What to Do When Technology Fails


Technology might be the leading instigator for a plan B at events. Preparation and communication prevent many mishaps, but here’s how to respond when four common technology problems occur. Problem: The power goes out, or vital equipment doesn’t work.

  • Preparation: Develop a strong relationship with your AV provider and your venue’s IT director. Rely on them to handle the situation when a technology glitch outside of your control takes place. Sound and equipment checks are also vital to preventing a last-minute fail.
  • Plan B: Give attendees information even if you don’t have a resolution. Leaving attendees in the, ahem, dark only adds to the confusion. “Communicate to the audience what is happening—humor always works. Remind them of the times when their own laptops have crashed in the middle of the most important call or presentation,” says Midori Connolly of AVGirl Productions.

Problem: A speaker’s hardware or presentation is incompatible with the venue’s equipment.

  • Preparation: Ask about equipment needs in your speaker’s contract. Know before you arrive which laptops, tablets or projectors your speakers use or expect and what your AV team can work with. Communicate your needs to your speakers as well, including screen aspect ratios, equipment and the formats you prefer.
  • Plan B: Bring a handful of dongles—the white adaptors that connect Apple products to projectors (make sure to write your name on these little guys, as they’re hot commodities)—as well as extra slide advancers. For incompatible presentations, less-common formats can be converted into a more universal PDF.

Problem: A speaker wants to play YouTube videos or stream other media from the Internet.

  • Preparation: AV professionals refuse to stream anything online during a session. “First of all, once our computers are plugged into these professional video switching systems and projectors, it stresses the graphics drivers more than normal operating conditions,” says Connolly. “Taxing the system is bad enough, but Murphy’s AV Law will inevitably make the Internet fail right when the video is about to play.” Require all presenters to send you—and bring with them—hard files of every video or multimedia that might be used during their presentation. Ask the staff for an audio feed in every classroom for the speaker who decides to show a last-minute video.
  • Plan B: Download any YouTube videos to your computer using keepvid.com and bring extra flash drives to transfer last-minute files to your AV team, advises Connolly.

Problem: Lighting needs are unclear, or conditions change mid-presentation.

  • Preparation: Find out if speakers expect to leave the stage and walk around, or if they plan to ask the audience for a show of hands. Raising the house lights or quickly adapting a follow spot or cameras is not a quick switch. Classrooms can have different needs as well. “I have repeatedly seen breakouts where the projectors were underpowered because the rooms needed full lighting for a classroom setting, so the content on-screen was almost impossible to see,” says Connolly.
  • Plan B: As with all technology mishaps, be flexible and remain calm. Think on your feet and hope the team you hired is able to as well.