interesting moment for my confidence, but I think I weathered it okay, and everyone was laughing. But man, that took me down a few notches.

And then similar thing, the technical stuff with—between our trip to Australia and other trips – I’ve had dead video cables that just didn't send images. I had in Australia, I'm presenting and I'm talking about the art of slide design and I turn around to face my slide and I see that it's completely yellow like someone had peed all over my slides. It was awful and here I am talking about design.

But the story that I want to (so I get three) the story I really want to talk about is about custom fonts because this was a really hard lesson learned. I love using custom fonts. I'm a font enthusiast if you will, and I really think that finding a font that’s strong or really speaks to the personality of you and your slides is a great way to stand out for a high-stakes presentation. The problem is they are a landmine for potential issues where for one conference they had a little bit of mix up backstage where the computer I was supposed to be presenting on had all the fonts installed. Everything had been tested and then the person that owned that computer left the conference and everyone got locked out of their computer. No one had the password. So at the last second we had to switch computers and my fonts wouldn't actually go on there. We had like minutes, so I was like okay and my mistake where I take responsibility is I left my laptop at home which was at the hotel which would've solved all of that. So never doing that again, but once again I'm out there on stage talking about the importance of good design and things like that and I'm looking and the fonts look like my three-year-old had just like stomped all over it, and had done it for his afternoon project. Lesson there is if you're going to go the custom font route, have you know have triple layers of backup, PDFs, your own computer, all other kinds of things, maybe a copy that has like a default font that'll work but…

Tim: I don’t think it’s just fonts. That’s kinda the — what are the three levels of redundancy that you have? I’ve got my laptop. It’s on a USB drive. Hell, I have a PDF that may not be perfect, but worst case — and you can tell by the conferences how much they’ve thought through what’s what they’re checking and double checking. Like an internet retailer, they’re like you get your butt into the room this totally other room when you get there and they’re going to fire it up and make sure it works and you know they are gonna triple check everything. And I think just the reality that some conferences, some presentation conferences or not, there's varying levels of redundancy that others have taking care of and there are its I always have at least one fallback plan. You know the nice thing about Prezi is I can always run it off the internet, but I’ll also have the local USB copy. I’ll have my version on a USB drive, and I've definitely when they say, “Oh be sure to stop by the room and check out make sure it works,” Damn straight I’m stopping by the room < laughter> hours in advance to make sure it works.

Michael: Well, you know what they say about fonts… Nobody bans comic sans.

Lea: <groans>

Jim: I was gonna say, what better way to say professional with wingdings.


Michael: Wingdings and clip art.

Lea: I just threw up a little in my mouth. Choke that back. So that's a good one. Triple layers of backup. So what I normally do is I have my presentation on my local computer file, on a USB, on Google drive, and in both PowerPoint and a PDF format that will display correctly just in case. One of my prior guests, Eric Feinberg, that was episode seven, did something pretty amazing during another presentation horror story I witnessed where one of the clients was showing a video of session replay and the video wouldn't start for like 10 minutes. I mean this was really, really bad. Just the whole energy had stopped basically, so Eric actually got up on stage and started to tap dance to no music whatsoever.

Tim: Without doing 20 push-ups beforehand? He just had to jump up cold? He would have been up sooner but he had to run backstage to do 20 pushups. And then he came out. Is there anything that guy can’t do though? Come on.

Lea: But I just I think that was great because really the energy was at a total standstill and it takes a lot of courage to just get up and do something like that. And I used to tap dance and I don't think I could get up and do that.

Tim: It takes a lot of courage but at the same time the audience, nobody, likes watching somebody die right?

Lea: Yeah…

Tim: So if anybody, like, that's actually trying to hop in and save a totally misguided, horrible presentation of analysis, I think at a conference, I – considering Eric's amazing so fantastically good at the same time nobody wants anybody to fail like they, nobody wants to sit through something horrible and painful. So recognizing that everybody kind of wants the presenter to succeed so anything you can do to help yourself or the presenter, you’re gonna be given a little leeway for making the attempt, I think.

Lea: I think that's great. I might quote that. No one wants to see you fail. It’s true. everyone’s been up there and everyone's had to struggle and I really think if you're relating to the audience they want you to get through that.

Michael: Tim Wilson, I can't believe that you would say that while having participated in many an eMetrics back channel conversation.

Tim: <laughing> No, that's watching people, I don’t want them to a fail…<cracking up>

Lea: Oh yes.

Tim: That brings up my horror story. Being part of the back channel, splitting a session with somebody which was kind of a – you're not getting a session, you’re gonna split it with somebody. I try to coordinate and think “Hey, we’ll do this! We’ll coordinate. We’ll do a dual session.” And this guy was non-responsive. Not going to have anything of that. He was working on his slides. He sent me a message during the session before ours and said, “Can you come to the speakers room so I can run through my slides? Just so you know.” We’ve already said we’re going to split it. To his credit he said, “You want to go first.” He was like, “You do not want to follow me. Just trust me.” So, fine. I got up and did a fine, well polished, organized, useful informative presentation for 25 minutes.

Michael: It was alright, Tim. <laughing>

Tim: Were you in the room for that one?

Michael: Yes, I was.

Tim: Oh my God. What I did not know is that I had my phone not turned off which would've been optimal, but I had it on quiet, vibrate and set it down on the table because I had to then sit on the table on the stage while this guy, who was crazy, and went through like 150 slides in 25 minutes and had random images and was kind of bouncing off the walls and the back channel was going a little bit berserk and it wasn’t that mine was fine. It’s just, nobody retained anything from mine because they just got completely steamrolled by utter craziness.

Michael: It's always a good sign when the first thing out of their mouth is, “I’ve got 140 slides, but don't worry, I talk really fast.” <laughing> That’s like, oh we’re in for a treat.

Tim: And I mean there was spittle flying and that was one where I was like “Gee, I put a whole lot of preparation and polish into having something that was very tangible, well maybe not. It was not my worlds greatest, most engaging session, it was on social media, but it had some decent tips, and some takeaways, the right volume of content for 25 minutes and then followed by somebody who had two hours, or maybe had an hour worth of content that he crammed into 25 minutes and just blew through it and was entertaining as hell but nobody walked out of that with anything other than “that guy was crazy!”

He was entertaining so it's like, on the one hand it was, well that was a fun session because it was watching just a generally bizarre persona on stage, and kind of a fail for me because I’m like, well that's the exact opposite of me being reasonably polished and deliberate and concise.

Michael: Yeah, I actually was at that same conference, and managed to rack up a horror story because the night before I was supposed to go on stage in a panel, I decided that it would be a great idea to hang out with everybody and really have a great time.

Lea: <laughing> Can you define ‘have a great time,’ Michael?

Michael: Well, I think at about 3:30 in the morning I was out on the street with Eric Peterson and Joe Stanhope eating Halal truck food <laughing> and just raving about how good it was. Eric Peterson will probably deny this ever happened but he was there. It was just us three which is funny because I don’t really know Joe Stanhope that well at all, but we were having a great time and then I had to get up the next morning and I was very hungover. And so that whole lack of energy thing…super pronounced. <laughing>

Tim: You were running to the bathroom for your fourth bullet point. <laughing>

Michael: Luckily it was just very subdued like, <slow talking> “Hey everybody…let’s talk a little bit about my favorite topic which is attribution…” So yeah, that was not a shining star of a moment there.

Lea: Oh, that's a good one though. Thanks for sharing. So actually, Tim, I think you had started segueing into this where we're talking about the horror stories that we've witnessed from other people. So does that count as your witnessing, or do you have anything else coming to mind?

Tim: I got others. I mean the macro one and it’s one of those where they’re witnessed because I can’t even describe specific ones, because they’re so, just slide after slide droning and no matter how hard I work I cannot pay attention and I can name one, that's half of the ones that I see, and that's conference presentations. That's analysis results. So those, you kind of have set those aside and the problem is the presenter doesn't even realize that they’re dying and that's almost the worst part of it. If you die once, and I think while you realized that you'd died onstage and you work like hell and never let that happen again, that's great.

But there was one that was an interesting little conference for us, kind of an informal conference with little quick hit, little sort of 10 minute things, get up, kind of share a few tips, I’ll leave it as vague as that, and it was interesting because the idea of the conference was let’s keep it informal, but it'd been around for a while and, you know, if you have 10 minutes it's—I've watched this happen a couple times actually, what's up and accelerate as well people think it's a short presentation, I don't need to prepare that much. It’s just 10 minutes. I can stand up and just talk about this one thing for 10 minutes and what happens is this rambling horrible thing that – if it's 10 minutes, you better be really honed in on the one or two takeaways and you better really have a deliberate story that builds and reinforces what that point is.

So there was one bit that, where literally it was five minutes, which is incredibly short, and watched somebody get less than halfway through the content they had and they were out of time. One of the 10 minute ones, it was, the presenter got up and he just sort of started talking. He opened up with saying “I haven't really prepared.” That's like thank you. I have no respect for you as an audience. I have not fully prepared. Now he went on to a few other things where it was and maybe it's because he realized by the time he stood up the “Oh shoot. I should have prepared,” but his mouth got really dry. You know what, the conference usually they're pretty good about having a pitcher or bottles of water. This one didn't but it was an informal conference and so his mouth got so dry part way through his ten minutes that he had to stop and run across the room to get water and he had energy, right, so I’ll given him that. I mean he was enthusiastic but it was one of those where you’re just watching it thinking what else is going to happen? You were waiting for him to trip, you know, faceplant on his way back from getting the bottle of water to finish presenting so it was, that one was a little painful to watch. And again, it’s one where I don't know if the presenter realized “Gee. I should do better next time. I should put more time and preparation into it.” So, there's kind of my amalgamation of horror stories.

Lea: That was pretty horrific. So keeping water up there, just being prepared, but also just taking a minute to step outside and be aware of kind of the energy coming towards you I think is super important. Not everyone does that. What about you, Mike? Do you have any horror stories you’ve witnessed?

Michael: Oh, but I do. <laughter> There was this one time, so it was the First Accelerate conference in San Francisco. There's this one guy there. I think we all know who he is. He deployed this supercheap mechanism to get everyone to like his talk better. <laughing>

Lea: So intrigued.

Michael: Four years ago and it still wrinkles.

Tim: The guy walked away with $500!

Michael: So that was when they were, yeah they would rate them and Tim Wilson, bless his little heart, <laughing> yeah… Anyway, no. That's not really it— no actually I have a fun story to tell. We got, this is actually more in a corporate setting, but we were presenting analysis data and some things to marketing where I worked, and our director of business intelligence at the time was someone who would get excited about a particular thing and what I didn't know was that he didn't always have any idea where that was going. So I, as an eager young analyst had been, you know, honing my skills and had been building out different kinds of visualizations and I think I found this one on Jon Peltier site where they'd actually taken and created a 3D Excel chart, like rotated around, you could actually, yeah it was far out stuff. So the director visit Tom's got so excited about that visual he had to show it to the CMO and the VP of marketing and everybody so we got into a meeting and he’s like, “Put this, this and this in it,” but he just had this thing up there and he was spinning around and showing everybody how cool it was and it was just sort of like, “Wait a second. This doesn’t mean anything!” And yeah it was, it was rough. That was a good education. From there I only used my visual skills for good, and not evil.

Lea: That's very reassuring.

Michael: Yeah. Know what your end is when you start at the beginning. I think that is probably the takeaway there.

Lea: Know what your end is. Okay.

Jim: I don't mind watching someone bomb a little bit if they’re trying to teach me something. You know what I mean? And I found that the presentations that I've gone to that are really, man it’s hard to not swear in a podcast, the ones that have irked me made me feel fecally the most are, they're what I call vendor pimping. Wait can I say that? Vendor solicitation? Anyways, you know the ones you go to and sometimes they’re well delivered but they're just as bad as if they'd been bad and the really interesting concept in the title was just a light scattering of gold flake on a really rough pitch for the vendor that their partnered with? You know, it’s supposed to be best practices in email analytics and it turns out it’s a pitch for responses.The worst ones are when someone bombs and they have no substance.

So kind of my one rule for presentations that I give and definitely ones that I want to sit through is I want to walk out of there with one thing. Just give me one thing that I can do when I go back to work, that I want to do when I go back to work. So when I sit through someone’s presentation, and I’ve sat through some, and I’m going to bring up eMetrics, not to hate on it, cause I think one of the things that’s fantastic about eMetrics is that they on purpose give a lot of people the chance to present for the first time. I think that's part of the reason that that community is so strong. You know, how often do you get to present at a conference in front of your peers and I think that Mr. Stern and the organizers do a great job of letting a new group every year kind of take their first shot. And like Tim said earlier, it's okay to bomb once, right?

Lea: And then you learn.

Jim: And then you learn. The ones where you didn’t do a good job, you didn’t understand your subject matter, and I didn’t get a single interesting thing. If i can even get the third one, I’ll forgive the other two. I don’t know, if guys feel the same way about quality of content versus delivery sometimes.

Tim: I had this week, I was on a call, so this was kind of results being presented. It’s a bi weekly call. It’s a bunch of people, different agencies with kind of the main brand. And at one point they said “Now if you look at the second tab on the spreadsheet” and this was on a conference call – “you can sort of see how this stuff is trending” and it was four rows across like twenty columns and it was two different metrics, like side by side plus a divider, like you literally had to look at every third column in the fourth row and read the numbers to see what was trending and I found myself, it was painful just to even extract the data so that I could chart it.

But I think that even when there's substance – because they were saying you can see – and it was, no, like you literally could not see and that charted it. Like they made a statement and I’m not sure it’s really as self evident as they're saying. I could see if I was reading the numbers, I might sort of see this one number jump up. So I’d argue a little bit when somebody stands up and they're making an effort and maybe they have a good point, but they have put so little prep into it that I am having to work so hard just to pay attention. And maybe that's me, but I’m going to claim that a lot of your audience is not willing to say I’m going to knuckle down and focus really hard as you screw up your presentation to me. There may be substance there but if you're making— if I have to work that hard to figure out what it is, that's challenging.

Lea: I’m gonna say I’m in that camp a little bit where even if there’s something of substance, if they're not delivering in a way that is clear and energetic, it might just completely bypass me. Maybe I’m a really tough- I probably have ADD and I’m a tough person to keep engaged, but I don’t know, I’m going to say that it’s a combination of both for me.

Tim: And I would say, to the eMetrics example, there’s a guy I know pretty well and he kind of bombed at one eMetrics. And another awesome thing about eMetrics is that you do get feed back. Like you get the comments. They collect them. It may not be the highest response rate but you get enough and he told me that, he said, “I got some pretty harsh feedback but Jim and I talked about it” – or they had a communication – and he’s like, “He’s giving me another shot,” and son of a gun, he shows up three months later and was delivering the same points. He whittled it down a little bit because that was part of the issue, he was kind of covering a little too much, and he did a – I wouldn’t say he completely crushed it, knocked it out of the park – but it was an order magnitude better. I mean it was good, solid content, presentation absolutely lucked out.

So that was one where hey, I got to see somebody who I knew had good content and it just killed me to watch him the first time and then he turned it around and he realized that “I can do better” and he thought about it and he worked hard on it, and he did much better and you know what? He’s going to do much better at the next one, and the next one, and the next one, regardless of what the topic or the forum is.

Lea: What’s also funny about eMetrics while shamelessly promoting my most recent episode with Krista Seiden, that's episode 009. She told me that Jim gave her the opportunity to speak the first time at eMetrics and I’m sure she had great content, but she said that she had a lot of work to do in terms of the delivery aspect and you know, doing that over and over it has been a great launch pad for her to learn and grow to see where she is now. So, if you want to get on that circuit, eMetrics is the way to go.

So back to other presenting horror stories. I’ll share the one that I witnessed a few years ago. So this was one of my first speaking engagements and I was keeping a very close eye on the audience to see what the energy was like, how receptive they were, how energetic, and this one guy goes up and I've never seen anyone so disconnected from the audience and in his own bubble. It was like he was stalking around like an animal inside his own bubble, just saying thing after thing, slide after slide, there was no connective tissue, there was nothing to grab on. Like Tim you had talked about, give me this one thing. I waited and waited and it never happened and at the end of it I had no clue what I was supposed to take away from that, and it felt offensive. It was – he had almost an animosity towards the audience, it was crazy. And right after he finished I overheard someone behind me turn to someone else and say “that was the worst presentation I’ve ever seen” and I couldn't believe someone actually articulated that. He was from a great company and I'm sure he does great with his work but I was just so amazed at how disconnected he was from the audience and not engaging them at all. It’s like why are you even there? Is it just to talk to yourself in a large room? Or is it really to give someone else an experience?

So, that was pretty horrific for me. Okay, so thanks for sharing. These stories are awesome and I think very cautionary tales, all of them. And now I call the next segment the upgrade which is some power tip to do anything that we’re talking about better. So do you have- I mean we’ve dropped a number of tips as we’ve went along but -Tim do you have any other specific tips to share about just, not crashing and bombing in general Tim style?

Tim: Having a slide that is a template, one of your templates or two or three of them, that are just set for like ten or twelve words on a light background, and ten or twelve words on a dark background, where you can just make that one big idea, one bold statement. When I’m presenting like that, whether presenting at a conference or even presenting an analysis, kind of the set up – and you can have three or four of those that are almost literally what you’re saying- and that’s okay because it is the core of the narrative and if it’s your transition, if its what youre building. And I watched him do it so effectively and have sort of realized how much it's permeated what I’ve done, I’ve actually watched some other people who have seen me present a number of times, they’ve started to pick it up and they’ve gotten good results with it as well. So I sort of feel like I’ve sort of absorbed this thing that can actually be really, really effective. I used to grapple, and they’d say “never have a font smaller than 40 point” or whatever the guideline is in powerpoint and I’m like that’s ridiculous. That’s unreasonable. It is for some slides, some content, but having those I’m gonna whittle this down to a high impact statement or if I have a set up and then the follow through, I’m going to make two slides with that. I may go through them really quickly but wow, if the audience is reading along with me and i’m just saying it, or maybe I’m just very slightly paraphrasing it, that seems to be a way that really can kind of move the story and the narrative along.

Lea: I use that technique as well, the statement slide. I think it’s great because instead of having slide after slide that looks the same and has charts and things that look really similar, it helps to break things up visually but it also helps you stop and create a tweetable moment if it’s like a conference presentation. So that will be going in the show notes.

Tim: And hopefully, I mean it should be for you. It’s not everything, its like, its going to force you to figure out what are my key points? Those are the things that get that treatment. It’s not, I’ve got 140 slides and it’s just going to be half a statement on every one of them that I’m walking through. It’s still got to have some degree of selectivity.

Lea: Agreed. Good one! Mike? Power tip?

Michael: Oh, I’ve got a lot of power tips. As far as presentations go, I mean, you two are like the real pros. But I think there is certainly something to be said for the concept of understanding the difference between the conference room and the ballroom, right? In terms of how the presentation is structured. So, how you put information on the slide. If you’re doing a presentation in front of a large audience, use stock photography or pictures or visualization to make the point emotionally. Like give people stuff to look at that’s going to back up what you’re saying because you can distract from that.

I also think this is more of a – this is not really a how to use a tool – but I’m just telling you how I gauge success at speaking opportunities is by the number of tweets and laugh lines. That’s how I figure out if I’ve done well. Because if you’re saying something people are taking away and it’s memorable to them, they're going to tweet it. And so you’ll see tweets going and you’ll see okay they’re good. People were taking away some of the things I was saying. So that’s one of the ways I measure that.

And then if I can make people laugh. And what I found is actually humor is a great way to get people to open up as you’re about to make an important point. So if you can, use humor to really honor the audience and then that gives you an opening to then be able to say at some point, either soon after, right after, something that is very important that you want to make sure they get or take away or think about.

And then I don’t know about you guys, but I always, I keep a folders full of different kinds of excel sheets that have data visualizations or powerpoint templates or things that I run across on the web like I download it and I keep in folders and I break it out by the year that I found it and all this kind of stuff and then from time to time go back through and be like, “Oh yeah, I need to use that! Like, here’s a really great example of how to build a bullet chart in excel.” You know, these kind of things. And of course, you know, as excel versions have gone up over the years some of those, fall out of favor or whatever, or you know “back in my day, spark lines weren't built….Yeah, or you had a plug in for it or something you know. But there were plug ins that were helpful, like there's – somebody made this chart cleaner plug in it would remove all the chart junk from the standard excel and take it about 85% of the way there and I don't think that’s something that probably works today and frankly excel chart visuals are slightly better than they used to be, they still need to fix some things, but so I like to keep those. I just like to have lots of reference points so the other tip I would say is hang onto lots of reference points so you have a library you can pull from of useful visuals, useful information, you know, the little pie chart where it looks like Pac Man. You just never know when you need that.

Michael: Tim really loves how pie charts really explain relationships between two things.

Lea: Very clearly and quickly. Yeah. You know, it’s funny you mentioned a reference of like an archive of all charts because that’s actually something that’s a little project of mine right now so stay tuned for that. Tim!

Tim: If you want to get contribute to it, Michael….

Lea: Yeah. You can find me on Kickstarter.

Tim: I meant the stuff he found over the years.

Lea: <laughing> Oh.

Tim: Hey, whatever it takes.

Lea: Oops. Jim, do you have a power tip for us?

Jim: Um, I don’t know. But Michael’s folders of pictures are more organized than anything in my whole life. That’s amazing. I want to be you. I think I’m a very good speaker. I don’t think I’m a particularly solid presenter so I don’t know if I have anything that I would share and not end up sandbagging everyone who listened and took it seriously. I think the only thing that I would share is just there is some science and some art to this, just like being a good analyst, you know? There are people who can build gorgeous presentations and have well practiced delivery and there are people who have something to say and they’re not always the same people. I think I’m reasonable at the art and science of presenting. So it actually is something I’m going to work on next year, so tips on how to be awesome at it? Listen to other people’s tips.

Man: If only there was a podcast you could listen to…

Jim: I know, right?

Man: That would teach you some of these pro science tips.

Lea: About presenting effectively. So, I could talk about this stuff all night with you guys but we’ve run out of time. So please tell the listeners where they can keep up with you and how they can stalk you.

Tim: As Lea mentioned at the top of the show, the three of us do collaborate on the Digital Analytics Power Hour which we happily host every other Tuesday and we’d love to have you check us out if you'd like to. For my part, I don't think I have anything to plug except, you know, Search Discovery is a pretty amazing place to work! <laughter> So if you’re looking for a job in analytics…I can’t not do it. I’m sorry.

Michael: Yeah, I usually manage to beat you to the punch to plug Search Discovery.

Jim: Looking for a career indoors?

Tim: That’s right. Well it’s great because as people get to, like, the two year mark of being there, I’m like “So great! You’re beating the industry average. Way to go!” So, we’ll see if we can get some people to three and four years, then we’ll really have something. It’s been a pleasure and that’s all I’ve got.

Lea: Okay. Where can people find you guys on twitter?

Michael: Yeah, I am @mymo on twitter. Not to be confused with the wearable technology that’s headquartered in Dubai also called mymo.I was on twitter well before this piece of internet of things was around. It’s M-Y-M-O. M-Y-M-O. And so that’s where you can find me on twitter.

Tim: I’m @tgwilson but probably these days wind up spending a little more time on the measure slack so probably going to throw a plug that doesn’t directly benefit. It’s not really where we are exactly. We’re there with several hundred other people but with the A the M and the S all capitalized. If you’re not on slack you should get on there because it’s a great little community and there’s a data visualization channel that Lea’s pretty active on and is lots of examples in there of the good and the bad. Like that’s kind of data visualization candy.

Lea: And if anyone wants to follow Jim, where are you at Jim?

Jim: Nah. I can give you our street address. I’m not good at the social media but probably the easiest one is twitter which would be @jim_cain.

Tim: Jim actually is also the social media manager for the Digital Analytics Power Hour podcast and he’s demonstrated there that he’s not very good at social media.

Jim: I’ve managed to not log into facebook all week, so technically I’m on point.

Lea: <laughter> That’s an achievement. Well, this was transformational for me. I don’t know about you guys. But this was really as fun, more fun than I even expected and I really appreciate you guys taking the time. So thanks so much for being on the show, and keep on keepin on.

Jim: Namaste.

Tim: Namaste.

<scary music>

Lea: That was so much fun and I think actually very instructive when it comes to all the things that can and do go so very wrong when you present and I think the thing to remember about this, and I've I've tried to tell myself this is when you feel like it's all going down the crapper, just remember that everyone in your audience has experienced this at some point. Your clients, your team, your conference presentation audience, they have all experienced these issues and how you roll with it and play it off is really gonna make the difference between an extremely awkward moment and really winning them over, which is what you want to do no matter what. And if you're Michael Helbling, make sure not to go to bed too late before your presentation the next day or you just might “falafel”! I'll be here all night. Tough crowd.

So now, I want to hear from you. I want to hear your darkest most bone-chilling presentation tales of horror. I love collecting these stories, and I think this is such an interesting topic that we can all have a little bit of fun with, you know sharing our war stories. So please hop on over to and leave a comment sharing your very worst. And if you visit the show notes page you can also catch all of the resources mentioned in the episode, review the notes, download a copy, view the transcript. I would love if you could leave me a comment because I want to hear about what you struggle with most.

And, if you like what you've heard, hop on over to iTunes to subscribe, leave a rating and review. Ratings and reviews are so appreciated because they help boost the rankings of the show and help other practitioners like yourself find this information, and I'll be reading out my favorite ones on future episodes. So to do that please visit Or you can tweet me a question for the show by including my twitter handle which is @leapica and including the #PBM as in Present Beyond Measure.

And I’m going to leave you with today's bit of presentation inspiration and that is from Richard Kline and it is “Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.” Very wise words for today’s episode. Do what you can and don't sweat what you can’t. Namaste. Muahahah <scary music>

Tim: I love this country!

Michael: Exactly.

Tim: Anything in Canada. Anything. Well actually, Vancouver is amazing.

Michael: That’s correct, It is super awesome. Having been there once now I would love to go back.

Tim: It’s no Ottawa.

Jim: It’s almost Ottawa nice. Yeah, I agree with you Tim.

Tim: I don’t wanna go to Vancouver. Listen so…

Lea: All hell broke loose.

Tim: I’d like to have a modern interpretive dance version of the presentation just in case so I’m usually wearing tights if I need to, I just can kind of strip and go without any AV whatsoever.

Lea: That was a lovely image. Thank you for sharing that.

Tim: Have you seen the hair on that guy? < all laughing>

Lea: He does have his own twitter handle….

Jim: Unless you start drinking nettle tea….

Lea: I was going to recommend some colloidal silver.

Tim: See coital silver…

Michael/Tim: Colloidal?

Lea: Colloidal! Not coital, Tim!

Jim: Sounds like a Latvian action hero. Colitis silver?

Tim: <Singing> Rock flag and presentation fails….

Lea: Ah, I might use that.

Tim: It works for everything.

Lea: I heard a little Johnny Cash tinge in there.

Jim: Oh yeah, Tim has a beautiful singing voice… <all laughing>…

What are your scariest presentation horror stories? Please share!

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