January 5, 2013

Technology Epic Fail (Probably TLDR)

It has been a bit of a rough morning.

My wife and I got up at the ass-crack of dawn to attend a Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) training seminar.  She pretty much had to go because of her role as Vice President of Education for our local Toastmasters Club.

I had to go because I might be giving a presentation at the TLI.
Yep, I used the word "might" because I wasn't 100% sure I was actually giving a presentation.  About a month (or so) ago I was asked by a somebody in my club if I'd give a presentation at the TLI on Easy Speak, a popular online database for tracking Toastmaster participation.  Now this person is relatively "high up" in the organization and often gets a little more involved in other areas of the organization than what I deem appropriate.  Think more over-involved and less domineering as far as my definition of "inappropriate".

I did agree to do this presentation but I had a few questions.  First and foremost I wanted to know how long I had to present for.  Second, I wanted to know who my audience was.  My third and final question was if I would have internet access for the presentation.  The only firm answer I got was an affirmative on the internet.  Despite me asking multiple times over the course of the month I got a "maybe 45 minutes" and "Toastmasters" as a response.

It seemed clear to me that the person who had asked for me to put together a presentation was simply assisting someone else.  This was an assumption on my part, partially because I never got any solid "real" communication about my participation with the conference.

Easy Speak- Toastmaster Automation
Since I didn't know my specific audience, I had to make some assumptions.  Now I could have spent a good 20 hours putting together videos and detailed instruction sheets, but why?  I'm not even sure I'm doing this thing.  Instead I spent a couple of hours reviewing common questions I get regarding Easy Speak, and highlighting a good list of five or six things that will a) hopefully avoid a lot of frustration using Easy Speak and b) get the most bang-for-the-buck, so to speak.

Easy Speak, on some levels, is so very simple and easy, but the outward appearance makes it seem rather daunting and overwhelming.  I think if the database just had a more user-friendly interface folks would be much more willing to use it and forgiving of inevitable shortcomings.  It really is a great program and the price (free) really helps to put it over the top to many alternatives.

So now that the backstory is complete we are back to the waking up at the ass-crack of dawn.  I'm a night owl and went to bed after midnight as I usually do.  Waking up at 6:30 AM, especially during the winter, is downright painful.  I pack up my laptop, my projector, and my iPad.  My notes are on the laptop and the iPad so hopefully I can step away from the computer as needed.  We head on over to the TLI site which is the SuperValu headquarters......an awesome location for this kind of event.

Since this is a corporate headquarters you have to sign in at the security desk.  My name isn't "on the list".  While it isn't an issue with security because they knew there would be Toastmasters off of the street, this sends off a little warning sign in my head that I might not be presenting and I got up way too damned early.  Maybe this is just me, but if you have ten people presenting at a conference, even a short one like this, you'd probably expect all ten of them to show up at the conference.

We get inside and sign up at the registration desk, which is just a simple sign-in sheet to record who came and who was here for what training since that information gets reported to the national organization.  I meet someone else from my club, someone who is also presenting at the same time I am and his story jives with mine.  At this point I get to see the conference agenda and it is the first time I find out the person who asked me to present is "in charge" of all the "leadership" presentations being conducted in the second half of the TLI.  At no point did I have this information before, nor did I even suspect it.

No problem.....at this point I'm really just grumpy from it still being to early.  I find my training room and see how it is laid out.  The room is already set up for multimedia with a nice projector, easy control panel, the whole nine yards.  It is exactly what you would expect from a quality corporate meeting room.  It doesn't take me too long to hook everything up, connect to the network, and verify that I can quickly set up and get going in the short break between sessions.

Need caffiene
I skip out of the first training session to work on my introduction, which I hammer out on the iPad.  Normally I'd have been asked for, and provided, an introduction prior to the presentation.  A minor point, but something I still needed to take care of.  I spent the rest of the first session relaxing, reviewing my notes, and getting more awake and less grumpy.  Moxie Java donated some coffee and excellent cocoa powder so I had a great field-expedient mocha.

First session is over and I move in to set up......only to find I cannot get onto Easy Speak.  I try multiple open wifi signals, multiple browsers....everything I can think of.....and nothing.  A guy that works at Super Value tries the computer already connected to the media center and he cannot get it to work.  I even try connecting with my iPad.....nothing.

Evidently Easy Speak is offline.  The one time I truly need to get onto the program.....the only time I can remember in years I could not use it is right now, when I need it the most.

I'm forced to go on and talk about the program, describing what I can and showing what pictures I can.  At least two of my minor topics were covered in posts I made on the club blog.  I barely covered all of my topics because when a picture is worth a thousand words, having to speak those words eats up far too much time.

If there was anyone on the fence or a detractor to Easy Speak in the audience, I don't think this morning's performance would have done much to change their minds.  I did offer to help anyone on a more one-to-one or small group/club basis and I hope some take me up on that offer.  Easy Speak looks like a Swiss Army Knife, but most people are only going to use a few of the tools regularly.....tools that are very much better than the alternatives.  I'm hoping that people can look past the this strange package and embrace what the program can do for them.

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