Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An unusual sound system disaster

Is there anything worse than having a sound system with a dead microphone? There is, and I encountered it last year. For a while it seemed like my talk was going down in flames.

In January 2008 I gave a technical talk. It was for a corrosion meeting held at the ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. There were presentations in one half of the Inn ballroom all day Thursday. The wireless microphone, sound system, the laptop computer, and digital projector all worked perfectly.

My talk was the second one on Friday morning. Our chairman handed me the microphone. Just as I was about to begin speaking, we all heard another voice take over the sound system. He began with, “Welcome to the annual refinery meeting!” My microphone acted like it was turned off, and the other speaker continued by reciting their safety record. Then he began discussing production statistics.

Our chairman sent someone running down the hall for the audio-visual staff. They got our sound back after three or four minutes, but it seemed like forever to me. What could have gone wrong only on the second day?

The large ballroom had been split by a movable wall to accommodate two different meetings. On Thursday no one was using the other half of the ballroom, so their wireless microphone had been switched off. The staff had forgotten to split the sound system into two independent parts. On Friday the other half of the room started their meeting later than we did. As soon as their master wireless microphone was switched on it overrode ours, and it fed the speakers for the entire room.

Fortunately this is an uncommon situation. Unfortunately, unless you are a skilled mime, there is not much you can do about it.

It is more common to encounter an adjacent ballroom with amplified music. An accountant told me about a tax refresher course held next to a Native American Powwow. Their speaker could not compete with drums and chants. Bagpipes also are rather piercing.

In a previous post I mentioned having a projector bulb fail as I began a long technical talk. With more forethought I could have begun without using visual aids. You can too, if you have planned, written out, and outlined your introduction.

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