Ten years ago, last week, I gave what I’ve always considered my worst presentation ever.

I call it my “Lee Harvey Oswald presentation.”

The horrible experience wasn’t for lack of public speaking skills, sufficient preparation, and scouting the unusual location ahead of time. It wasn’t for not being ready with options in case something didn’t work. And it wasn’t for not having a friendly audience.

Somehow, though, none of these things saved the presentation!

Public Speaking Skills and My Worst Presentation Ever

This early Taking the NO Out of Innovation presentation was at a Chinese restaurant. I visited it a few days early to see the meeting room. The arrangement was clearly going to present a problem. The room was small and had no natural area from which to present. As a result, I brought an easel, a big pad of sticky notes, and markers in case I needed to do something different to visually communicate the main points.

The day of the presentation, the luncheon was oversold. There was hardly room to move. The projector was placed on a highboy table in the middle of everything where it blocked the view for a significant portion of the room.

Assessing the options, I decided to ditch the PowerPoint. Instead, I planned to cartoon the presentation on the big easel pads. That went fine, other than I hadn’t adequately tightened the easel legs. As I marked on the pad, the easel legs would slide toward the ground. Not wanting to stop the presentation to figure out how to the legs worked, I leaned the easel pad against the giant TV on the shelving unit behind me, attempting to use it to stabilize the paper pad.

During most of the presentation, the waiters were serving lunches, announcing the dishes (which you'll notice got more space than I did in the invitation!) they were delivering at the top of their lungs. At one point, I said aloud that it was like presenting in the middle of a bowling alley.

Photo credit: Michael Irvin

I survived the presentation, and had the opportunity to meet Michael Irvin, “The Big Idea Guy.” Michael won the creative kit door prize I gave away.

Why do I call it my Lee Harvey Oswald presentation?

After Lee Harvey Oswald was picked up by the Dallas police, they let the press interview him. At one point, he said he was waiting for someone to come forward to offer him (legal) assistance.

Throughout me fumbling with the easel, I was hoping one of the people I worked with would come forward to offer ME assistance. When I asked them later why they didn’t come up to help me, they said they didn’t want to detract from the presentation. I about fell on the floor. There was NOTHING that could have made the presentation go worse than it did!

The intriguing footnote to this story is several people attending that day have graciously said later how helpful the Taking the No Out of InNovation presentation was and how much they enjoyed it. Which just goes to show you, even if you’re completely frustrated by your temporary absence of public speaking skills, if you are earnestly trying to make it good and valuable for the audience, you have a chance of reaching them despite all the challenges.  – Mike Brown

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