Just had this conversation in Twitter — well, as much of it as the 140 char limit allows. Somebody (keeping things anonymous here — own up if you want to! :-)) said the best session at the community event WebDD was one where the presenter had trouble with his laptop and couldn’t show any demos. Not the first time I hear something like this — perhaps I wouldn’t be bothered if it was. But most community events these days seem to have one or the other such incident.

Well, I’m afraid I don’t like that sort of a statement. I totally appreciate that issue happen and you can’t be prepared for everything. It is great to be able to pick up the pieces and continue when something odd happens. And it’s interesting and even impressive to watch somebody do it well. But. When I go somewhere to do a presentation, especially if it’s more than an 8 people user group meeting, I come prepared:

  • I have my presentation materials on a USB stick.
  • I have thought about the worst-case scenario beforehand — that is, typically, losing or breaking my laptop
  • For that reason, I have everything I need on that USB stick. My source code, my PPT files, and, yes, all installers for all software I’m going to use, that could be considered non-standard, and is therefore likely absent on somebody else’s laptop.
  • If I need something larger for my presentation, like a VM on an external drive, I carry a copy of that VM. Yes, really. Why not? In many cases it’s going to fit on the USB stick these days, and a second external hard drive doesn’t cost much either.

There is very little cost involved with this sort of preparation. There is no reason, apart from thoughtlessness, why somebody would not come prepared like that. Personally I tend to carry a second laptop some of the time, for what I consider more risky situations — but that’s of course more costly and not something I would expect everybody to do.

In any case, what I’m saying is that this sort of setup and preparation helps solve issues like BSODs, even if they happen in the middle of a presentation. Not 100% of the time, no. But they will allow me to do the presentation I came for in the majority of cases, which I presume is what the attendees come to the event for. Nothing more and nothing less. And that brings me to the core of my disagreement with the statements above. Wether well prepared or not, issues sometimes come up that nobody expected. That can’t be worked around even when well prepared. Perhaps somebody tries to restore his working environment on a secondary machine and that machine turns out not to be up to the job somehow. Maybe. And he still soldiers on and manages to do a talk on his topic.

Admirable? Sure. But. Does that person deserve to be lauded as the most interesting act of the event? I don’t think so. Surely, his presentation was less perfect than it could have been without the issues. Surely, other speakers who didn’t have any trouble deserve to be mentioned before that poor guy. Because they were luckier, maybe. But also because they came to deliver a perfect presentation, and they did. In contrast to that other guy who didn’t, however much fate was involved. Surely, if you are that speaker with the perfect presentation, you want your deserved spot in the limelight. Especially if we’re talking about a community event where people are ever so slightly less professional overall, and also less used to that limelight.