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Presentation tip: They Remember the Mistakes more than the Polish

One of the reasons I love going to Mix is getting a chance to watch really world-class technical speakers.  As I watched the keynote and a few sessions this year one theme really stood out to me:  The audience seems to remember how the speaker handles their mistakes\crashes more than the content of their presentations!   Obviously it this is a pretty hard thing for a speaker to prepare for.  If you can prepaid for it, then I’d suggest avoiding it all together ;-).  So how do you prepare for the unprepareable?  It seems to me it is all about attitude. 

For me, my learning on this started when I arrived a day early for Mix.  I had a chance to talk to one of my favorite speaking coach Richard Klees.  If you have not had this guy rip you to shreds, you need to!   I had the good fortunate to have an error pop up during my talk with Richard – FireFox popped up and wanted to update the browser in the middle of my presentation.   I was clearly annoyed and frustrated by this interruption in my carefully planned flow.  Richard called me on it and strongly suggested I work on my attitude.   

I partially understood his advice, but I didn’t really internalize it until the keynote when Bill Buxton could not get his HP Touch Smart to respond. 

 

Notice how he handled this – so much grace.. I had the good fortunate of seeing this demo during a dry run the night before, so I can say with some confidence Bill got more applause with his quick wit and good humor than if he had actually been able to do the demo.

 

So that got me really thinking.. I immediately went back to Richard's advice and it started to make more sense.   Later in the keynote I was very attentively watching ScottGu’s coding demo..  My team had worked with him a lot of getting this demo just right and crisp..   and being pre-release software I was a little nervous of what bugs we might see so I was a little on the edge of my seat during this demo.  And Of course he did hit an issue, but notice how gracefully he handled it? 

 

 

Scott had been through this demo 100s of times in the previous 24-48 hours and trust me, he never saw this issue.. yet he handled it perfectly!  He came across as more real and human.  Again, I thought back to Richard's advice, I was really starting to understand…

 

Just a few hours later, I would get a chance to put into practice my new found wisdom.  I was doing 75 mins worth of demo on preview software on to of a random daily build of Win7.   Let’s see how I handled it..

 

So maybe not as good as the masters, but way better than I would have done without the active learning going on.  It is all about the presenters attitude and state of mind. 

 

 

Have you seen some great presentation failures?  How about great recoveries? 

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Brad Abrams

Brad Abrams is currently the Group Program Manager for the UI Framework and Services team at Microsoft which is responsible for delivering the developer platform that spans both client and web based applications, as well as the common services that are available to all applications. Specific technologies owned by this team include ASP.NET, Atlas and Windows Forms. He was a founding member of both the Common Language Runtime, and .NET Framework teams.

Brad has been designing parts of the .NET Framework since 1998 when he started his framework design career building the BCL (Base Class Library) that ships as a core part of the .NET Framework. He was also the lead editor on the Common Language Specification (CLS), the .NET Framework Design Guidelines, the libraries in the ECMA\ISO CLI Standard, and has been deeply involved with the WinFX and Windows Vista efforts from their beginning.

He co-authored Programming in the .NET Environment, and was editor on .NET Framework Standard Library Annotated Reference Vol 1 and Vol 2 and the Framework Design Guidelines.

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