At the risk of being called Luddites, whenever a client asks us to teach them how to use technology to enhance their speaking, we tend to start with ‘What to do when the technology fails, as it most assuredly will at some point.’ So you won’t be surprised to learn that Michael Bay’s autocue mishap had us sharpening our quills and straightening our periwigs. Here’s the link to the Samsung product launch in question:

It would be easy to poke fun at Michael Bay (and most people have), but if you’ve ever had a client paying you a hefty wedge of cash to talk about their brand, you want to get it right. Throw in a product with technical specifications that you have to be absolutely precise about, and you might feel a touch of sympathy for Michael’s decision to crash land rather than try to wing it. As Mark Twain once said, ‘It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech,’ and if you’ve ever been briefed by a message-conscious brand manager, you’ll be familiar with the feeling that the walls are closing in. Whatever you read into Michael Bay walking off the stage, it looked like panic to us.

The mistake here was to script what otherwise seems to be a soft and informal interview in the first place. The questions aren’t exactly probing, so he’d probably have answered them fine if someone hadn’t decided to micromanage the event down to the last comma. It’s not that he fluffed his words, and it’s not that he walked off: the thought that sticks is that there is something fundamentally dishonest about scripting an interview – unlike, say, the Golden Globes, which we all accept is scripted, and which had a teleprompt mishap to trip up Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie:

A Special Award should have been hastily conferred upon the runner for getting that bit of paper to them at lightening speed – and staying out of shot.

Will we remember 2014 as the year the machines began to fight back? These autocue fails could be the opening salvo in the war of the machines against their human overlords (disappointing, we had our money on self-service checkouts). If there are any humans left this time next year, Michael Bay could make a noisy action film about it.

Still, let’s look on the bright side: if the aim was to tell the world that Samsung have launched a big curved TV, they’ve achieved it. It’s hard to get a marketing message to go viral. If only Samsung had planned this, they could have won an award for it.

When a client asks for coaching on the latest technology, we always tell them that it’s a great bit of kit, but then everything is when it works properly. Don’t fear it, we say, but do have a low-tech back-up. From personal experience, it’s good to know where the paper script is, because ink never runs out of batteries.

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