I was speaking on How to Make Presentations to Councils and Boards to a conference in southern Arizona the other day. Each participant was to receive a workbook containing some exercises. I had carefully proof-read the material. The person at the training broker had proofed it. The material was then sent off to a print shop. It was at that point when things became interesting.
Despite the pdf format, quite a few pages had been messed up in the electronic transmission. As a result, I learned a couple of hours before the presentation that the workbooks had flaws.
At another time in my life, that would have been very frustrating. I won't pretend that I didn't take a deep breath. If one is speaking on how to assemble widgets and there is a workbook problem, it may be less of an embarrassment than when the topic is on making presentations. Such things are supposed to be perfect, right?
But this also was a marvelous exercise in being able to roll with the punches. What do you do when the PowerPoint fails, the flip chart falls apart, the room is not set up or, as happened later in the presentation, the electricity goes out?
It was relatively easy to decide not to use the workbooks. Had I done so, the multiple glitches would have been a pebble in the shoe for both me and the audience. I briefly fessed up to the situation at the start of the presentation and noted that in place of the workbooks, the participants would be sent a copy of the book. The key point then was to make the presentation as compelling as possible.
At the back of my mind was a truth: The audience wants the speaker to succeed. We all like the underdog. Watching someone overcome an obstacle adds a bit of drama provided it is done with confidence. As the presentation proceeded, it became apparent that the workbook was far less important than the presentation itself. In some parts of the program, not having the workbook may have even been an improvement.
A major lesson was reaffirmed: Don't drive with a flat tire. Fix or scrap the problem area entirely rather than trying to work around it. You'll have a fresh start and the audience will appreciate it.