Being prepared for computer failure; Issue #183 April 21, 2009

PowerPoint Tip: Being prepared for computer failure

Last month I had an experience that I wish you never have - my computer operating system got corrupted. Of course, this happened a few days before I flew to Los Angeles to do a post-conference workshop at an association conference. I caused the problem by disconnecting an external hard drive while the computer was hibernated without properly ejecting the drive first. You have probably been told not to do this with USB flash drives, trust me, heed the warnings.

I am pretty much back to full speed with my laptop, so I can now share the lessons I learned from going through this experience. Lesson #1 is to always have a full backup of your system. I have an automatic image backup run every morning while I get ready and have breakfast. An image backup allows me to recover everything, including the operating system, if the hard drive crashes. I also use an online backup system that saves any changed data files every few minutes during the day so that my data is always safe. So I knew I had some place to start from when I realized I had to rebuild my machine from the OS on up.

Lesson #2 is to build relationships with experts you can turn to when you have problems. I am very lucky that my brother is a technical expert and was able to give me valuable advice on what may be wrong and what potential scenarios we were looking at. One of his suggestions is my third lesson. Have easy access to all your program disks or files. I already had all my operating system and program CDs in a filing cabinet, but he suggested that I organize all downloaded programs into sub-folders in a master folder called Source. Now I can use the backup of that one folder to restore any program easily. I prioritized what programs were essential to have for the presentation and trip and focused on getting those running. All other programs could wait until later.

Lesson #4 is to have a plan B. If you have an important presentation coming up, make sure you implement a contingency plan. Copy your presentation file and any other linked files or media content onto a USB flash drive. In another computer, test that the presentation works the way you want it to. Yes, test every slide and hyperlink to make sure. Be prepared to borrow or rent a laptop if needed. I hope you never need to use your contingency plan, but it is far better to have thought it out in advance instead of hoping you make the right decisions in the heat of the moment.

As I said at the start, I hope you never have to go through this sort of experience. But for those who make high stakes presentations, these lessons will help you be prepared for when technology fails you. If you run into a minor issue, such as the projector not displaying your screen, check out the solutions at, a site that is easily viewed on a smartphone (bookmark it so you have easy access when a presentation problem comes up).