Bad Demo, Great Practice

I recently sat through one of the worst demonstrations I have ever seen. The presenter was nice enough, but was filling in for someone else, and was just a bit unfamiliar with the product. She didn’t have her own computer with her and had to borrow someone’s Mac, which was foreign territory for her. Finally, the topic that the presentation was supposed to cover was the third, and last item covered. In fact, the presentation which was supposed to be one hour in total, spent more than an hour on two items that no one was interested in, and was not advertised, and only 10 minutes on the topic we had all come to see

As the demo unfolded I began to feel restless, “C’mon, get to the point! Please focus on bullet point three! That’s why we’re here!”

As the presenter fumbled with the most basic features of the Mac, my body moved from restlessness to irritation. “I can’t believe you don’t know how to close a window on the Mac!”

A half hour in to the demo I began to feel outright anger. “How dare you waste my time like this! I was ready to explode. My mind was caught up in serious negativity, judgment, and criticism.

Suddenly, I remembered! This was the way I used to feel all the time…years ago, before I began focusing on developing my leadership skills.

I’d attend a statewide meeting and listen to the discussion and get frustrated with the group if we they didn’t make progress and I’d get angry when the conversation would go on in circles, or never reach a satisfying conclusion. I’d try to control my feelings but they would build and build throughout the meeting. Finally, full of emotion and anger, I would blurt out some statement of frustration.

Everyone would look at me quizzically. It didn’t matter what I had said. It could have been the most brilliant idea in the world. All anyone heard was the emotion in my voice. It was if a volcano had erupted out of nowhere. It put everyone off. There would be an uncomfortable silent pause and then the group would pick up where they left off, as if I had never spoken.

I had to learn to be less judgmental, more compassionate, and a better listener, if I was ever going to be an effective leader.

Which brings me back to the ‘Demo from Hell’.

As I sat there listening to my old judgmental, critical, angry self reappear, I had a thought. What if I used this situation to practice a few of my leadership skills? After all, this poor woman was filling in at the last moment for someone else. She was clearly doing her best. I could see her nervousness. When I looked at her a little closer I could see that was trying very hard to read her audience and make the presentation meaningful. I thought of times when I had used a strange computer to do a presentation. My anger left and in its place was compassion.

I began to focus on what she was saying. I listened. When my mind began to drift, I brought it back. I put my whole attention on her. When I dropped all of my judgmental nonsense, I actually began to hear some of what I had come to hear. I listened actively for the entire hour and half demo. I was not angry. I wasn’t frustrated. I was truly appreciative of the effort that this woman had made.

If she had asked me for advice on how to make the demo better I would have given it; but she didn’t, and I was happy to let her leave the room with her dignity intact.

I left feeling like I had seen the key elements of the product I had come to see AND I had a great chance to work on my listening and leadership skills.

The bad demo had made for good practice.

in appreciation,



10 thoughts on “Bad Demo, Great Practice

  1. Hi Pete,
    Great story – thank you for sharing your experience with such frankness and openess! I think we’ve all been where you describe, but I think it’s hard to own up to our part in these situations.

    It’s so powerful to recognize that we can choose differently in the moment – to see another’s humanity instead of their failures.

    I had to work hard to change my attitude in a similar situation recently:

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. “I had to learn to be less judgmental, more compassionate, and a better listener, if I was ever going to be an effective leader.”

    “My anger left and in its place was compassion.”

    I appreciate very much your deconstruction of the workshop.

    You express very well how mindfulness is letting go of self, of mind, of ego, and of being sensitive to the now, to the lady who was trying to do her best under difficult circumstances.

    You provided her with respect and dignity.

  3. It sounds like you experienced what Peter Senge calls the Ladder of Inference, where our assumptions built up over time lead to conclusions that actually control our behavior. The start of the demonstration brought you back to other negative experinces that put you on your ladder of assumptions. It is during these times that what we see and hear are filtered by our prior experiences. It is partly why people can attend the same training or meeting and leave with totally different understandings and experiences.

    In this context, you were able to suspend your assumptions that allowed you to see and hear differently. Your filters were removed when you were able to keep the assumptions suspended.

    These ladders are powerful and often get in the way of working collaboratively.


  4. As I read this, I remember the first step of developing as a true leader – being able to see yourself clearly in the moment. All the practice that I have done over the past 20 years is all about that. For once I see myself, I can choose. It is in blindness that I continue to stumble along.


  5. Thanks for your post. That negative thought is easy to have just slip in and make an impact on your day, well, I find it is anyway – thank you for sharing. It is that whole ‘glass half full’ way of looking at the world.

  6. Mike,
    I believe you’re right. My beliefs, assumptions, and expectations are filters that get between me and what is really going on at any moment.

    I have a belief about what a demonstration should be like. I have an assumption that folks can do things certain ways. I expect to have specific needs taken care of in a presentation.

    When these are not met, they take me away from what is actually there.

    great insight, Mike.

  7. Thomas,
    You are one of the teachers who helped me develop the ability to move from automatic, lifelong habitual behavior; to a more deliberate way of being in the world.

    Being able to pause and choose the action that is most effective is so much more useful than plunging ahead with behaviors I’ve learned over a lifetime but which have ceased to serve me any more.

    In appreciation for our work together,

  8. Jody,
    You’re right. I find the more critical I am of myself. The more critical I am of others.

    Over the years, as I began to love this person that I am. As I forgave myself for whatever my inner critic judged needed forgiving. And as I realized my unique gifts….

    …I began to love others, feel compassion for others, and I have begun to recognize the beautiful gifts that we all have to offer.


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