When presentations go wrong and how to recover afterwards

phoenixIf any of you were at the Nottingham Technet event last week, you were a witness to probably the worst crash and burn I have ever suffered during a live presentation.  I had put quite a lot of work into the presentation, believe it or not, and I had planned some 50 minutes of demo during my 75 minute session.  As a bookend to my death by powerpoint tips post, I thought I might share the horror of the experience with you and how I picked myself up after it. 

The day I died

No disrespect to the 400 strong Nottingham audience but they weren't the most responsive we'd ever presented to (until the Q&A which went really well).  Having started off with some jokey preamble, I got zero response.  Nothing.  No laughs.  Tumbleweed blew past.  The bell tolled.  I was already on edge.  Perhaps telling my "techies are like manure" gag might not have been the most sensitive but I was getting desperate.  Nothing.  I was dying on stage.  Oh well, cut to the demo.

The first thing in my demo of SharePoint is the creation of a new website.  Site settings, create new site, few details, hit OK.  Unfortunately, I forgot to the vital radio button selection of "use unique permissions".  that meant the site was set up ok but not with the right credentials.  I then logged on as an administrator but because I wasn't actually set up as an admin, the whole screen was different.  None of the options I was expecting were there.  I was panicing badly now.  I staggered through some of the first demo and probably didn't completely foul everything up but it was ropey at best. 

Back to slides <phew> and the intro to the next section on content management, that went ok.  back to demo..

Except I then realised the next demo was about BI not ECM and I'd just introduced the wrong demo.  I apologised, tried to go back to the slides to do the right intro but got all out of order and confused.  The BI demo crashed and burned so badly.  I was in a state of total white fear now, I could not remember the script, I selected all the wrong options and the wrong lists.  The whole thing was falling down around my ears.  Long periods of uncomfortable silence with frantic clicking was not making things better.  I was running out of time as well.

back to slides.. now totally out of order.. gave up on that .. back to demo.. but now I'd lost it and could not remember what to do.  I blanked.  I froze. 

To be honest I can't really remember what happened next.  I think I waffled on about some stuff and got off the stage as fast as possible.  It had been a total car crash of a presentation and my confidence as a presenter was in tatters.

Recovering from a presentation death

The next day I could hardly face coming to work.  I give presentations every day and I like to think I'm good at my job but it felt as if I could never face an audience again.  If you are relating to this, I hope my tips for recovering are helpful to you:

  • Don't read the feedback.  I know I sucked.  I do not need to read all the inevitable negative comments from the session feedback.  I made a decision to avoid all of the feedback for the Nottingham event. 
  • Have a beer and watch top gear.  Which is what I did that night.  I was too desolate to analyse it so I didn't.  Instead I slept on it and decided to think about it in the morning.
  • Talk to people who still believe in you.  Not blatantly seeking compliments but hanging out with people who reminded me that one bad presentation does not make me useless forever more was good for my self esteem.  Presenting takes a lot of confidence, when that is shattered, your friends help to rebuild you.
  • Get back on the horse.  I spent the rest of the day preparing for another presentation which i delivered the next day.  To be honest, it was a friendly audience but I did a different, still complicated, demo there.  That went well and that helped a lot and seemed to recharge the emotional energy banks a bit.  I then got to work on rebuilding my session for the Bristol technet event today.  I cut all the interim slides and started streamlining the demos. 
  • Practice.  I practiced the demos every day, several times until I knew them very well.  On the day, today, I did my first demo in Phil's intro and then went straight to the speaker room and ran through the full session demo immediately before my session so it was very fresh in my mind.

The resurrection and the life

Today I think I was back on form.  Contrary to James' comment after his session- it's a matter of professional pride - my intro demo was bang on schedule (i did not overrun πŸ™‚ ) and the main session I ran precisely to time, ending 2 minutes early.  Nothing went wrong at all - one little Excel crash but that was not critical.  My rebuilt vhds were slick and worked faultlessly.  I went easy on the jokey start but as I warmed up I got a bit sillier and the audience was very warm to us today. 

Crashing and burning on stage is not fun.  But it keeps us humble and real.  If this happens to you, remember it is all part of learning to present and in the end it makes you better.  I want to apologise to the Nottingham crowd.. sorry you had to experience this.. I will record my demos on the blog so you see how they should have looked πŸ™‚  Thanks also to the Bristol crowd for being friendly and helping me on the road to recovery. 

Comments (20)
  1. Alex says:

    Hi Darren, glad to hear it went well today, thought it would.

  2. I was at the Nottingahm event. These things happen and Microsoft don’t help because they insist on the feedback! Anyway, I thought you had a good Q&A session, if that’s any consolation! Brave of you to come out and say it on your blog.

  3. Daniel Hobbs says:

    I was at the Bristol event today, and i thought it was great.

    I certainly learned something about the new office system.

    After trying out the software in the virtual labs on MSDN and TechNet i wasnt satisfied with office at all, but today you turnt me, im on the ‘2007 Microsoft Office System’ (as you made us call it) wagon.

    Great show, and the touch of humour was great, really pulled in the crowd.

    Daniel Hobbs

  4. Simona says:

    awwwwwwwful …. could hardly bear to read this – been there myself once or twice too! And yes, do please record your Nottingham-demos-as-they-should-have-been πŸ™‚

  5. Wow Darren, that sounded painful.

    I look forward to seeing the blogcasts.


  6. Jim Rippon says:


    I was at the Nottingham event, and I don’t envy any of you having to present to that crowd, we were a tough one!

    Well done, I certainly enjoyed the day although things can and do go wrong – it was still very informative and a very useful day.

  7. Sounds painful.  ALthough I’m sure most of us have been there, done that and have the t-shirt… sometimes it takes a bad presentation one in a while to make you realise how good you actually are… pleased to hear it worked out okay though as I’ve seen you present numerous times off the cuff and prepared and all have been the usual high quality we come to expect… long live the Office Rocker πŸ™‚

  8. alasdair says:

    I was in the Nottingham audience and Darren it was a little painful to watch, I was surprised as I’ve seen you before, even on EVO  and you’ve always given a very polished and professional presentation.

    Nottingham was a bit of a trial, you didn’t help by introducing yourself as a marketeer and then making a joke about techies, to be honest from that point I think the tide of Schadenfreude was against you, based on it only being acceptable to tell a joke about your own.

    If you had read your feedback, you would have probably seen pretty negative comments  however you would have probably seen a very positive response to your Q&A in which you shone, giving very interesting and quite technical structured information (techie is a relative term you know)

    in the final analysis after a shaky start I think your contribution was probably of the greatest value, to me at least.

  9. Justin says:

    ouch… that has given me nightmares…

    As you know you’re a cracking presenter and getting back on the saddle is the only way!

  10. Eileen Brown says:


    i saw this from both sides – front and back of house.  You had a hell of a lot of guts to go back on stage in Bristol after Nottingham.  But you conquered your fears and did a brilliant job…

    Me?  I would have gone home, got drunk and cried all night.  and it would have taken a hell of a lot for me to get back on stage.

    you’re surely a better man than I Gunga Din…

  11. Joseph Gregory says:

    I had the experience of lecturing to about 65 students and it was their first IT session. Plan: an hours introduction followed by an hour of students being guided enmasse using the college’s computer suite. Only two small problems, admin had mistakenly just removed my staff login details from the system and also none of the new students yet had passwords. Luckily, there was a computer left for repair, so I took it apart and showed them the component parts.  When in doubt look confident and waffle, but talk about what they can see, even if its mixed up. Chuck the plan away and move on.

  12. Chris says:

    This is interesting. I’ve seen many MS presenters over recent years, generally at conferences, but having seen you present a couple of times I actually think you are one of the best I’ve ever seen. The humour, demos and technical detail were spot on, but it just all seemed very natural and relaxed.  

    It takes a lot to standout in terms of presentation skills, so it’s good to see you have perspective on one bad experience.

  13. John Barben says:

    Really good post – that’s useful and valuable and will be good reference material for others

  14. Dan Stewart says:

    Even Bill Gates can get a blue screen during a demo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rXWr6Ezax4

    I’m having a Vista demo at my house on Mar. 21 for the http://www.Lifebyte.org charity that I volunteer with. Your steps to avoid a disaster has really come in handy in preparing me for it. Thank you!

  15. dstrange says:

    I would like to thank everyone for their kind and upbuilding comments to me since I posted this.  It means a lot to me that you took the time to comment/email.  

    The classic blue screen was performed in fact by Chris Capossela who is now corporate VP in charge of the Office Product Marketing Group and a truly gifted communicator.  I’m not just saying that because I ultimately work for him either :-0

    Chris often talks, with hindsight humour, about that moment and it is encouraging to see how he went on to be such a skilled presenter and communicator – and get a haircut.  Perhaps a crash and burn should be seen more as a milestone than a setback on the journey to becoming a great presenter and that gives me hope.  πŸ™‚

  16. Matt says:

    Hi Darren,

    I saw you at Glasgow yesterday (the one who asked about the presentations at the end) and would never have guessed that you had recently had such a nightmare. Great recovery!

  17. Like this: http://blogs.msdn.com/ officerocker/ Maybe my blog should be called "So, a booth babe and

  18. Jamie Gray says:

    Was also in Glasgow on Tuesday, and thoroughly enjoyed your presentation.  The way you carried yourself and the detail you conveyed I’d have never guessed it had all gone horribly wrong.

  19. Jo Carpenter says:

    It’s great to hear your perspective on such a horrifying situation. I really appreciate the fact that a presenter of your calibre is willing to share these experiences.

  20. This week, things that have crossed my inbox which i though were interesting – you might too: The Knights

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