When You’re Right In the Middle Of Failure


I was about to deliver my presentation on preparing and delivering presentations when my MacBook just couldn’t get the projector to work with it. One guy from the audience started making comments about using a Windows laptop instead of a MacBook so we switched to one but still without any luck (that proved that it wasn’t a MacBook problem but that of the projector) After almost 3 minutes of trying, I told everyone that I would just skip the slides and proceed with the presentation.

People who have seen me deliver presentations know how engaging my slide decks are because of the amount of effort I put in to preparing a presentation. Everything I do is intentional: from the story line that ties up everything included in my presentation to the font type and color pallet I choose for the slides. The worst part of this is that I am delivering a presentation about presentations and I’m stuck with literally nothing. Prior to going on stage, I was rehearsing my presentation with the slide deck that I will be using. With very limited time, I even rehearsed the stories that I wanted to tell and removed those that weren’t relevant. But when I felt the audience started to feel a bit uneasy waiting for my presentation, I just went ahead without the materials that I was supposed to use.

Most presenters have been in this kind of situation. But, as I commonly say, failure is a state of mind. Whether you’re in the middle of a presentation that’s about to go south or in a middle of a crisis, what you do determines whether or not the outcome will still be a failure. Here are several things to keep in mind when you’re i the middle of a failure situation.

  1. Recognize that it is happening. Reality bites but we need to face it whether we like it or not. We need to recognize failure as it is happening so we can assess the situation and think of what possible ways can we drive it around to a full turn. When both my MacBook and the Windows laptop didn’t work with the projector, I knew I had to ditch all of the hard work and effort that I have put in to prepare my presentation.
  2. Quickly think of an alternative. It’s hard to think of an alternative without recognizing that failure is happening. Once we’ve recognize it, immediately switch to problem solving mode. My alternative was one that does not need anything other than me. So, I told the audience that I will be proceeding with my presentation without slides.
  3. Include others in the process. I’ve seen the other presenters before me so I immediately used them in my opening lines. Since the audience has already seen them before me, they will be able to relate to what I am about to say. I used the two previous presenters as examples to drive a point and that made a whole lot of sense to the audience.
  4. Tap into your soul. Your experience, your character and your values provide more meaning to who you are. That’s what others see in you. Use it to your advantage as you navigate away from the failure that is currently happening. I’ve almost memorized my presentation because I’ve delivered it a few times now. But that’s not important to me at that point. What’s important is that the audience will still be inspired to become great presenters after seeing me struggle with the projector issue. I told them a story about my presentation at a SQLSaturday event in New York City about failover clustering but wrapping the presentation around the story of 9-11. Everyone remembers 9-11 so the audience understood how powerful the presentation was even without being there. My experience about delivering a previous presentation was what I used to drive another main point in my presentation.
  5. Realize that you just turned a failure into a success. Failures only stay that way if we don’t learn from them. The biggest impact that a failure can have on anybody is when the very object of failure is what moved them to become successful. After navigating thru the depths of failure towards success, you can pat yourself on the back for doing a great job. That’s another item on the failure list that you can use as an example for success.

After my presentation, one of the attendees approached and thanked me for doing a great job delivering the presentation. I was a bit reluctant to accept it because I knew at the back of my head that I could have done better. What she said to me after wards is what really struck me. Despite all of the problems with the projectors and computers, she remembered the three most important things in my presentation: the goal of delivering a presentation is to educate, entertain and to encourage.

You can find a copy of my “undelivered” presentation slide on SlideShare for your reference.

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