I had an entertaining moment at this evening’s Voltaire Lecture (one of a series of annual lectures we run at the BHA) when a PowerPoint presentation went a bit wrong. Robin Ince was due to give a talk on ‘The Importance of Being Interesting’ in front of a sold-out theatre of 400 people, and just before the talk started we’d added a few extra slides to the beginning of his presentation, each containing details of an upcoming event. So the lights fall and my boss starts talking through what we’re up to, beginning by pressing the space bar to move to the second slide. But after 10s of describing the event, the presentation automatically moves on to the next slide. My boss takes this in his stride, but 10s later it does it again. This isn’t meant to be happening – it should be manually controlled. So there’s really no choice – he asks for someone to come fix it. And that would be my job. So I hop up onto the stage and walk to the lectern with the laptop, very very aware that I don’t actually know how to solve the problem.
I didn’t set up the presentation, and I don’t use PowerPoint all that much. It’s obviously not a complex issue, but I remember PowerPoint has a lot of settings in a lot of different places. Worse, the laptop is projecting to an enormous screen over my head, so I’m going to have to figure this out with 400 people watching my every click. But I figure it’s something to do with the presentation settings, and I esc back into the program and start scouting for anything that looks likely. Anyone who’s done much troubleshooting will appreciate this sensation, I think – you have a rough sense what you’re looking for, and you hope it’ll just kinda turn up. Meanwhile my boss is saying nice things about me to fill up the silence, and I get a little round of applause. But during this time I’m glancing through the menus and there’s nothing jumping out at me. Hmmm. What to do.
At which point I remember I’m standing at a lectern, with a microphone, so I ask the audience. “Powerpoint people?” This gets a laugh, and an answer. It’s enough of a hint that I spot the setting, which I change, then someone shouts out that I need to apply it to all the slides, which I do. Problem solved. Very relieved, I promptly get the hell off the stage.
That’s not a trick you can pull very often. Live hiveminds aren’t common. Still, got away with it this once.