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Lessons Learned Case #3

Bringing Storytelling Down the Technology Highway and Back

Author/contributor: Ken Wheaton

Applicable to: People, Process and Technology Alignment; Presentations; Storytelling

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Story: In 2010 Art Murray and I were asked to do a presentation at the Special Libraries Association’s annual conference in New Orleans. It was based on our article published in KMWorld magazine titled “Rise of the Knowledge Librarian” about my experiences spearheading the transformation of a traditional corporate library into a center of knowledge and innovation. The article garnered worldwide attention in the library/information science profession and has been cited in articles, presentations, books and even on some websites. In the presentation I would tell my transformation story with Art bringing in the knowledge management connection.

This was my first presentation at a major conference and I had some big lessons to learn. Being very visual, I thought it would be a great idea to tell my story with a series of photos and diagrams using a technology like PowerPoint. I created a basic outline and then designed the PowerPoint pages around it. Over a period of weeks, I developed and practiced my portion of the presentation using the pictures and diagrams to illustrate my main points. The night before the presentation Art and I combined our material in PowerPoint. It was a bit long (80+ slides) but we were very happy with the final product.

On the day of the presentation, we did a quick run through without the projector. When setting up for the presentation, after the computer was connected to the projector we encountered a major problem. None of our slides were showing on the big screen. I thought I might be able to proceed anyway; however, I was not prepared for how to discuss the diagrams without the audience being able to see them on the screen. No white boards or easel were present so I was caught in the technology trap in a big way. We were unable to find someone for technical assistance. Twenty minutes after the scheduled start of the presentation I was certain it was over. Then, right out of the front row, a colleague offered her small laptop. We quickly tested it out and it appeared to work. We decided to go on with the show. As I proceeded with my portion of the presentation, a few slides still would not display on the big screen. It was hard to say why, possibly differences in software and formats. I was entangled more deeply in the technology trap when one of the key slides for a new concept we were introducing wouldn’t display. I was lucky; with Art’s years of experience in presenting, he was able to keep the presentation moving. Due to the delay in starting, we also had to cut the presentation short to leave time for questions.

Setting (situational context):
  • Date and time: Summer 2010
  • People and their roles: Art Murray and Ken Wheaton as presenters.
  • Place: SLA annual conference, New Orleans, LA
Problem (symptoms/observations, why it’s a problem and the impact if not solved): Overcoming problems in the presentation. Remember that in People, Process and Technology, the first two need to be about 80% of the event.

Goal (challenge): Be flexible and have alternate plans or technologies should the original technology fail.

Root cause (of the problem/challenge and how it was determined): Technology dependent and not allowing for unanticipated problems (i.e. difference in software and formats). Technical help was also not available when needed.

Solution (action taken and how it came about): Always have a back-up plan ready, using technology only as an enhancement and not as the main tool to help lead you though a presentation.

Outcome (the end result and its impact): Since that time. I have used white boards, easels or large post-it notes as backup technologies when needed. I have also memorized keywords to help in remembering the order of telling a story.

Analysis (what worked and why, what didn’t work and why):

Cautions/warnings: Never be completely dependent on technology for a presentation. In any presentation or event always use the proper alignment of “People, Process and Technology” and in that order. The people are the audience and the presenters. Processes are how you will tell the story, teach or present it and what process is necessary to get the message across. The technology is just a tool if needed to help enhance the processes of delivering the message to the people.

Lesson (moral of the story, guidelines, rules, recommendations): When designing a presentation use computer technology as an enhancement and never be totally dependent on it.

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