Parallel Universe and Apology Openings

Imagine you’re sitting in an audience at a conference. One of the speakers is just introduced by the organizers, walks on the stage, receives the applause and starts:

“Today’s presentation won’t be as good as it could have been. I had 40-slide deck prepared for you. But the technology has betrayed us – so we’ll have to do without them.”

Take a moment to think: How did that make you feel?

Apology opening

My guess is: Not exactly positive.

Other example: “I usually do this as a one-day workshop, but the organizers gave me only 40 minutes to speak here. I still hope you’ll get some value out of this.”

Or: “Good afternoon. In fact this is the first time I’m presenting this topic and I did not have much time to prepare. Please be patient with me.”

Ever attended a real presentation that started like this? Or even better – have you ever opened your own presentation with such line? You don’t need to feel ashamed if you did – so did I. However, I decided I will avoid using such opening ever again. And I suggest you to do the same.

I understand you’re adult, experienced an all that stuff, and you want to make your own choices. Then, let’s have a closer look at the “apology openings” together – and I’ll leave it up to you to make up your mind.

Here are the three questions I asked myself the last time I was tempted to use it:

  1. Why do I want to use this
  2. How will it impact my audience
  3. How will it impact me

1. Why do I want to use this

When I’m preparing a presentation, I have a clear idea of what the result should look like. I know that it should be packed with insightful content, full of practical hints and spiced-up by jokes and stories. Needless to say: Flawlessly supported by technology.

When any of these conditions is not fulfilled, I can spot the gap right away. For my last presentation, I prepared a 40-slide deck. No death by Power Point; simple, useful and funny slides. Three hours before my presentation was scheduled to start, I found out that there was a power outage and I would not be able to use the projector.

Understand: No slides.

Clear gap: Not only I would not be able to use some of the jokes and would need to explain some of the exercises differently; I would need to change the whole structure to make it work with no PowerPoint at all.

I knew that the audience would not get the whole thing. And I felt an urge to say: “Sorry guys. This could have been better. It’s not my fault – but it won’t be.”

2. How will it impact my audience

But guess what? My audience did not see into my mind. They had no idea that on the hard drive of my computer (and on my Google Drive too) I had a 40 slide deck prepared. They would not benchmark my real performance to a performance supported by PowerPoint. They simply didn’t care. That was – unless I would have told them.

The moment I would have told them would change everything. Not only would they find out about how good the presentation could have been. They would immediately feel cheated that they would not be getting it!

Hoping for understanding, with an apology opening, I would have created a completely different emotion: Disappointment.

3. How will it impact me

For a long time, I thought that the negative impact on the audience was the key reason why not to use the “apology opening”. But how about its impact on me?

I realized that by saying: “I had slides for this, but hey, the power is down, so we’ll have to do without them”, I would actually be saying: “Out there, there is a parallel universe in which the power is up and the presentation could go the way I imagined it. I would so much love to be in that parallel universe right now. But guys – I’m stuck here with you. It’s not my choice. But I’ll have to go with it.”

Even more than for the audience: The apology opening would be damaging for me. If I kept thinking that “this could have been better, if only…”, I would be too distracted to give a good performance.

Forget the slides

In the last five minutes before the start of my presentation, my mind was clear. “Forget the slides. You’ve got a great group of people here. We’ll make it work together. This is going to rock. Right now, there is no other place I want to be than right here.”

Not surprisingly – nobody asked: “Weren’t you supposed to have slides?” Nobody knew.

The workshop was a blast. I was relaxed. With no clicker in my hand, there was one less thing I had to worry about.

Was it better or worse than if the power was up and I could have used a projector?

Who knows. I left that in the parallel universe.

Featured Image taken from, used under Creative Commons Zero.

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