We rolled out the big guns. 5 of the agency’s coolest cucumbers, and little ol’ me. Barrel loaded with slide decks, we arrive at the client’s office. I’m lucky; I know I’m going to get 2 opportunities to hit my mark. I get to open fire, and follow up with a serious salvo in the middle of the 1.5hr session.
To say I missed my mark would be an understatement.
Not exactly my first rodeo. 36 years old, 20 years of hobbying-on-the-side and 15 years of experience in the industry. I’ve worked for agencies before. Worked in-house too. Freelanced, contracted.
Previous stint, 7 years. In-house. Responsible for UX, branding, IT. Indexing requirements, building solutions, delivering projects with awesome teams.
Blah blah, yada yada. Point in case: never had performance issues*.
* … get ur mind outta there right this minit.
The new gig started off smooth. First 2 months flew by. Didn’t even touch the onboarding materials. Got assigned a couple of projects stuck in tricky situations during week 1. Took the challenge and ran with it.
It’s funny how you can solve or prevent almost every problem with decent communication. Gotta be strong with your clients. They want you to be. They need you to be.
Your expertise is why they’re paying you. Take the lead. Understand their demands and needs, “… and here is what you’ll do to help them.”
I try my hardest to live by this philosophy. Taking their fear away. “Together, we’ll make this work.”
So we roll out. 2 cars chock full of lead UX, project management, and even the regional manager. The latter had helped me craft the intro slides to the day’s presentation deck. To get the client all excited about the new direction.
On the way there, we discuss this change, at length. We actually disagree on some minor points. No big deal, I can still sell this. Easy.
The regional manager by the way, is one of the best orators I’ve met. Deep voiced and quick on the vocabulary trigger. Picks the right words, always calm and collected.
I’m the opposite. I get hella excited about everything we do. I wanna turn that into solutions and kick ass. And I’ll get you excited about it too because look at the awesome stuff our team did! For you! You’re awesome too! Everything is awesome!
So there we are, we get out the car and roll up to the client’s office. 5 of the most senior people in the company and little ol’ me. There’s only 4 of them (the client) and they stand no chance for the onslaught of awesome work provided by our team.
“Thanks everyone for taking the time to meet with us” the regional manager starts. Takes them through the agenda in a sentence, then ends the introduction:
“… and now Dirk will kick off our presentation.”
Not prepared. Thought I was. Wasn’t.
I read out the slide’s first sentence. Then read out the first line in my intricately crafted presenter notes.
Gnats! I just read the same thing twice!
Instantly back to the slide. Read a line out loud again.
Bollocks! I read that one earlier — same line 3 times? Idiot!
No chance. Screw it. I’ll wing it. I look at the crowd and, well, I say what’s on top of my mind.
How’d I say the exact same thing again, but in different words!!?
I produce some vowels.
Attempt to opt back in to language. Any language. I’ll take Ukrainian.
Will my manager step in? … no. NO! I can’t fail in front of them!!1!
I try to give it another shot, but I draw a blank.
The chamber is empty. Nothing left.
Down the barrel
The hole I was in was deep and dark. Kinda spirally too. And as I sped down, our regional manager patiently waited their time. Waited until they were sure I needed a hand.
“Want me to take over?”
I swim down the shame-sweat river, towards their life raft.
I smiled as I said that. In the moment, my brain had already switched to accepting the inevitable. Had they not been there, I’m sure I would’ve recovered — but knowing there was someone more skilled in the room, had left me ill-prepared.
As the smoke cleared, I looked around the room. My colleagues were avoiding my gaze when I looked at them. Whilst I was looking for a smile, they were possibly thinking about the consequences:
I still had 20 minutes of presenting to do, 15 minutes later.
On a topic nobody could cover for me.
Luckily, I was already over the worst of it. Forced myself to engage in the conversation around the presentation. I knew this stuff, so added value wherever I could.
When my time came to present, I was rearing to go, excited about the subject again.
20 minutes later, I looked at my colleagues, and got what I wanted. Smiles. A chuckle at the previous situation. Happy people. We knocked it out the park, regardless of the false start.
In hindsight, being comfortable for the past 7 years had me blindsided. I wasn’t used to “not being the best in the room” anymore. There were people there, that were more skilled at what I do, than I am.
I love challenges. Seen it all. Super calm when the doodoo hits the fan. Excited at most: it’s an opportunity to kick ass and take names. So don’t worry. I’ll help you get your show back on track.
But this was little ol’ me that was in trouble. Not something I was used to.
Cliche time. If you don’t challenge yourself, don’t get into new situations, you’ll stagnate and get too comfortable. You’ll be practically invincible. But you’ll be in a safety bubble of your own making.
Find the edge. Teeter on it. Make things hard. Don’t be safe. Fall down. Pick yourself back up. Repeat.
That’s what I took away here. I’ve still got a lot of failing to do.