Be it academia or industry, if you work in a lab you will be used to the much feared e-mail titled “important visitors, set up demo”. This is the kind of e-mail that simultaneous means that work is about to grind to a halt and that your work load is about to double.
‘Important visitors’ is a phrase that covers basically anyone that someone with a higher pay grade than you is interested in impressing. So this typically includes investors, possible collaborators, senior management, and senior management’s kids doing work experience.
The first step is to tidy up. No-one can ever know that a working lab often has half-built experiments and piles of notes in it, that would ruin the illusion of a lab looking like equipment brochures. Tidying up also includes all the health and safety violations which need to be temporarily hidden because again, that would ruin the illusion that all labs perfectly follow health and safety guides. Basically, the key here is that important visitors can on no account see a real working lab.
Once it’s tidy you need to go about building your demo. As you are a working research lab and don’t normally just keep presentation equipment around, more than likely you are going to have to assemble the demo from an actual working experiment. Try not to cry into the parts as you disassemble your latest experiment.
On the big day itself don’t forget to dress to impress. Don’t wear any of the clothing you would normally wear while working in the lab. Find something in your wardrobe that suits you the least while also being impractically uncomfortable.
Now everything in place and the lab is looking nothing like it normally does, you are ready for the very important visitors… who will arrive late. This happens for two reasons, firstly they are important people and important people need impressing so doubtless whoever invited them has packed their schedule with an impossible number of things to see. I mean, if they didn’t manage to spend 5mins seeing your company’s world class seminar room their day might be ruined.
So somewhat inevitably they will be overrunning about 2mins into the schedule and you’ll be left waiting with absolutely no idea of when they might suddenly appear. Although don’t whip out Candy Crush as the second you look either bored or like you’re playing games that’s when the door will un-expectantly open and reveal your visitors. Try hard not to look like a rabbit caught in headlights.
Now comes the summoning of the dark daemon of demos. This is a concept that I first read in a Dilbert comic and is, after countless demos, not superstition but a cold hard fact. In setting up a demo you will almost certainly accidentally enact all the steps to summon a malevolent daemon who will then do everything possible to screw up all your plans.
It doesn’t matter how rock solid a demo you have created or how many times you have run and tested it, you can be very sure that somewhere some small part will make an ominous *plink* sound as it fails the second you try to do your demo in front of your visitors.
There’s no easy solution to this, just be sure you have lots of very good reasons for it failing before you even start, because it’s going to fail – just accept it and try not to turn beet red when everyone looks at you expectantly as the flames lick up the side of the prototype.