Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 37;   September 10, 2003: Shooting Ourselves in the Feet

Shooting Ourselves in the Feet

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

When you give a demo to a small audience, there's a danger of overwhelming them in a behavior I call "swarming." Here are some tips for terrific demos to small audiences.

As the visitors filed out of the room, Glenn caught Cynthia's eye. Yep, she was just as disturbed as he was. "Buy you a cup a coffee?" he asked. She nodded, without energy, and looked down. Everyone else started to leave, so Glenn and Cynthia walked wordlessly together to San Jose, the coffee bar on Three West.

A cup of coffeeThey poured two talls and sat down in a booth out of the way around the corner. She opened with "Well, that was a disaster. Why don't we cut out the middleman and just shoot each other in the feet?"

Glenn smiled. It would be funny, if it weren't true. They had just given a demo to top management of what everyone hoped would become their biggest customer, and things hadn't gone well. "What could we have done differently?" Glenn asked.

So over those two cups of coffee, and two more, they made up a list of tips for giving small demos, to avoid a disaster next time.

You could make a tip list, too. Here are some to get you started.

Small demos should be
personal, conversational,
and flexible
Avoid swarming
If the size of your team is about the same as the size of the audience, they can feel overwhelmed, and they're unable to take in your carefully crafted message. In effect, you undermine your own effort. Find a way to limit the number of people in your organization who can attend, without offending anyone or making people feel excluded.
Don't surround the audience
Everyone on your team should sit or stand in a single arc that covers no more than a third of the circle around the audience. Surrounding creates a sense of danger — subliminal, but real.
Have at most two designated speakers
Let the conversation happen between the audience and the presenter. Occasionally, one other member of the presenter team might have something to add, or might answer a question. But if more than two people from the presenter team speak — not simultaneously of course — the message tends to cloud and you confuse the audience.
Designate one speaker as primary
When there are two speakers, contention and confusion is possible. To limit this, define roles. Let one person wear the "business" or "program" hat (B), and the other the "technical" hat (T). B should be primary, and T should defer to B.
Let each other speak
B should never interrupt T, and T should never interrupt B. Work out a gesture signal to indicate "stop talking" but don't interrupt each other.
Support each other
No matter what your partner says, let it stand. Chances are the audience will never remember it anyway. If you must comment, find a way to make your comment a supportive addition rather than a correction.

Publish your tip list on your intranet. And if you send me a copy, you'll help protect my feet, too. Go to top Top  Next issue: Coincidences Do Happen  Next Issue

Terrific Technical Presentations!Are your presentations — technical or otherwise — all they could be? Audiences at technical presentations, more than most, are at risk of death by dullness. Spare your audiences! Captivate them. Learn how to create and deliver technical presentations with elegance, power and impact. Read Terrific Technical Presentations, a stand-alone Web site filled with tips and techniques for creating powerful performances. Order Now!

These tips are excerpted from Terrific! Technical Presentations, my new ebook, which is filled with tips for people who give technical presentations large and small.

Reader Comments

John Brtis
Reminds me of an old joke…
An old cow farmer goes to Sunday service and when it's time to start the preacher enters and sees that the cow farmer is the only person present. Rather flustered about what to do with only one other person in the church the preacher asks the farmer, "How do you think we should handle this?" The farmer drawls back, "Well…all I know is cows, but I know that if I go out to bring hay to the herd and I only find one cow, I still feed that cow." With a now clear understanding of what he needed to do, the preacher launched into a full service, including half a dozen songs, and a particularly well crafted thirty-minute sermon. At the end of this extravaganza, the preacher was saying his goodbyes to the farmer and asked him how he liked it. "Well," said the farmer, "all I know is cows, but if I go out to feed the herd and find only one cow, I don't dump the entire truck load of hay on her."

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZHyLfYDfrYyeNZraner@ChacITgUTOWuppjgKizAoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A meetingHow to Make Meetings Worth Attending
Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
The Western Electric Plant at Hawthorne, IllinoisTen Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: II
Although many believe that "You get what you measure," metrics-based management systems sometimes produce disappointing results. In this Part II, we look at the effects of employee behavior.
American dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum)Action Item Avoidance
In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
A keyboardOffice Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
The Penrose triangle, an impossible objectParadoxical Policies: II
Because projects are inherently unique, constructing general organizational policies affecting projects is difficult. The urge to treat projects as if they were operations compounds the difficulty. Here's a collection of policies for projects that would be funny if they weren't real.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Feeling shameComing December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.
Inside the space station flight control room (FCR-1) in the Johnson Space Center's Mission Control CenterAnd on December 26: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Coping
Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt. Available here and by RSS on December 26.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCksJapYTgFjLTeHUner@ChacBRgiWAvthYlsGIdCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Terrific Technical Presentations!Audiences at technical presentations, more than most, are at risk of death by dullness. Spare your audiences! Captivate them. Create and deliver technical presentations with elegance, power and suspense.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.