“Focusing is about saying No.” - Steve Jobs, WWDC '97
A while ago (first half of 2019), I presented to a forum at work - and it was one of the most frustrating presentations I had.
A project I was involved with was in bad shape, we were in a bad place, and this presentation was supposed to be a turning point - where we'd kickoff the process taking us out of crisis-with-no-hope mode, to a plan leading to the tunnel leading to the light.
We've prepared the presentation.
We've prepared the story.
We've prepared the key audience members.
Or so we thought.
Soon after I started the presentation, I realized that something was wrong. It's as if all the things prepared, all the pre-packaged messages we "fed" the stakeholders upfront - vanished into thin air.
They forgot everything. The audience failed to grasp my point.
Not upfront, and not in the live session.
Now, I've had bad presentations in the past.
But this was something different. On a different scale.
Well - to put it gently - it was "challenging".
Arguments took place. Frustrations were voiced. Voices were raised.
That in itself is not a problem.
The problem was that the message - the key takeaway from the presentation - was obscured, and many in the audience missed it, as a result of the bad preparation and worse presentation - and the turmoil that followed.
So we were no closer to solving the problem than we were before the session - possibly even farther away.
Instead of the session being a first step in building the ladder to take us out of the hole we've been in - we ended up digging a deeper hole.
After the session, trying to regroup, numerous reactions (mine, and of colleagues) were "What wen't wrong? we've prepared everything and everyone so carefully. How did things mess up? Why did people in the audience who have been informed upfront of the details, forget everything, and react surprised?"
This was so counter-productive.
We've spent some hours trying to figure this out.
And then it dawned on us.
It's not them - it's us (or in this case - me).
If your audience didn't understand you, it means *you* (well, I...) weren't clear.
I didn't focus. I wasn't clear. I had too many things to say. I had no clarity in my message.
This was a breakthrough in the damage-control and recovery process.
Once we owned up - as soon as we said "No matter how well I prepared; if they didn't understand - it means I failed to convey the message" - it was the first step to fixing the problem.
And it got us going on to hectic 24-hour-round-the-clock frenzy of work - and we got that ladder in place, and got our project (and ourselves) out of the hole, and on to the right track.
This crisis - and the realization it led to - actually ended up filling us with positive energies, propelling our project forward, on the right track, leading it to the right location.
(* The next day, a worried colleague asked me "Are you ok? How do you feel?" and my answer was "I feel like I just drank cold, super-bitter coffee. It leaves a horrible taste in your mouth - but it fills you with energies..." *)