Unless your presentation hiccup caused the end of the world, it's not worth beating yourself up about it (illustration by Marco Casalvieri)
You worked your ass off and it seems all was for nothing.
You got your goals right, your audience analysis was on the mark, you chose the appropriate theme and interesting, relevant stories, your slides were colorful and relevant, you practiced until your nose bled and nailed the performance on the stage. You put countless hours into the thing to make sure that your audience gets the biggest bang for their time. You smiled and what's more, you thanked that man who started bitching about an irrelevant subtopic that you knew was not even connected to your presentation.
And you loved the audience with all your heart, hell, you fucking loved even that troublemaker for taking the time and energy to try to destroy you on the stage.
And you failed, so it seems. You didn't get the nod to try out your new idea, the group didn't take the course you suggested, you got no love back from the decision makers. The chilled champagne still served its original purpose, but for all the wrong reasons.
No matter how professional we are, how much experience we have or how much we love what we do, failing is natural. Sometimes we cause it, sometimes the circumstances, sometimes something that are totally out of our control (giving a presentation to a group of bankers as the stock exchange comes crashing down… good luck there getting a cheerful message across). We might even run into a presentation-from-hell, a pure disaster of an event, when everything and everybody seems to concentrate on one thing only – to eradicate us from the face of this planet.
Let's face it, failure can bring us down, physically, mentally, emotionally. It might even erect mental walls in our minds as we dwell on the "Hows" and "Whys", the "What if" and the "Why me".
Everybody deals with failure in different ways and I don't have the perfect answer either. The only real suggestion that you can take to heart from this piece of writing is: Don't listen to me. Listen to yourself. Only you know yourself so much as to come up with the perfect way to deal with a presentation disaster.
Then again, maybe I can be some help.
#1 – It will make a great story
Work-related disasters make for awesome stories later on – when it's all behind you and you are ready to have a laugh about how stupid you/the circumstances/the presentation was. No matter what hiccup happens during your next speech, you can always go into story-mode and tell about some other disasters you experienced as you/the staff tries to solve the problem.
#2 – You always learn from it
Maybe next time you'll practice more (or actually practice). Maybe you'll think harder about your story. Maybe you won't stay out partying away the night before. Maybe you won't let the uninterested or hostile looks get in your way of delivering the best you are capable of. Maybe you'll take the time and check your gear 30 minutes before your speech and not 3 minutes before it.
Maybe next time you learn to let go of the bitter feeling in your heart that is called failure. Maybe you won't think about it for days and weeks and instead get back to doing the work.
#3 – Review and correct
Ask some basic questions, such as:
What went wrong?
Was it within your control or outside of it?
What can you do about it today, tomorrow and the next time you present?
#4 – Love yourself
There's no need to beat yourself up about a presentation that went south. If human civilization didn't collapse or nobody died, then it will be okay.
#5 – The mercenary attitude
A mercenary is someone who is hired for a job, he gets the job done, he gets paid and he goes home.
If you are positive and sure that there was no way you could've done things better and the circumstances were totally out of your control, then take the mercenary attitude
This is one of my favorites – essentially the "fuck it, it's done, let's move on" attitude.
It's the opposite of the perfectionist attitude i.e. "Unless it's 100% perfect, it doesn't count as a success". Consequently it's also the best remedy for perfectionists.
+1 – Love the work
I sometimes get intense headaches after a major presentation. These are the culmination of all the work and love I put into them. They signify the fact that I've done my job. It hurts and I love it.
You do this because you love presenting and because you desire to inspire other people. Failures and even disasters are natural and they are part of what you do. They happen. Love the whole package, not just the success and joy it gives you.
In the end, love the work. Give your presentation. Change their world.