During the 2nd day’s keynote speech at the Lean Software & Systems Conference (#LSSC10), Bob Charette had the title quote of this post in his slides and his speech. There’s no better way to learn a principle like this than by first hand experience, and unfortunately that first hand experience came the afternoon prior to Bob’s keynote.
The previous afternoon during my presentation I realized that I had made a very large assumption about the audience that I would be presenting to. I had assumed that I was going to be talking about code to a bunch of software engineers like I usually do. A few minutes into my presentation, though, I realized that I wasn’t. I was actually talking to project and team leaders. I tried to recover and bring the discussion up to a higher level, but unfortunately I was unable to think quickly enough on my feet and ended up having to cut my presentation short at about 20 minutes instead of the 45 minutes to an hour that it should have been. The only saving grace of this disaster was having a very astute Jean Tabaka in the audience who started asking questions and helped redirect the conversation. Arlo Belshee, Joe Ocampo, Eric Sowa and a few others that I don’t remember joined in the conversation as well, while most of the audience left.
It was very unfortunate for me that I had held this assumption and not realized who my audience actually was going to be. Had I been paying attention, even a little, I would have prepared for the talk differently and I would have been able to continue on with additional discussion on the principles and when to apply them where, etc. But the reality of it was that my assumption turned out to be the a significant risk, and it jumped into reality at the worst possible time for me – when I was standing in front of the room freezing up and unable to recover gracefully.
Whether or not anyone else thought I recovered well, I hold myself to higher standards and consider this to be an easily avoidable, catastrophic mistake. I’m trying to learn lessons from this and turn this into an opportunity to improve my conference preparations… but it’s hard to not dwell on this being a failure and an embarrassment. I’d to be able to say that I’ll always look for the signals that tell me who the audience is going to be prior to the conference and at the conference as well. I definitely want to be prepared with alternative presentation materials and content in case I run into this situation again. I’m hoping that I’ll actually learn these lessons and that the next time I find myself falling flat on my face, I’ll be able to recover and turn the situation into something more valuable.
I also hope that my failure here will help someone else avoid the same mistakes.