Have you ever experienced the moment during an important one-on-one or a presentation where everything seems to go sideways? You’ve prepared, you are ready to nail it and something is just… off.
If you’re like me, at this moment your inner voice kicks in and asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
It’s the phrase my mother used to tease me with when I didn’t want to complete an assignment or I procrastinated to the point of panic and wound up pulling an all-nighter to turn it in on time. The option of working at a fast food chain rather than preparing for college wasn’t really an option, yet being reminded that such a fate could happen if I didn’t take things seriously has always stayed with me.
Fast forward to my career as a healthcare technology executive with years of advanced education and experience, and it’s still relevant.
And it still happens.
In this current situation, I was conducting a monthly update with a senior executive. While I had come prepared with an agenda, talking points, and topics for decision making, I was missing the mark completely. It seemed none of my content was landing as intended. I began imagining myself wearing a paper cap and apron, upselling a larger size for the best value.
I have often heard of this experience called imposter syndrome: a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud and thus reduced to a menial role such as serving fried potatoes for a living. While I certainly know that I have earned my role and am a high-performing contributor, in that moment I was anything but what I worked so hard to achieve.
Although I managed to salvage some key elements of the meeting, I left feeling as though I had let both myself and my fellow executive down. After sharing my experience with a colleague to discuss how to recover from the poor performance and to prevent from doing it again, she admittedly laughed out loud at my analogy.
“You are far from serving fries, and the fact you care about having performed poorly and are sharing it is rare. You need to write down your action plan and ensure others learn from your experience. It shows both vulnerability and awareness.”
She was right. After allowing myself an afternoon of self-loathing, I began to craft how to avoid the same scenario in the future, as well as what led to it in the first place. Here are four tips for ensuring you present at the top of your game:
- Preparation — A solid performance takes preparation. When a key meeting or presentation is on the books, procrastination isn’t the answer. While you may know the content from a subject matter perspective, take the time to craft the delivery specific to the audience-at-hand and context in which you have been asked to share. It’s easy to fall into the Curse of Knowledge, so beware. The subject matter may seem routine to you, yet it could be the first time your audience has exposure to the information, and you want to show you are the best resource for providing it to them.
- Be in the Moment — Don’t run from meeting to meeting. Give yourself time to be in the moment and block your schedule to allow yourself to be collected and mentally present for the task at hand. Easier said than done? Ideally, plan your calendar a few days ahead and stay on top of it daily so you can ensure your time is spent in the most important areas of your responsibility. If you are prepared, 15 minutes will do the trick. If it’s impromptu and one of those days where you had no idea this was going to be expected, the next tip is for you.
- Have a set of ‘go-to’ Techniques — I have long called this the elevator speech, which may only be 1-2 minutes, yet can include a set of standard questions and answers, and core slides for last minute requests. As a seasoned professional, keeping current slides, executive summary updates, and key questions and answers is an important way to remain informed and ready to share with any audience you may face. It provides you a base for a planned discussion or a ‘grab and go’ for when you are caught by surprise. Either way, you will be prepared and confident!
- Be Honest — There will be a time when no matter how well you prepared, planned ahead, or had your ‘go-to’ tools ready, you are going to be in front of an audience of one or many and simply not have what you need to show well. In this scenario, your professionalism and presence take the lead and you confidently request time to research and return with the appropriate information. Saying, “I need to research and get back to you to ensure I have all the relevant information you need to make an appropriate decision” is both board-room acceptable and often appreciated over a long-winded and made-up answer that will only frustrate your audience and reduce your self-esteem.
As leaders, we are often the worst offenders at setting ourselves up for success. Our calendars get overloaded and we manage our time on a hand-held device, not realizing the overlap or implications of some of our back-to-back commitments.
There is no bullet-proof method for always having a stellar presentation or preventing a poor performance in front of a key audience. Without these moments of sheer embarrassment, we would not grow as leaders and be able to share with our teams to help them avoid the same experiences.
The key is in learning from these events and building up our knowledge and skills so that we are more likely to succeed rather than trip ourselves up when this happens.
Have a story to share and how you recovered from the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas as well as lessons learned. Share your experience with me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), on Twitter, or at www.conciergeleadership.com.