July 8, 2016

I did everything wrong



I'm a veteran speaker and trainer. My own experience of almost 25 years of speaking, teaching and training, plus my background in theater, my M.A. in Education, and my ongoing study and practice of the subject of public speaking are what I base my training and coaching on, and I consider myself an expert and an authority.

So how is it possible that I made such a huge rookie mistake, just three days ago?

Here's how it went down - how I sabotaged myself from day one.

A friend had a business trip she couldn't get out of, and her UCSB Extension class was going to be without a teacher. So she asked me if I could come in and be a guest speaker, since her students will be giving several presentations over the course of the program.

First mistake: I agreed to present in her two classes - with ten days notice.

I usually ask for a month lead time before presentations, because it's important for me to prepare properly - and I do have other work to complete during that time. It's not like I take a whole entire month to prepare, but snippets of time in between clients and my own programs and admin work.

But I like to help out my friends, and I thought, "No big deal. I can just do one of the presentations I do all the time, and it'll take no time to get ready."

Second mistake: Thinking I could just use one of my presentations I do all the time.

This was a completely different audience - high school students who are prepping for college by participating in this summer program. As I began to look at my content, I realized that my Speak to Engage presentation is too business-oriented. But the other one that might have worked, my Learn to Love Speaking presentation, was out of date, too rudimentary, and didn't include enough engagement concepts. And the presentations I usually give to high school or middle school students, didn't have enough presentation concepts, only confidence-building.

So I found myself, with a day or two before the presentation, creating a hybrid of presentations - a presentation I have never given, nor practiced.

Third mistake: Not giving myself time to practice.

New presentation, no time to practice, I just imagined that I would rely on my experience. I know how much time it generally takes to get through 60-75 image-based slides, and this was a 90-minute presentation. No sweat.

Fourth mistake: Expecting technology to work at the last minute.

The morning of the presentation, I tried to export my PowerPoint into Word for my notes. I do this with every presentation; my notes consist of the sentence at the top of each slide, with a comment or two below to remind me what I want to talk about or which activity I want to do. Kind of a bulleted list of the slides. I do this more to stay on time than to give me my content, which is all in my head.

Well, for some reason, only a portion of the slide headings would export into Word. No matter what I tried, I could only get about half of the slide headings to show up, meaning that there were going to be NO NOTES.

As I said, the content is in my head, but the notes show me, visually, how much content I still have ahead of me, so I can adjust my timing.

Why was I just printing out my notes the morning of the presentation? Because I was overconfident. There, I said it. Overconfident, complacent, all those things that happen to us when we have a lot of experience and think we can get away with winging it.

So I showed up with no notes.

What was the result of all of my mistakes coming together that morning?

I ran out of time. A lot of time.

At the end of the 90 minutes, I still had ten slides to go (for me, that's about 10-15 minutes of content). I had to let the students go without having finished the presentation.

To me, this is a cardinal sin of presenting. The presentation was good. The students were engaged, and I had no trouble integrating the hybrid concepts together. But running out of time means I literally left them without an entire section of material and my closing.

Feeling like a total idiot, I headed home to prepare for the second presentation.

I removed a couple of slides that felt redundant, and went over a couple of areas where I felt I had probably gone on too long or had too much discussion.

When I returned for the second class, I nailed it. The entire presentation, with interaction and activities, with Q&A, fit perfectly into 90 minutes. This is the benefit of experience, that I could fix the presentation after one delivery, trim my stories and discussion, and make it work the second time.

But to me, that's not good enough. I still had one classroom of students who had been shortchanged.

What are the lessons from this experience?

1. Never, EVER assume that things will go as planned with too-short notice.

2. Never, EVER assume that, because you've done this a million times, you can blow off proper preparation and expect to do your best.

3. Never, EVER assume that you are such a pro that you won't do something stupid and careless and disappoint your audience (actually, I don't know if they were disappointed, but they should be).

On the positive side (because you know me, and there's always a silver lining)...

1. I did have a chance to redeem myself with the second group, and I was able to figure out how to fix the problems in time for the second presentation. Experience does play a part in situations like this, both good and bad.

2. I realized that this hybrid presentation might be perfect for a group that I'm considering working with in the next month or so. I now have a whole new offering that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't been asked to speak in these classes.

I feel that part of my job as a coach and trainer is to be totally transparent, and let you see what really goes on in the world of professional speaking. I'm not perfect, and neither are you. But if we work hard to integrate what we learn from our mistakes, we will - at least - make these mistakes less often than the rookies. And when we do make rookie mistakes, we can clean them up faster.

I'd love to hear about a rookie mistake you made that you shouldn't have made because of your vast experience. Please share in the comments!

And for more speaker/trainer transparency: 

My friend Gloria Miele, another experienced speaker and trainer, was having some confidence issues on the other end of the spectrum. Check out her post about what to do when self-doubt rears its head. 


When Self-Doubt Sneaks Up on You

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