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.