handling mistakes in presenting

Yesterday, I gave a presentation to about 30 teenagers about the upcoming FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) transition from Robot-C to Java. I agreed to do it a week ago while on vacation. This meant I didn’t have any weekend days to actually write up the deck. I wound up doing it the night before. The concepts were fine, but I figured I’d have at least one mistake in the deck.

I proofread the deck in the morning and corrected some errors. But I still felt rushed and like I missed something. I wound up announcing at the beginning that I had two prizes for the first two students who found an error in the presentation. One kid did. (I had a redundant keyword in a method. It wasn’t wrong per se, in that the program still worked. It was non-standard and not what I wanted to show.) This student got a FIRST flashlight in exchange for his finding. Nobody else found an error.

I liked this technique, because I was that kid who saw errors when I was younger (and still do). I was left wondering what I should do with the info. Does the presenter want to know? Should I keep quiet? Will the presentation be given again? By stating that I wanted it brought up early on, there was no doubt. I think it also helped foster a culture of other questions during my presentation because I made it known that I wanted the audience to speak up when a doubt crossed their mind.

I’ve rarely use this technique at Toastmasters because most presentations are shorter and questions aren’t welcome. And when I’m giving a workshop for adults, I feel like they will speak up as needed. It went well though and I’m thinking I might try the “prize” idea again with adults in the future.

Last week, I met the CEO of Communication for Geeks at the NY SPIN where we were both giving 10 minute talks. While none of the above is specific to geeks, it is a nice coincidence that I had an interesting “communication” experience shortly thereafter.

Another interesting thing that happened was that this is the first time I spoke with an ASL interpreter. I only noticed two differences:

  1. The interpreter wanted to see the deck in advance to prepare. (Luckily she only wanted to see it 10 minutes before and not days in advance!)
  2. For the first few minutes, I was worried about talking too fast. I often speak faster than I should when presenting and was worried if I was going to fast for her. The answer was that I wasn’t. I quickly forgot about it. When asking afterwards, she said the pace was fine. I’m impressed with her buffering because she was always a few words (or more) behind where I was! Luckily, I do pause when speaking so there was time to catch up.

 

2 thoughts on “handling mistakes in presenting

  1. I was also the kid who spotted mistakes. I even got one job that way – during the interview, the interviewer showed me some of the source code that he was working on (as part of his “this will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before” pitch) and I said that I don’t understand how a certain line would work – the syntax looked wrong. Turned out that this was the bug he had been looking for in the 2 hours prior to me turning up. Until that point he was not going to give me the job. But me pointing out a bug in code I had never seen before in a language I had never seen before was enough to convince him to hire me.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out. And if I had a nickel for every time I had a typo in a presentation….

    Sometimes you just don’t have time to have someone proofread your slides. I learned a trick many years ago: Start your presentation with, “It’s a small mind that can only spell a word one way…”

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