Two months ago I delivered a presentation to a room full of entrepreneurs, small business owners, retirees and the like about preparing for, designing, and delivering an effective presentation. This was the first time I had presented for this particular group, and there's always opportunity to stumble when you're personally unfamiliar with an audience (though there is never a situation where there's zero chance of stumbling).
The setup and technology tests went great and I had ample time to meet the attendees as they entered the room. I already found a few allies and was confident that it was going to go well.
I introduced myself and began to address the problem we're all facing with presentations today. I had decided to ask the audience a question right off the bat. I usually don't, but I had a good feeling about this audience after meeting them as they arrived. With an easel to my back and marker in my hand ready to field the flood of answers I asked, "What do you hate most about PowerPoint presentations?"
I got crickets...
Zip. Zero. Nada. Nobody had anything to say. Gulp...
Whenever I mention to anyone, young or old, that I design PowerPoint presentations, without missing a beat they will go into a diatribe of everything they hate about PowerPoint and presentations. From boredom to presenters who read to slides with massive amouts of text - I usually have to stop them so the conversation can move on. Not this group...not this time.
Like a good teacher coaxes answers out of shy or slightly confused students, I could have and maybe should have tried to coax some responses out of them. I knew that they knew what bothered them about presentations. If they thought nothing was wrong, then they wouldn't be there.
Instead, I chose to move on. I had called an audible and put them on the spot within minutes of their arrival and it wasn't the right move. However, I wasn't going to beat myself up about it. I had plenty more to talk to them about and this presentation train wasn't getting derailed under my watch.
I deal with presentations on a daily basis, but I'm also a human. Things don't always work for me. I make mistakes too. No presenter is perfect. What I hope you learn from this is that it's not how few mistakes you make, it's how you bounce back from them. Use that negative experience and turn it into a positive, learning from it and gaining new insight into how audiences work. I now know better than to put my audience on the spot so quickly in a room full of unfamiliar people.
Also know that even if you think you're doing the right thing, it may be wrong. In ten other situations with ten other audiences maybe I would have gotten the reaction I desired, but this situation wasn't the right one. That doesn't mean you are a bad presenter or that you didn't prepare properly. Human nature is hard to predict. Learn from the experience.
This wasn't my only mishap in this presentation. I'll be back with Part 2 to cover some content and timing issues I had and what you need to take into consideration.