phoenixIf any of you were at the Nottingham Technet event last week, you were a witness to probably the worst crash and burn I have ever suffered during a live presentation.  I had put quite a lot of work into the presentation, believe it or not, and I had planned some 50 minutes of demo during my 75 minute session.  As a bookend to my death by powerpoint tips post, I thought I might share the horror of the experience with you and how I picked myself up after it. 

The day I died

No disrespect to the 400 strong Nottingham audience but they weren't the most responsive we'd ever presented to (until the Q&A which went really well).  Having started off with some jokey preamble, I got zero response.  Nothing.  No laughs.  Tumbleweed blew past.  The bell tolled.  I was already on edge.  Perhaps telling my "techies are like manure" gag might not have been the most sensitive but I was getting desperate.  Nothing.  I was dying on stage.  Oh well, cut to the demo.

The first thing in my demo of SharePoint is the creation of a new website.  Site settings, create new site, few details, hit OK.  Unfortunately, I forgot to the vital radio button selection of "use unique permissions".  that meant the site was set up ok but not with the right credentials.  I then logged on as an administrator but because I wasn't actually set up as an admin, the whole screen was different.  None of the options I was expecting were there.  I was panicing badly now.  I staggered through some of the first demo and probably didn't completely foul everything up but it was ropey at best. 

Back to slides <phew> and the intro to the next section on content management, that went ok.  back to demo..

Except I then realised the next demo was about BI not ECM and I'd just introduced the wrong demo.  I apologised, tried to go back to the slides to do the right intro but got all out of order and confused.  The BI demo crashed and burned so badly.  I was in a state of total white fear now, I could not remember the script, I selected all the wrong options and the wrong lists.  The whole thing was falling down around my ears.  Long periods of uncomfortable silence with frantic clicking was not making things better.  I was running out of time as well.

back to slides.. now totally out of order.. gave up on that .. back to demo.. but now I'd lost it and could not remember what to do.  I blanked.  I froze. 

To be honest I can't really remember what happened next.  I think I waffled on about some stuff and got off the stage as fast as possible.  It had been a total car crash of a presentation and my confidence as a presenter was in tatters.

Recovering from a presentation death

The next day I could hardly face coming to work.  I give presentations every day and I like to think I'm good at my job but it felt as if I could never face an audience again.  If you are relating to this, I hope my tips for recovering are helpful to you:

  • Don't read the feedback.  I know I sucked.  I do not need to read all the inevitable negative comments from the session feedback.  I made a decision to avoid all of the feedback for the Nottingham event. 
  • Have a beer and watch top gear.  Which is what I did that night.  I was too desolate to analyse it so I didn't.  Instead I slept on it and decided to think about it in the morning.
  • Talk to people who still believe in you.  Not blatantly seeking compliments but hanging out with people who reminded me that one bad presentation does not make me useless forever more was good for my self esteem.  Presenting takes a lot of confidence, when that is shattered, your friends help to rebuild you.
  • Get back on the horse.  I spent the rest of the day preparing for another presentation which i delivered the next day.  To be honest, it was a friendly audience but I did a different, still complicated, demo there.  That went well and that helped a lot and seemed to recharge the emotional energy banks a bit.  I then got to work on rebuilding my session for the Bristol technet event today.  I cut all the interim slides and started streamlining the demos. 
  • Practice.  I practiced the demos every day, several times until I knew them very well.  On the day, today, I did my first demo in Phil's intro and then went straight to the speaker room and ran through the full session demo immediately before my session so it was very fresh in my mind.

The resurrection and the life

Today I think I was back on form.  Contrary to James' comment after his session- it's a matter of professional pride - my intro demo was bang on schedule (i did not overrun :-) ) and the main session I ran precisely to time, ending 2 minutes early.  Nothing went wrong at all - one little Excel crash but that was not critical.  My rebuilt vhds were slick and worked faultlessly.  I went easy on the jokey start but as I warmed up I got a bit sillier and the audience was very warm to us today. 

Crashing and burning on stage is not fun.  But it keeps us humble and real.  If this happens to you, remember it is all part of learning to present and in the end it makes you better.  I want to apologise to the Nottingham crowd.. sorry you had to experience this.. I will record my demos on the blog so you see how they should have looked :-)  Thanks also to the Bristol crowd for being friendly and helping me on the road to recovery.