In one of my first big conferences the Kmart team was in the hectic stage of pre-meeting preparation. More than 250 people were going to be in front of us a few minutes, several of whom were already in their seats.
To open the conference I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation, which was on my laptop computer situated on the table at the foot of the stage. Tom and Dave had a second laptop on which they were going to show a new computer-based sales analysis tool we were introducing to Kmart’s vendors.
Being somewhat inexperienced in conference preparation, we were extremely stressed in trying to make sure every detail was covered.
Thirty minutes before the start we were quickly reviewing our agenda. Computers were ready to go, the microphones were set, and we all knew who would be speaking, for how long, and in what order.
Five minutes to go. People were in their seats. The set-up work was complete and we could start to relax a little.
Then it happened.
Someone had set a glass of water on the table next to my computer, which was the only one with the PowerPoint presentation. Nobody noticed it until someone else bumped the table. The top heavy glass immediately toppled right onto the computer.
The microphones were able to pick up the crackling noise and the people near the front of the room could see a little steam come from under the keyboard.
With only a couple of minutes to go, we were now left without the opening presentation.
Tom, Dave, and I learned more about professionalism in seminars at that moment than we ever could have gotten out of a textbook. You must totally know what you are presenting so that when your peripherals cease to be available you can still make your presentation.
To this day I do not recall exactly how we handled it, but the people in the audience never knew anything had gone wrong. Evaluations were exemplary and compliments flowed after the seminar.
More importantly, we were able to break any future tension by simply saying, “Get away from here with that water.”
This is an excerpt from “Life’s Leadership Lessons” a collection of 53 anecdotal leadership lessons, each with an anecdote and the application of the topic in your everyday life. It is designed for use in weekly staff meetings or for personal development.