A Humorous Look at When a Presentation Goes Horribly Wrong

— 23 Comments

This is the humorous, painful, and probably not very instructional story of a presentation gone horribly wrong.

I recently tweeted this and Erik Fisher gave me the idea to post about this:

presentation-gone-wrong

Below is how things went down. What came from the debacle was a side chat with one colleague and a group chat with the rest. I have changed their names but the comments are copied and pasted from our Skype windows.

I hope that you laugh. I hope that you cringe (in a good way). And I hope that you learn something. I’ll settle for laughing and cringing though.

12oclockTime for the meeting to begin. I’ve cleared my schedule for an hour and I am ready for some learning. The topic is dealing with fraud in affiliate marketing and how this particular vendor can help.

We chat amongst ourselves for two minutes then settle down in expectation of the arrival of the presenter. No arrival.

Three minutes of listening to others type go by. I make a few jokes about Sesame Street. Still no presenter.

12-06

Greg: Greatest call ever
Me: Can I get the last 5 minutes of my life back?
Greg: I have learned a ton
Greg: I now have a masters in impatiently waiting
Me: I just cried in laughter at that.

Four more minutes go by and still no presenter. Until finally…

12-10

Here is what I hear next…

“Weak apology, excuse, awkward laughter, blame someone else, fumbling for starting point, deep breath, muffled, robotic voice.”

His internet connection was horrible, his presentation wasn’t ready, and…it goes on and on.

Me: I am going to stab my ears with a pencil. First I have to find a pencil. Do they even make pencils anymore? Do non-architect adults still use pencils?
Greg: All I hear is computer voice. bloop bloop bop bop.
Me: wow
Greg: I am a robot George
Me: wow epic fail
Greg: This has to be embarassing
Me: What wold be better is if you broke out into techno song
Greg: If we could auto tune everything he said up until now

I’m not kidding, suddenly we hear a loud “meow.”

12-14Me: What the heck? A cat. Wow. A cat.
Greg: This is incredible
Me: That just happened. I mean. A cat
Greg: His office is in an animal shelter

He makes it about two more minutes and finally gets his presentation online. Hooray, we can begin! We even get two slides in. He awkwardly laughs a few times when he realizes he has insulted us, but otherwise it is the smoothest three minutes yet. Brilliant! Until…

12-19

Greg: Ooh autotune voice. I am peeing.
Me: I am literally in tears. this is like Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
Jennifer (Meeting leader): Sorry about this. This is totally painful.
Me: I am literally crying
Greg: and the cat
Jennifer: fml
Marie: bahahaha!
Me: Tears streaming down my face
Greg: He needs to not work in an animal shelter
Me: A little pee just came out
Ashley: (tumbleweed)
Wendy: Roll On the Floor Laughing
Me: the cat
Me: Really the cat. I mean it was a cat
Greg: Meow

Then he loses connection. And when he comes back:
12-22Greg: Everyone stay silent just to mess with him.
Me: Someone meow
Greg: Dying
Me I will give you $5 for a meow
Me: Offer is on the table

Sadly no one “meowed.”

Mercifully at 12:24, we ended the meeting.

What lessons can you learn from this?

Probably none other than if you are going to deliver a virtual presentation:

  1. Show up on time.
  2. Test the audio beforehand.
  3. Test the visual beforehand.
  4. If something goes wrong, avoid awkward, nervous laughter and blaming others.
  5. If it’s ten minutes into the meeting and you haven’t started, resort to joking with the others. It makes for an enjoyable bonding experience.

Now it’s your turn. Share your hilarious presentation or work stories below.


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  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    Just this past week, I dialed in for a conference call/Live Meeting that was set up by one of our lead national directors. There were 6 or 7 of us on the call. Everyone was there except the person who set up the meeting. We hung around for a little while until it became apparent that the meeting organizer was not coming to his meeting. I think we made the best of it though. The 6 or 7 of us on the call from around the country chatted for a while about the common initiative that we were involved in and the issues we were encountering. And so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      Definitely not a complete waste of time. We didn’t get what we wanted but we got something!

      • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

        You got to joke about a cat Matt…how often do you get to do that??? really! That was once in a lifetime!

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Similar scenarios happen all the time in a live setting in my public speaking classes. I’ve learned to have a lot of patience, but I can’t see and hear anymore due to all the self-inflicted pencil stabs.

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      LOL Dan.

  • http://www.hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Mark Sieverkropp

    HA! wow. I dont even know what to say to that…except I would’ve “meowed”.
    I am also grateful that you left out Jon Henry’s twitter comment after your tweet about me breaking the presentation ;)
    I am trying to think of a hilarous work story to share. I know I’ve had quite a few at my new job (after all, we do alot of staffing…leads to alot of interesting people and stories) but none short enough to tell here. I can tell you sometime if we chat on the phone Matt.
    I can remember vaguely being in meetings or presentations that were so horrible that you were really hoping (for the presenter’s sake) that something broke, that they suddenly came down with strep throat, or a hot-air balloon would crash in the street outside…not that you want anyone to be hurt, sick or uncomfortable, just so that the presenter could be granted mercy to end the presentation!
    I hope if that ever happens to me someone just calls it like it is, “Dude, this sucks, lets try it again another day” (even if you have no intentions of ever talking to them again,). Because you know that presenter was hoping someone would end it!
    Thanks for sharing brother!

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      Early on I was hoping GoToMeeting would break.

      If it weren’t for the hilarity on the side, I would have given up at the 10 minute mark, but I had to stay on just for that.

  • http://www.beyondschoolwalls.com/ Travis Scott

    So did you buy anything? I have sat in many corporate meetings and there are way too many that went horrible! In some of the past organizations I worked at, I think many times the manager have meetings to justify their existence. I remember having a conference call (scheduled for 30 min) and all the manager did was take roll call. He seriously scheduled a call just to make sure we were compliant…CRAZY!

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      HAHA, no. No buying from me.

      The roll call thing is funny. In a sad kind of way yes, but still funny :)

  • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

    This is both funny and beautifully painful. A while ago I attended a 16 hour training program on how to use a certain software to design and publish eLearning courses. It was divided into four sessions and I kept hoping the following one would be better… no such luck. The presenters kept losing their connection to the point where we just dialed in because the phone was not as bad. One of them was so incredibly slow and kept fumbling around trying to demonstrate features such as “This is where you save the file, or where you print to PDF…”. Watching paint dry would have been an extreme sports event in comparison. The fact that they even charged for it was outrageous. We provided robust feedback afterward essentially saying, you may know the technical aspects of this, but have zero presentation skills.
    Bottom line, don’t steal from people by taking up a space in their calendar just to embarrass yourself.

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      16 hours? In one day?

      Uh…I lost you at that part :)

      • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

        Read the third sentence “It was divided into four sessions and I kept hoping the following one would get better” :0)

        • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

          Oh, thank goodness. I might have stopped going after the first…break.

          • http://www.lilykreitinger.com/ Lily Kreitinger

            I would’ve walked away gladly. The hope that they would redeem themselves kept me coming back :0)

  • http://www.mondayisgood.com/ Tom Dixon

    I think you were a lot more patient than I would have been. Glad you got some blog material out of it, if nothing else! Would it be possible for that topic to be fun/interesting? Doesn’t sound like it to me!

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      No. It’s incredibly boring even when done right. But necessary :)

  • Lulu

    You and Greg should take your “act” on the road. Hilarious! And I would have meowed – I mean – $5 – shucks, I would have done it for free.
    I think the most embarrasing situation was at a Christian Camp. I was one of 3 teachers for a week at a girls camp. First night I had done a presentation for the whole camp – on a heart transplant. I used ketchup – gloves, masks, patient, sheet – the works – with obvious teaching on having a new heart in Christ.
    The next morning I was sitting on the front stairs of the main building speaking with the Director of the camp and one of the other teachers – a missionary from Bolivia. We chatted casually, with the clank of the kitchen crew behind us and the squeals of girls playing a sport in front of us. The Camp Overseer/Director (for all camps for all summer) comes out of his office and stands in front of me and starts in on “people helping themselves to office supplies”. He was referring to the use of a clipboard. I had used a clipboard in my presentation – but I had brought my own. I was explaining it was mine – trying to keep eye contact. Meanwhile the Director of the girls camp peeled off to the left and the missionary peeled off to the right – both disappearing for a moment. I was struggling to keep a straight face – not because of what he was saying for it is indeed frustrating with people “help themselves” to supplies – but because 1) the Director was now behind him and killing herself laughing and 2) he was standing in front of me as I sat on the stairs with his fly open. It was hard to take him seriously. Every once in a while he would look from me up to his office, and then down, then up and then down. For you see the fellow from the office could see that he was talking to me, flying low, and apparently was making gestures. I kept it together – assured him that the clipboard was indeed mine and promised to keep an eye out for the strayed board. He left.
    The two women reappeared with tears in their eyes. They couldn’t believe I sat there a took his address and didn’t crack a smile. I didn’t want to embarrass him – but it did take a bit of an “academy award performance” on my part. The Director says the show from the office worker was just as funny as he repeatedly kept jerking his thumb up – a “thumbs-up” gesture the went vertical. We had a good chuckle.
    It didn’t stop there. It was the missionary’s turn for her presentation that evening. She changed out of her jeans and into her cords – can still see them – brown cords. After the singing and a few announcements – up she came to speak. Low and behold – quite literally – her fly was undone. I just about lost it. When she looked my way, I made the same jesture to her as the office worker had earlier. You could see a smile turn to confusion and then to slight panic.
    To this day I always double check my jeans…

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      I literally LOL’d Lulu.

      Thank you for sharing this.

      Checking myself now. OK, we’re good.

  • http://bretwortman.com/ Bret Wortman

    When I work with agile software teams, I always, ALWAYS stress that in-person meetings are the way to go. This would be why. I’m going to bookmark this post as my shining example of how the greatest technology in the world can go horribly wrong (though I doubt being in the same room would have saved this meeting….)

    Meow.

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      Meow. Nice.

      The guy is in Australia so even though I wasted 24 minutes, it was more efficient than going there :)

      • http://bretwortman.com/ Bret Wortman

        More efficient, maybe. More enjoyable? Probably not. Depends on where in Oz he was.

        I still miss that place….

  • http://twitter.com/robertkennedy3 Robert Kennedy III

    WOW!!! WOW!! That’s all I can say!! WOW!! I am amazed but not really. I have been a part of a few of these. But your point #5 is right though. The behind the scenes IM and chatter make it all worthwhile O_O.

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      HAHA! Glad you agree.

      We are still talking about it and “Greg” and I sign off chats and calls now with “Meow”

      Thanks for stopping by Robert!