6 truths I learned from a failed presentation

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image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa

If you’ve ever done any amount of public speaking, you’ve had that moment when you step on stage and have a sinking feeling that says, “What in the world am I doing here?”

Ever had that?

Whether it’s the crowd that’s staring back at you, the venue itself, your lack of preparedness, or the content you’ve been asked to deliver, you realize in the heat of the moment that you’ve been asked to do something that’s out of your comfort zone and destined for a slow death.

I had one of these opportunities just the other day. I was asked to give a presentation on a recent mission trip I led to Costa Rica. The trip was phenomenal. But in the same vein as every other post-mission-trip-story I, and you, have ever heard in my life, the gravity and beauty of the trip doesn’t translate once you’re off the field. Translation isn’t often hampered by a language barrier, though. It’s hampered because the people in the room weren’t there on the trip, they feel a bit guilty because they haven’t gone on a mission trip, they want to go on a future one but know they won’t, and they’re ready to get back to life as normal. As much as you, the mission traveler, try to engage through stories and pictures, the experience gets lost in translation.

I led off with describing a funny situation. Well…I thought it was funny. No response. So I pressed on. Dropped a few funny lines in about 5 minutes in. Nothing. About 3/4 of the way through my presentation, a cell phone went off right beside my podium. Turns out it was the president’s who was  presiding over the meeting. I made a quick-witted comment about it, which caused even me to give myself a little chuckle. No chuckle from the crowd, though. Two older guys in the back were literally sleeping. Alexander DeLarge himself sat front and center, his droopy eyes forced open against their will. A few guys were checking their cell phones, presumably because the president’s ringing phone reminded them they have some business to take care of. Things went sideways quickly, so I looked for as quick and graceful of an exit as possible.

It was through this process that I learned a lot about public speaking. Failed experiences can teach you a lot.

6 Truths I Learned from a failed Presentation

You can completely bomb, and life will go on.

I walked out of that presentation relatively unscathed. My pride was a bit scarred, but all-in-all, I was fine. My “worst fears” as far as speaking goes were realized…and I lived.

Sometimes your jokes will fall flat.

Just keep going on to your next point. Failed jokes, poorly executed initiatives, great ideas that never get off the ground…these will be normal occurrences. Take it on the chin and move on.

There’s always next time.

It’s a good source of hope knowing that if I bomb again in the future, there’s always next time. There will be other opportunities.

There’s more to life than being perfect every time.

Much more. An always-perfectly executed sermon/speech/presentation is nice…but that’s not reality. And expecting that every time just sets you up for being disappointed.

It’s not all about the money.

Especially when you’re not getting paid…and it bombs. Don’t take an opportunity just because they’re offering you money. And don’t turn one down just because they aren’t. (I know that that’s a generalization. Sometimes opportunities need to be turned down for other reasons…or accepted for monetary reasons because you need to provide for your family).

Failures can affirm God’s call on your life.

God’s call is sure, but it’s not easy. He never promises that life is going to be easy…but He does promise to always be with you. (Hebrews 13:5) Failed experiences cause you to evaluate your calling in life. I walked out of this failed experience as sure as ever that God has called me to do this. Strange, I know. But I received comfort as I examined my calling once again, reminding myself of what God’s called me to do and who He’s called me to be.

Failing at a public presentation is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Don’t let your “worst fears” keep you from doing what God’s calling you to do.


What’s been your worst experience with public speaking?

* image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa


Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=63700801 Steve Wilson

    I think you did wonderfully. I was a bit embarrassed myself at the lack of attendance. We have had terrible participation for months now. And, I have yet to see a presentation where the table of older gentlemen have not fallen asleep.

    On a side note, I laughed from the back of the room at your cell phone comment. Priceless.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Thanks Steve…I appreciated your courtesy chuckles!

  • Ben Thorp

    A number of years ago I was working for Scripture Union here in Scotland, and myself and my colleague were doing the rounds of schools to advertise the summer activity camps that SU run every year. It was her turn to do an assembly in the (then) biggest high school in Europe. There were about 450 young people in the assembly hall, and she had a short time to get through a slide set (proper photo slides – remember them?!?) whilst promoting the camps. On the first click of the projector remote, the slide cartridge fell out of the back of the projector and the 50 odd slides dispersed themselves across the floor.

    To be fair, she took it in her stride and just kept going. But it was one of those moments of horror that I’ll never forget. 

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Awesome! Yeah, that was much worse than mine!

  • Tonya Denton

    try bombing horribly in front of about 60 kids…they don’t sit and stare at you or sleep…they basically ignore you and it’s play time!:) Good post thanks for sharing

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Been there, done that. No fun at all, is it Tonya?!?

  • http://twitter.com/adamworkman Adam Workman

    Great stuff Ben. Thanks for sharing man.
    One of my greatest fears is walking up to the platform to preach and realizing I don’t have my notes. We’ll today, it 1/4th happend. I preached at a particularly difficult funeral today. About 3 minutes before I would walk to the pulpit, I thumbed through my notes. To my horror, a full page of notes was missing from my folder. I counted and recounted. I looked around on the floor. I prayed. I begged. Nothing. I figured, well, this is it. This is how I go out. To make matters worse, part of my text was on the missing page, and I didn’t have my Bible on hand. So I grabbed my phone and opened my Bible app. I couldn’t get a signal. This couldn’t be happening. I scribbled a few lines of what I could remember on the reverse side of one of the pages I did have, managed to get the Bible app working and headed up just in time to preach. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I didn’t catch that missing page beforehand. 

    In the end, it turned out well, and  I learned something in a fresh way: It’s not about me. I wasn’t there to wax eloquent or impress people with my speaking skills. I wasn’t the focus. I was there to point people to a Savior that longs to rescue them, incite an eternal perspective, and offer hope to a precious family and their friends. The more we care about the people we are speaking to, and the less serious we take ourselves, the better off we’ll be.

    I also learned to count my pages before I leave the house.

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Ha! What a nightmare! That’s absolutely hilarious!

  • susanquinta

    I’m so glad I found this post! I am putting together a presentation about my recent trip to Haiti for one of my supporting churches. I told the minister that I would maybe have 20 minutes of material. He’s given me the ENTIRE evening service and I am just so overwhelmed. Wish me luck!

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      How’d it go?!?

      • susanquinta

        It went better than I expected! The audience wasn’t as enthusiastic as I’d hoped, but I wasn’t sure how they’d react to some of the stories I was sharing. Several people came an spoke to me afterward to tell me they enjoyed it as well as through the next week.
        My mom said she was proud and that matters a lot!

        • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

          That’s awesome! If momma’s happy, that’s a great thing!

  • Velle-del

    Ekk- I was at a small -youth venture- conference to present an idea of a youth organization- when it was my turn to present part of the idea- i totally forgot everything and started to talk about things that — I don’t even know what i was talking about!! It was so bad to the point where 1 out of 4 judges/professors- looked away and stop listening while i was talking- at the end- none of them make eyes contact with me 😛 Oh boy. A great first impression.

    Noob to the max.

    Thanks for the post, Ben!

    • http://www.benreed.net Ben Reed

      Oh no, I hate to hear that, Velle-del! Good thing that the first one is true:

      “You can completely bomb and still go on.”

      Don’t give up!