Stop Licking Each Other

Stop Licking Each Other

We are all patients in this pandemic

I know, it’s easy for me to say. I’ve been social distancing my entire life. When I was a kid, my parents could not punish me by sending me to my room. They knew damn well that’s where I wanted to be, lost in my books or toys or science experiments. When they were angry, they’d say, “Go outside and play with your friends, young man, until you learn your lesson!” I’d go out and sit behind the shed and talk to myself about how misunderstood I was.

Now everyone is telling me to go to my room, and I love it. Seriously, I’m not only allowed to avoid crowds, keep away from people, and day-drink — it’s encouraged. In fact, it’s mandated. It’s an order.

Still, I know how hard it is on my extroverted friends. They’re going batshit crazy staying home and with no end in sight they look to me for understanding and comfort. Now, the prospect of hosting a small dinner party over a blow-out keg-bash is suddenly very appealing, and not anti-social at all.

But even my socialite, party-animal friends are learning the art of stopping, and doing it for a greater good. And they, like me, are frustrated when they see a group of selfish covidiots gathering in the streets like it’s a Mardi Gras sex party. I saw a group of young men passing around a Chic-Fil-A sandwhich. WTF? Won’t that sandwich make you sick enough on its own?

We all need to be sent to our rooms. And not just because we hope to not catch the virus ourselves. COVID-19 will not discriminate between intro- and extroverts. We need to do this because we are all sick from this virus, and the only way to get better is by following the simple advice of medical professionals around the world: Stay home. Get lots of rest. We are all patients.

Dr. Vincent Lam, a prominent Toronto emergency physician during the SARS outbreak, wrote a book called The Flu Pandemic and You: A Canadian Guide. Released in 2006, this book precedes COVID-19 by nearly 15 years, and yet it is a frightening reminder that we knew this was coming. Perhaps we could have — should have — been more prepared. But a new lesson I have taken from it is that we need to adjust our mindset a little. Think of it this way — if you knew you had the virus, would you still want to go out and lick random people for fun?

Lam writes:

An influenza pandemic causes individual people to be ill. However, its dynamics, movements, and growth affect large groups of people, so that the whole population becomes a kind of “sick patient.” In an influenza pandemic each patient not only will be a sick person but will be a potential source of risk to those around him.

Dr. Vincent Lam, The Flu Pandemic and You

It’s a simple shift. Instead of being individuals protecting ourselves from people who are infected, we can consider that as a society, as a population, we are already sick and need proper care to be cured. Because we are sick. Our economy is in ruins. Our social structures are collapsing. Our networks are starting to crumble. And if we don’t do as we’re told, we’re not going to pull through.

Maybe if each of us, no matter how healthy, just act as if we already have the virus, and to fight it, we need to stay clear of other people. That will stop the spread.

And, if you need help adjusting, I’m here to help. This is what I’ve trained for. It’s time to sit back, reflect on yourself, your place in the world, and enjoy the silence.

Be well.

The Truth About Rabbits

The Truth About Rabbits

Is What you Think True, Truly True?

I was in grade four when the neighbourhood bully ambushed me with ice balls. This was an entirely unprovoked attack. I was walking home from school when he jumped from behind a tree and pelted me, several times, then left me sobbing with icy snot running down my face.

His name was Rodney. He was much bigger than me (remember how I told you I was a scrawny kid?), and he had hockey-playing brothers who were even bigger. Any prospect of me standing up for myself was dim. Still, as I walked home in a mess of slushy tears, I was bent on one thing.

Revenge.

You see, Rodney had pet rabbits. They had just given birth to a litter of bunnies that were penned in a cage in his backyard. I had a pet Siberian Husky. A plan started to form.

With God as my witness, I only wanted to scare the bunnies. My plan was not to hurt them, but to scatter them around the yard. I figured my dog would chase them about in a hilarious, circus-like manner that would end with a few bunnies escaping under the fence, and the others burrowing safely into a hole somewhere.

Why did I think this would happen? Because bunnies are NOTORIOUSLY FAST! The tale of the tortoise and the hare happens because the rabbit takes his speed for granted. Anyone who’s ever watched Saturday morning cartoons knows that no creature ever catches the rabbit. Not hunters, coyotes, or even big bad wolves. (Yes, I’m mixing my looney-tunes, I know).

You’ve probably guessed the outcome. It did not go as planned. It was utter mayhem — blood and destruction. It was not like a cartoon at all — more like the Battle of Winterfell. Chinook (my dog) hunted each one of the little guys with a wild violence like I’d never seen. I ran about the yard trying to catch her, to save as many bunnies as I could. Madness.

To be clear, I am not proud of this. As an animal lover, I think back on that moment with much horror, and guilt. Clearly my plan was based on some incorrect assumptions. I had accepted certain data points as evidence, not metaphor, and the results were disastrous.

Although… Rodney never bothered me again. While it was never proven what happened to his bunnies, the message was clear: he would be next.

But that’s beside the point. Sometimes we make decisions that are based on what we assume is fact, without question. In doing so, we do one of two things: either we set ourselves up for destruction, or we limit our opportunity to advance. Remember, throughout the bulk of human history, we never believed we could fly. It was a known truth that people were land-crawlers, hoppers at best. Had the Wright brothers accepted this as reality, where would we be?

If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance

Orville Wright

It never hurts to question your facts before acting. Evidence based decision making is only effective if your evidence is based on true facts, and that they are being perceived correctly. Sometimes, one thing is true only because the opposite has not yet been proven possible.

I will, however, leave you with this one, absolute truth…

Bunnies aren’t that fast.

How to Get Out of Gym Class

How to Get Out of Gym Class

Or Learn to Love the Process

I hated gym. It scared the shit out of me. In grade 2, most of my classmates, if not all, couldn’t wait for it. They loved it! You got out of the classroom, got to play sports like crab-walk soccer and run between the trees like a frenzied squirrel. But for me it was something regarded with horror and disdain.

You see I was a scrawny kid. Short, skinny, more like a clarinet than a human child. I remember one class, the teacher wanted to split the boys into two teams — shirts and skins. This is a terrible idea. I HATED having to take my shirt off, expose my already body-shamed figure, and be vulnerable to the elements. I would cover myself up with my arms, stand in the corner and shiver as the other boys flew around me like navy seals at boot camp.

So whenever gym class was scheduled, I would face the day with utter dread. Until I found a way out.

Fainting.

Nothing will send teachers into response mode faster than a swooning 7-year old. And man, I got it down. The first time was when the teacher said we were going to play touch football and I was put onto the “skins” team. Are you kidding me? I’m going to run around the field half-naked while a bunch of brutes were trying to touch me and pull me down? No way.

Victorian woman in green velvet dress  lying face down on a fainting couch

I went down like a Jane Austen heroine.

Shortly after I found myself in the principle’s office waiting for my parents to pick me up. In fact, I remember being treated quite well in the aftermath. Time off school, ice cream, and lots of attention.

Naturally, this became a common technique for me to get out of gym class. I would faint in the hallway, in the schoolyard, sitting at my desk… even as we were being marched single-file to the gymnasium… it was like… I needed a fainting couch I went down so much. What’s more shocking is that the teachers seemed to buy it. I mean, what kind of seven-year old faints on a bi-weekly basis — apparently only on Tuesdays?

My point is, I learned to hate the gym at an early age, and managed to come up with very creative ways to avoid it. As we approach the end of January, and people’s New Year resolve starts to fade, it’s very easy to come up with excuses to not do what you know is really good for you.

As you might imagine, I am no longer that scrawny little kid. In fact, I spend a good amount of effort trying to go back there, to be that skinny. But here’s the thing — while that may be a great goal for healthy living, I’m never going to get there. Not even close. And failure to make progress is a major deterrent to regular exercise and better eating choices.

There is another way. And it’s a simple adjustment in mindset. If I’m focused exclusively on my goal, I may just pass out. But, if I’m focused on the process, on the actual exercise regimen or system for whatever I want to achieve, then I succeed every time out. Instead of saying, “I need to go to the gym every day or I will fail”… saying, “I want to go to the gym. I love going to the gym. I can’t wait to go to the gym!” then I’m more likely to remain upright and conscious.

But if you actually do hate the gym, aren’t you just lying to yourself? Well, not if you truly shift your mindset. James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, suggests that while goals are great for setting direction, it’s the system behind reaching them that actually gauges progress. And when those systems become habits, they sort of become who you are, part of your identity.

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I can’t say I’ve grown to love the gym. Far too often, some guy takes his shirt off and flexes his muscles and I drop into fetal position on the floor with flashbacks to grade two. But I have found something I do love. I LOVE TO RUN. When I’m out on a run, I feel completely free, alive, mindful of who I am and that I’m progressing toward a greater version of myself. I don’t need to run. I want to run.

This can take time. Saying you love something doesn’t make it so. I’ve said “I love you,” a million times in my life, and only meant it maybe three. But when your goals are there in front of you, whatever they may be, by focusing on the process rather than the result, you’re more likely to succeed.

The Legend of Flying Boy

The Legend of Flying Boy

Daring You to Take Flight in 2020

My very first brilliant idea, which I’m lucky was not my last, materialized when I was 9-years old. It came to me while watching a plastic bag blow around the yard and eventually get caught in the branches of a tree. It occurred to me that the aerodynamic principles of a plastic shopping bag are exactly similar to those of a parachute. And thus my dream was born.

I would design a parachute for kids.  

Yes, it would be considerably smaller than those used by actual skydivers … I knew this from GI Joe cartoons. But my plan was not to jump out of a plane. That would be crazy — not to mention the logistical problems of acquiring a plane, a pilot, and an airport. No, I would limit the altitude to the rooftop of my house. 

I couldn’t believe it had never been done. I had a glorious vision of kids around the world jumping off their rooftops, floating blissfully to their backyards — and then hurrying up the ladder for another jump. And for me, the money would be rolling in.

But I wasn’t in it for the money. It was more about the glory. 

Now, I don’t want you to think I rushed into this without doing some research. I didn’t just grab a bag and jump off the roof (thank goodness… because if I’m honest I really did consider it). No. I worked on developing a prototype. 

A child's drawing of a boy holding a shopping bag next to an actual parachutist. Drawing is "Not to scale".

And… this was my design.

This perfectly reasonable, intricately detailed, scientifically sound design was my ticket to the skies. It’s funny how, even as a child, I knew that a dream doesn’t become reality on its own. You need to take action — and write it down. Suddenly, prototype design in hand, my dream was palpable. Alive. Real.

There was one problem.

I have an uncle who knows about inventions. He had once told me that if you want to invent something, you need a patent. And to get one, you had to test your design. You know… make sure it works. An idea does not an invention make.

Easy to solve. I decided I would test my design, but do it at a lower altitude for the initial jumps, make whatever adjustments I’d need, then take to the roof. I planned my first jump out my bedroom window. (It was the 2nd story — what was the worst that could happen?)

But, thinking ahead (as visionaries do), I knew that eventually I would need to market my idea. Kids needed to know about this fabulous new product that would change their lives forever. So, I decided to combine my prototype test with a prototype demonstration.

A child drawn poster that reads "Come see the Amazing Flying Boy - he doesn't even care if he dies."

I made a poster.

And I became the Amazing Flying Boy.

Come to think of it, this was also my first marketing campaign. And it was a good one. I made copies of the poster and put them up all over the neighbourhood. I even charged $0.10 for admission (to get shopping bags you needed to buy something, and I was going to need a LOT of bags). And of course I knew that kids were not going to be interested unless there was some element of peril, so I added the line “he doesn’t even care if he dies!”

By now, you probably realize that this was a bad idea. Testing your product before a live audience is not a good marketing strategy. I had a backyard full of enthusiastic children waiting to watch the Amazing Flying Boy soar out his window like an idiot.

And honestly, as I stood in the window looking out at their excited faces, I believed, without any doubt, that it was going to work. I saw myself in that moment, completely free, in utter control of the elements. Gravity be damned. In my vision, I jumped into the air and floated gently, gracefully, to a soft, safe landing.

You’ve heard the mantra “fail fast”? I failed in less than a second. I woke up in an ambulance, and eventually faced two very angry parents. Thankfully, nothing was broken. Well, nothing physical. My spirit, like my dream, was crushed.

My parents even made me give all the money back. I went around the neighbourhood handing kids dimes and apologizing for making them have to explain what happened to the paramedics.

So I had nothing to show for it. The Amazing Flying Boy was grounded for good.

But, truth be told, there is something so valuable I learned from that experience (besides the obvious). It’s something that I have forgotten over the years, and something that so many of us leave behind amongst the ruins of our youth. On that day, I had no fear. An idea came. I embraced it. I built it. I sold it. And then I jumped out a window.

How many times have I been able to do that as an adult? Why, when I’ve learned so much about the world (including basic aerodynamics), am I so afraid to try something new, however crazy, for fear of failing?

I know I’m not alone. I think most adults experience this in some way or other. But perhaps if we remember that childhood fearlessness — that willingness to act upon an idea and work to see it become real — we can make things happen in ways we actually dreamt of.

I hope that this year ahead brings you many opportunities, and that your brilliant ideas inspire you to take action, take a leap, and take flight.

Just remember to test your prototype first.

Note: The drawings in this post are an artist’s rendition of the originals, and may not be exactly the same. However, they are really super close! 🙂

Ode to the Micro-Manager

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Oh, you over-looker, you shoulder crowder,
You egomaniacal, hovering cloud of tension
How I long to punch you in your disapproving face.

Perhaps, I’ve been unluckier than most but I have occasionally in my long career dreamed of wiping the arrogant grin from someone’s face.  Not typically with my fist – my hands are small and it would likely literally hurt me more than it would hurt them – but I understand the urge.  It’s annoying when your boss is not giving you room to breathe when you’re trying to do your job. And especially annoying when you’re pretty sure you know more than he or she does because, well, that’s why they hired you.

I will say that I’m one of the lucky ones. My recent bosses have given me all the room I need — room to do my job, to grow, to succeed, and even to fail. But I marvel at how many people do not have the same luxury, because in the end its to their benefit.  When you feel watched and judged all the time your self-esteem suffers, your work suffers and you and your colleagues feel like you’re in a military prison.

I know that managers have different styles, and there are those who still believe that micro-managing is an effective way to ensure productivity from staff. I’ve heard managers say, “Well, if you had my people, you’d watch over them too,” and, “If I want it done right, I pretty much have to do it myself.” One manager insists that his staff clock in and out every time they leave their desk because he doesn’t trust that they’ll put in a full day’s work. Twenty people have come and gone over the last two years in an office of eight people.  It’s just a matter of time, I suspect, before his reputation precedes him and only the young or the desperate agree to work for him.

Even if this was an effective approach to management, which I don’t believe it is, I can’t imagine living that way! The stress alone would kill me. What’s the point in hiring people if you can’t trust them to do the job? By not trusting them, you’re raising the stakes that they’ll fail.  Trust is a two-way street, and it needs to be earned by staff and managers.  But trust never develops if it’s not in the right environment to grow.

Take for example a colleague of mine who put together a PowerPoint presentation to deliver to senior management, only to have her manager tell her, “It’s inappropriate for you to give this presentation. I’ll do it myself.”

What message are you sending, other than “I don’t value your work, I don’t trust your judgement, and I’m so full of myself that I need all the credit for everything ever done ever?”

The scary thing is, if this approach continues, staff will never feel valued and will never have the opportunity to develop. They will lose hope, stagnate, and slowly rot at their desk and die lonely and forlorn. It’s amazing, the power of hopelessness.

But, what’s more likely, they’ll just leave you, and you can carry on doing it all yourself.

Long Goodbyes

shutterstock_314909786To say goodbye is to die a little, and long goodbyes just make your death hurt. You suffer through every extra second on the step of the railcar, arms wrapped around the neck of your lover, lingering with that look you can’t break. Oh, but you must! Otherwise the train leaves without you.

Recently, I started a new job. It’s difficult enough — it’s like learning to walk again but now you’ve got loads of baggage on your back. And saying goodbye to my old job has proved an equally daunting task. I still wake in the night worrying about things I can’t control, and feel that magnetic pull of the work I used to do.  It doesn’t help that my old job was “Manager of Issues”. The word “issue” is in the bloody title.

Time to let go.

Leaders often talk about that mental shift that must occur when you step into a leadership or  a new management position. You need to resist the urge to do the job you’re now managing, or more to the point, the job that someone else is now managing. What makes it difficult is that a key to your success in your previous role happens to be the relationships you built with your team. The trust. The reliance. The nurture and development and growth. You feel like you’re walking out on them, leaving them to the wolves.

Well, maybe you’re right! There are wolves out there who can’t wait to fuck up a good thing and undo all the work you put in. But the chances are this is not the case. If you’ve done your job well, your team is going to be just fine.

I know. The real fear isn’t that they’ll fail… it’s that they’re better off without you. They, under the leadership of their new manager, will make improvements where you could not, bring things forward. But you really shouldn’t be afraid of that — because that is a good thing! Every new leader should bring a fresh perspective and lead a team in new directions. Your old team deserves it. Besides, don’t you want to do the same with your new team? Aren’t they the ones that matter?

The only way you’re going to get anywhere is to move forward. That doesn’t mean you can’t drop by or call to say “Hello”. It just means you don’t have to hang off the edge of train as it starts to rumble out of the station.

Torchbearers

duarte-leadI’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. Or, at least to the nearest pub. Anywhere there might be whisky, you can count on me to be close behind. Otherwise, you may have to work for it.

Well, you should work for it! Leading people is difficult — but following a leader without vision is the hardest thing in the world. If we can’t see the torch through the fog, we’re not necessarily going to be with you when you arrive.

Last week, I participated in a webinar led by my presentation hero, Nancy Duarte. Her Vision Talk webcast focused on the need for leaders to communicate their organization’s vision with effective persuasion. It can mean the difference between having a team of inspired co-travellers or a bunch of disengaged staff who’d rather follow a lemming off a cliff.

“Where there is no vision, people perish. It’s amazing, the power of hopelessness.”

The webinar, which you can see here, outlined the value and benefits of holding an annual “Vision Talk”, where leaders light the flame and show their teams where they’re heading and, more importantly, why they’re going there. She describes leaders as “torchbearers”, and the teams that follow them as “co-travellers”. What I found most interesting was the notion that, as a leader, even if you see clearly the opportunity ahead, your co-travellers will also see the barriers, the hazards, the risks and dangers.

It’s an important lesson, and one I continue to learn. As a leader, I often feel like my team should be right behind me, all the time. After all, I’ve inspired them, right? “Remember that speech, back then, in the boardroom, you were all so excited!” Well, yes, but, that was a long time ago, and the road has gotten much darker since.

Sometimes people get so caught up in their own vision, they just keep going. They don’t look back. Co-travelers need constant engagement, every leg of the journey. Continued communication is key because otherwise all the negative influences, the fear and anxiety, will take hold and cloud the way.

Keep the torch lit and in sight, and whenever someone seems a bit lost, go back and remind them why they’re doing this, and how great it’s going to be a the end.

Otherwise you’ll arrive to find nobody else is there with you, and you’ll sit solemnly at the bar, drinking whisky.

Alone.

The Empty Space

img_0460Ah, the empty space, how its stillness beckons. Those few precious moments prior the arrival of an audience — so full of promise and anticipation. They are beautifully quiet, wonderfully serene. I cherish them madly.

Yeah, right.

Let’s be honest… these moments are not filled with silent wonder — they are ridden with anxiety, fear and I usually want to puke.

On those rare occasions where it’s possible, I like to arrive early for a presentation to test the technology and hopefully sneak in a rehearsal, acclimatize to the setting, get a feel for the environment. But, like most things in life, it’s the waiting that kills you. My mind races with all the possible scenarios where everything goes wrong.

But, perhaps this is simply a matter of perspective. Recently I found myself in exactly such a situation. Instead of shivering in the corner with my hands over my head, I used the time for some quiet reflection and contemplation.

It occurred to me that the empty space in the auditorium was a bare stage, and on it was nothing but possibility. Very soon, the hall would be filled and every person in attendance would come with an expectation. Some expectations, no doubt, would be loftier than others — but in the world I work in, nobody really expects much from a presentation. We’ve been subject to so many “deadly” works of mind-numbing boredom that our expectations are pretty low.

And yet… there was that possibility. And in possibility, there is hope.

This is going to sound pretentious (actually, that’s because it is pretentious), but I was reminded of my early days as a theatre student. One of the premier voices in dramatic theory is stage director Peter Brook, whose book The Empty Space provided the foundation to my theatrical career. In it, he writes:

I can take an empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.

Yeah, I used to quote Brook a lot back then (I was sooo scholarly!). But the application of his theory to presentations is worth, at the very least, some consideration. The empty space is a gift. It’s untarnished, unspoiled. A bare stage in front of a blank screen or the whitespace of a yet-to-be-filled PowerPoint slide… is the opportunity to engage. And all it takes is for someone to walk into that space and suddenly — he or she is a presenter.

We have such a tendency to over-fill this space with information. Like the theatre of the day, too much drama, grandeur and spectacle. Too many damn bullets. Certainly in my business, presenters feel like every inch of whitespace needs to be filled with incomprehensible information. The basic practice is that if something doesn’t fit, change the font size until it does. I’ve actually seen fine print on a slide. FINE PRINT!

This is a travesty. It’s waste — wasted time and wasted opportunity.

If we simply shift our outlook a little, and respect the promise of the empty space, not only will presenting become easier, and far less stressful, but better — because our focus will shift too. Instead of focusing on filling the void, we’ll engage the listener.

All a presenter needs is an empty space, a story to tell, and an audience.

Presenting to Teenagers

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Teenagers must be the toughest audience you could ever have. I’ve always had a high regard for teachers, but after presenting to a group of 14-year olds at a “take your hormone-ridden, emotionally charged, and self-image obsessed kids to work day”, I have a full-on admiration for them. Managing to keep the attention of kids who’d rather be anywhere but listening to a government bureaucrat tell them how important they are is no small feat, and if you can pull it off (especially daily in a classroom), you’re a hero. A goddamn hero.

The astonishing truth, though, is that their apathy and lack of focus is mostly an illusion. It’s very possible that they do care, are actually paying attention, and are interested in what you have to say. But they have a code to live by, and that requires them to look aloof, never smile, and for god’s sake — don’t ask a bloody question. Even if they find something funny, they need approval from the class to visibly react. Laughter is an agreed upon response that requires buy-in from the collective.

On the other hand, it can be fun. It’s a challenge, but think of the opportunity. When tasked with presenting to teenagers, you can actually influence the future. You can inspire ideas, incite vision, give hope. These are all great things, and when done with savvy, you can leave the stage feeling like you’ve engaged a generation and have ensured us all a better future.

Here are a few tips that helped me:

  • Don’t even try to be cool by using their lingo. That’s death, because it’ll show. You’re more than likely a decade behind on current language. You’ll look like that awkward uncle who says stuff like, “Dude, that is so sick. You should jam it on the one!”
  • Don’t lecture them. They’re always being told what to do, and face it, you’re not the boss of them. Just speak to them like THEY’RE adults. Respect their intelligence, no matter how lacking it may appear.

  • Give them coffee. Yes, a 14-year old on caffeine is a sight to see. Most of them won’t be used to it, and will come to life in ways they’ve never experienced.
  • Let them turn on their cell-phones. I know! Crazy! But think about it. They’re always being told to turn them off, and it kills them. Take away their phone, and you take away their lifeline — because nothing happens unless they can post it on their social media network.  (If you really want to engage them, give them a Twitter #hashtag they can use to tweet some of your points — you’d be surprised at how focused they can suddenly be).

But the number one rule of presenting to teenagers — don’t be boring.

That’s lit, man.

Tough Crowd

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You know that moment when you’re standing alone on stage or giving a presentation, and someone in the audience challenges your ideas or your knowledge or your information, and you want to have security quietly escort that person out of the auditorium and help them (gently) into the trunk of a car…

You’re not alone. It happens. But guess what. It’s your fault, not theirs, and there is nothing that will kill a presentation faster than responding negatively to dissent.

This week I witnessed what has been described as a colossal presentation FAIL… a panel of three experts in the field of digital transformation speaking to a group of developing future leaders. While there is no doubt the panel had nothing but the best of intentions and were rather generous with their time in making the effort to come speak to us, their message was off-point and off-putting. In the end, a few challenging questions and anecdotes from audience members sent them astray. One presenter said he felt “demoralized” by hearing some of the stories from the crowd.

Keep in mind, these people work in IT. Yes, it’s true, IT professionals in every organization are everybody’s favourite enemy. Frankly, we blame IT the way we used to blame the Soviet Union during the cold war– for everything. Hell, I break a pencil and I’m all like, “Bloody IT!”

So, if I’m in IT, and I’m giving a presentation about my “transformation success” to a group of end users… I’m probably going to be prepared for some tough questions. And I’m NOT going to blame them for not understanding what I’m trying to say.

I think what was most concerning was that the panel became fixated on the negative, rather than working to turn it all around. There were several opportunities for them to do so, but they chose to focus on the problem and react defensively instead of 1. empathizing with the audience, and 2. offering some potential solutions.

Remember, when you’re presenting in front of a large group of people from diverse backgrounds, there is a solid chance there may be a challenger or two among them. Be prepared. Know your audience before you present, and when those tough questions or criticisms come up — NEVER get defensive. Never. You’d be better off to to eat a bucket of broken glass.

A simple way to handle it:

“Yes, thank you for raising that. It’s a good question and I understand your frustration completely. In fact, we’ve heard that from others, so you’re not alone. Here are a few things we’re doing to try to fix that problem — and with your help and understanding, I think we can get there. I’d be happy to discuss this with you further if you’d like to chat later.”

Or, just have security escort your new friend to the lobby, and have someone beat them with a bat. Responding negatively or defensively has about the same effect. Either way, your presentation is going to leave a blood stain on the floor.