Friday, May 02, 2008

What does not kill me makes me stronger

Everyone has a worst nightmare - not something they worry about, but a real nightmare that they have from time to time. Mine used to be the exam dream - you know, you have to retake all your old exams again, and you can't find a pen, and...

A few years ago I stopped having that one, and started having the conference presentation nightmare. You are at a conference and suddenly you are called on to speak, and you have done no preparation at all. I probably have this one because no matter how much I prepare for presentations, I always feel like I haven't done enough.

Last week, at the Sustain IT conference, this actually happened to me. The organisers had contacted me after hearing me in an analysts' round table, and asked me to speak. I'd refused - I followed the subject more as an enthusiastic amateur than as part of my professional analyst responsibilities. They prevailed on me to speak on a panel, and I agreed.

When the agenda arrived I was still down for a forty minute presentation, which by now was on a specific subject -- green procurement principles -- that I definitely knew nothing about. I complained, they apologised and said it would be fixed.

Three days before the conference they were chasing me for 'my slides'. I explained what we'd agreed, and it seemed to go away.

Perhaps foolishly, I turned up at the conference. My name was still on the agenda against the 'green procurement' topic. I spoke to the organiser, who yet again said that this was a mistake that would be explained, and that I would just be on a panel. Fortunately I no longer believed him, and started making a few notes on a scrap of paper. Fortunately, because at 2.40pm, exactly to time as presented on the agenda, the chairman called me to the lectern.

I was no longer utterly unprepared, but as near as made almost no difference. I had no slides, and my notes consisted of a single piece of A5 with four bullet points on it. Considering this, it didn't go to badly. I spoke for twenty minutes, got a few laughs in the right places, and got a decent round of applause at the end. A couple of people from the audience later congratulated me on how crisp and succinct the presentation was.

Perhaps I won't have the nightmare any more. As Nietzsche says (I think), "What does not kill me makes me stronger."

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