Last Thursday I gave the worst presentation of my life. I wish I were exaggerating for the sake of this blog, but I’m not. I was truly awful.
I was showing work I’m proud of and talking about new concepts we’re excited about but I wasn’t scoring any points with the people sitting across the table. My audience just stared at me.
When I finished the main part of the presentation and opened the floor to questions and answers, the request I got was, “show me more.”
So I brought out more samples and plunged in anew and went through more great work and more successful campaigns. And what I got back were more cold stares. Again I asked what else they’d like to see and again I was told, “show me more.”
So I dove in one more time and started discussing another concept we’d come up with a while ago. This idea seemed to pique my audience’s interest so I searched for the Keynote on my laptop and went into more depth. But truth be told, I was so flustered at this point that I didn’t even honor my audience’s rising enthusiasm and just plowed through the pitch.
I had blown it and I knew it. Felt it, too. Hate to admit that I can be so thin-skinned but the rest of Thursday sucked. My morning jog didn’t clear my head. Friday sucked as well.
Saturday morning I got up early and set out on my long run. You can start shaking your collective heads now and save this blog post as evidence for when my wife tries to Baker Act me but there’s nothing like a long, sweaty, and even uncomfortable run to knock the blues out of me.
At exactly 10.84 miles on my miraculous Garmin wrist computer my body started screaming. My left hamstring reminded me that even though I don’t think I’m a year older than 28, my muscles are 53 and a half. My right knee reminded me of that ski trip back in 1977 with my friends Marvin and Anna and Barbara when I tore my meniscus. And my lower back said it was sick and tired of all the pounding, too.
To get through the discomfort I started doing exactly what I didn’t want to do on my run. I started picking apart the poor presentation I had given on Thursday. Reviewing the proceedings didn’t help the pain go away but it did distract me a bit.
And that’s when it hit me! When my audience said, “show me more,” they didn’t mean for me to show them more work because that work is the past; it’s ancient history. What they wanted to see was the future. They wanted to know what we were going to do for them next. And when they did get excited about one of the later ideas I showed, I was too busy presenting what I was interested in to stop and further explore the things they were interested in.
The realization stopped me in my tracks (okay, okay, so did my left hamstring). I didn’t screw up the presentation because I didn’t speak well; I screwed up the presentation because I didn’t listen well. Whether it was listening with my ears or listening with my eyes or even listening with my sixth sense, I was just too damn busy paying attention to me to pay attention to them. Their silence should have clearly communicated their disinterest— and it probably did. I just wasn’t paying attention.
One of the reasons I enjoy making presentations so much is that it’s one of the few times that I’m fully engaged. There’s no iPhone, iPad or iMac distracting me, and the stakes of being up in front of people and sharing what I know and care about is important enough to keep me focused. And knowing that it will take my full concentration to be ready to answer the next random question focuses me, too. It might not be Yoga but it works for me.
But what I’ve also learned is that sometimes that intensity of focus can blind us to the things we need to pay rapt attention to. Ironic, perhaps, but critical, whether you’re listening to your body or your audience. Even more ironic because the first rule of my latest book, Building Brand Value, is All About Them.
“People care most about things that affect them. In order to reach them you need to communicate in a way that tells them what’s in it for me?”
I wrote it. I know it. I believe it. I preach it. Apparently, sometimes I just don’t quite do it.
So where’s the positive conclusion, the silver lining, the valuable take-away lesson? How does this week’s article leave us all feeling good? As my associate, Gual, wrote when I asked for his early opinion on this piece, “…although we are all humans and vulnerable, and fail at some point, we can redeem ourselves by taking the good from the bad.”
I take that to mean that even though I may or may not get another shot at this piece of business, I certainly won’t make the same mistake again. And I believe that if you’ve read this far, that you’re smart enough to learn from my mistake, too. And that’s gotta be a whole lot easier way to learn the lesson.