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Yesterday I presented at the DMI Seattle conference and I bombed. As Scott wisely points out: “Everyone is polite and tells [speakers] they were great, even when they bombed.” You know when you bomb. [edit] In truth, it was not horrible, but it was not great either. I haven’t received any feedback so it is also hard to tell. My point is, if you feel it didn’t go well, no amount of reassurance will convince you otherwise. [/edit]

I was meant to give a talk sharing my story growing the UXD practice at Comcast for the past many years. I was excited to do this because I felt it could be useful to new managers and because it would help me be diligent about reflecting on that journey, which I wanted to do but had had difficulty committing to. Also, the timing was perfect. So what went wrong?

Bad choices all around

Things that contributed to the failed presentation:

* I was sick and feeling quite ill. 
I contracted a powerful stomach bug from something iffy I ate the night before. Cold sweats and trembling do not inspire confidence in your audience. I had also been on a panel the prior day and had already set an expectation with the audience on what my delivery style and energy level were. I could not live up to my normal. 

* I was intensely tired.
Because I was actively fighting the stomach bug all night long, I was unable to sleep and felt like my brain was in a haze. I was prepared and know the topic deeply, but I had a really difficult time recalling the order in which I had decided to expose the material and which specific points I wanted to make. The cues in my notes triggered nothing. It felt like having memory hiccups. Also, when I am excessively tired, English, my second language, doesn’t flow as well from my lips and I unknowingly omit words mid-sentence. I can’t hear it as it happens, but I know that must have happened.

* I took on unnecessary technical risks.
I prepared my presentation using OpenOffice and on my Dell Mini laptop. It was great for preparing but proved a poor choice when the projector refused to recognize my computer and the presentation would not display appropriately on PowerPoint on the computer I borrowed. All this happened 30 minutes before the presentation. I should not have experimented with non-standard technology since the visual aid was important, but not testing in advance in the final delivery space and setup is, always, a huge mistake (and I know better). Also, I did not have a plan B. Unnecessary anxiety piled on at the worst of times.

* I didn’t synthesize the story well.
This presentation did help me reflect on this journey as I wanted. I was able to gain perspective on the story in a way I had not seen it before. Unfortunately, I diverged too widely in analysis and ended up with less time to synthesize what I found into a cohesive story. I was sufficiently happy with where things were and it would still have been ok if the above factors had not added up, but they did, so the outcome was mediocre when contrasted with what I knew could have been done. Had I worked more on reducing it further to its essence, I could have managed the other issues better.

* Timing was disrupted.
Never allow external arbitrary inputs to break your planned delivery rhythm. Editing and being more concise in language on the fly are very doable, but only when you are feeling very comfortable in the flow of the presentation. I wasn’t comfortable, obviously, so when I was asked to wrap it up, I couldn’t figure out how and conclusion was completely derailed, which made the story seem like it did not have a real end.

I can’t have a do-over, so I’m going to re-craft this presentation and look for opportunities to give this talk elsewhere to see if I can tell the story I actually wanted to tell.


Paul Kimball said,

June 27, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

I can’t argue with your personal experience, or the lessons you took from them, but as a very interested audience member I strongly disagree with your conclusion that you bombed. You content was very relevant for me personally, and I think you had tons of interesting observations to share. Was it perfect? No, surely not. But lack of perfection is not failure. And that doesn’t mean I’m being overly polite or obsequious, it just means I held you to a different standard than the one you held yourself to. Don’t take it so hard! (That said, I’d surely love to hear your presentation the way you INTENDED it to be heard, since the one I heard was very good as it was.)


Livia said,

June 27, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

Thank you Paul, that is very kind of you to say so. I appreciate you taking the time to leave that note. I’ll be sure to let you know should the opportunity come up!


Paul Kali said,

June 30, 2011 @ 12:18 am

My pastor and friend who attended the conference (Philip) loved the talk you gave. And its not a lie : )

He is a professor of Finance and he said he learned a lot and was impressed. Hehe


megan finaly said,

July 2, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

You have to make the presentation again! And do it soon. You will feel so much better. You can do it!


J. B. Rainsberger said,

July 3, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

I empathise. I have run a half-day tutorial while food poisoning was taking over my body. I have also made a long list of mistakes like this in a single presentation.

I hope you can already laugh at it. If you can’t now, then you will be able to soon.


Austin Govella said,

July 15, 2011 @ 2:09 am

You may have already picked up this tip, but just in case…

I’ve faced the same problems. My standard operating procedure now is to export my presentation as a PDF.

If the setup won’t play my presentation for some reason, I can open the PDF on any system and run through the PDF in slideshow mode. You miss transitions and interactivity, but you have all of the slides.

I also am very interested in seeing the presentation. Interaction 12 is due at the end of this month, and SXSW submissions are open now. (And Idea is coming up, right?)


Mike Lin said,

July 16, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

Hi Livia,

I don’t think you bombed at all. I thought your presentation was quite good. I love the way you took us through your journey at Comcast, and the insights and lessons learned. You, especially, weren’t afraid to share lessons learned, which made the talk that much more insightful. You seemed a bit nervous…and not that I saw that you were sick, I know why. But otherwise, it was a really insightful presentation!


Livia said,

July 22, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

Thank you Mike, I appreciate the feedback.


Robert egert said,

July 24, 2011 @ 9:24 am

I present to large and small groups on a regular basis. I would describe myself as a well-peppered and confident speaker. Nonetheless about half the time I feel like I bombed. The feeling is often quite strong. But I’ve learned (and based on other comments you may have too), ones’ self reflection on performatives are often wrong.
I just wonder the reverse is true: when we leave a presentation feeling like we did a great job. Did we really bomb?


Lineu said,

September 3, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

Sou da teoria que nada substitui uma apresentação oral. Sem Power Point ou coisas parecidas. Coisa de diplomata? Pode ser.
Presto muito mais atenção em alguém falando do que um projeção numa tela.

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