If TED can FAIL, so can YOU!

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What presenters and event organizers can learn from the technical glitches at the recent TED 2015: Truth and Dare in Vancouver.

When TED releases a new talk, especially the ones recorded at the “official” TED conferences like the one that is going on now in Vancouver, what you see is an engaging, polished and very well rehearsed talk delivered through a crystal clear HD video, with sharp audio, slides on cue and seamless transitions. You get the full deal.


What happens live at a TED conference may be different.

On the kind invitation of red onion and Stefan Balzer, the organizer of TEDxBerlin, I had the chance to watch two sessions of TED: Truth and Dare unravel live before my eyes.

Watching TED as it happens is something special. There is the anticipation about the next talk, the next speaker, there is the (carefully planned) sensory and cognitive overload of watching talks back to back, there is the cultural shock and awe of seeing a topic from multiple unusual point of views in a very short time.

I love TED. And in the two sessions I got to watch the mind-bending talk from David Eagleman about new sensing devices (now already online), witnessed the empathetic talk from geometric artist Jason Padgett and enjoyed the special perspective of Daniel Kish on the world we see.

It happened a few times that in transitioning from one talk to the other, **the “clicker” to change slides would be lost and called out for by the presenters. **Even TED curator, Chris Anderson himself, had to embarrassingly ask for it at some point and wait for it to be delivered to him.

In the middle of a talk, a presenter’s wireless microphone – the cool one Lady Gaga uses – suddenly stopped working. He had to stop and wait until he was rescued with a hand -held microphone. However, you will never see THAT talk on TED.com.

Shit can happen. It can happen even to the best. Being LIVE is gruesome. I am sure that the tech team behind TED had multiple concurrent failures that were unpredictable and that they learned a new concatenation of events that they can – from next on – plan for.

I don’t think we need to stigmatize TED in any way for those failures. As an event organizer and a speaker, I have total sympathy for TED and their team. What happened to them will happen to me soon, and to other speakers and organizers.

To me, this is the telltale that making tech work around presentations is hard and needs thought. I’ve written and talked about this in the past. Here’s a few things you can do:

1. Have backup systems: backup clickers, computers, microphones, beamers. It’s nearly impossible to have a backup for every system, but it’s that single point of failure that will attract all the technological bad luck in the world. So get backups.

2. Plan for failure: what is your worst case scenario? Will your event still succeed if presenters have no working beamer and no microphone? Brief all the people involved with a plan to follow in case of failure. For instance: often it’s best to present without slides, rather than having the audience wait for you to fix the projector or the reboot your computer.

3. Know your tech: I am a technologist at heart (well also a humanist) and I love all these shiny and black pieces of metal, plastic and glass that make our modern world tick. Learn how they work! I’ve also created a presentation with the minimum knowledge that each presenter should have.


As a bonus I’ve collected a number of tricks and keyboard shortcuts you MUST KNOW in a comprehensive cheat sheet. You can download it here.

download cheat sheet

If the best can FAIL, so can you. Plan ahead, know your tech.

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