I Flopped Badly At The National Finals!(How Not To Prepare For/Deliver An Important Presentation)

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In November 1997, while observing my annual leave from work(as a 27 year old brewer in Guinness Benin Brewery), I wrote and presented a paper titled “Statistical Process Control (SPC) and Target Setting” at the 1997 edition of the Nigerian Institute of Management’s Young Manager’s Competition. The paper was based on work I had done(mostly in my free time) in setting up various process control/reports computerisation systems in departments(Production/Brewing and Packaging/Bottling) where I worked.

The paper discussed the use of CUSUM(Cumulative Sum Deviation) charts, Total Waste Unaccounted For(TWUF)(TM) – a concept I developed in the process of carrying out a beer waste investigation on one of the brewery’s product lines – along with other simple SPC tools, based on the real-life projects I had carried out at various times during the course of the year(1997).

Regarding TWUF(TM), I had returned to the brewing department from another secondment as Packaging Shift Manager to the Packaging (bottling) department in February 1997, when I was recalled on the request of the Packaging Manager – Alex Okorodudu – to carry out a beer waste investigation on one of the bottling lines. In the course of that investigation, I developed the concept of TWUF(TM), which through mass balancing made it possible to quantify beer losses that could not be traced to a known waste point.

Eventually, I used TWUF(TM) to identify the startup and shutdown operations at the bottle filler machine as being responsible for creating an apparent(i.e. false) beer waste situation. Modification of the mentioned filler procedures led to an immediate normalisation of waste values recorded.

Deciding To Enter For The Competition/Getting Approval From Management

My decision to enter for the NIM competition was influenced by a need I felt, to share the experiences I had gained in the practical application of statistical tools for useful purposes in a business.

Prior to entering that paper for the competition, I had given out copies of it to senior managers in the company’s Lagos office, like Alistair Reid(then Operations Manager, Lagos), and Abiola Popoola(Head of Human Resources). Apart from seeking their input, I did this to get their consent and be sure it was okay to use the company information I had included.

Important Note. If you plan on using any data from your current workplace in an activity outside the company, it is imperative that you consult competent officers of the company to advise you on how to go about doing it. Play safe by getting the responsible person(s) to give you the go-ahead, before you send out any information or material regarding the company’s activities. That way, you are unlikely to make the mistake of giving out sensitive information that could get you into trouble.

You may not have plans to enter a paper for a competition like I did, but you might want to send out an article for publication in a newspaper or other media. Check with those concerned to be sure that all you have put into your write-up is “safe for public consumption”.

Presenting The Paper At The Zonal Finals

On 15th November 1997, I presented my paper before a packed audience in Kakanfo Inn(Ibadan, Oyo State) where the Western Zonal finals were held. At the end of the day, I was announced as runner up, which meant that I had qualified for the Lagos national finals along with the winner of the zonal competition. Looking back, I recall feeling very confident during the delivery of my paper on that day.

Not long after I resumed work from my annual leave, I informed my boss – Greg Udeh – of my outing at the NIM zonals, and the fact that I would have to travel to attend the National Finals in Lagos. He was naturally pleased to learn of my initial achievement at the zonals and the next day, announced my achievement at the brewery meeting for departmental heads. Not long after, I found myself – midway through conversations – getting asked about the competition and being wished best of luck etc. Maybe all that attention got to me, and made me “forget” to at least mentally rehearse my presentation.

Travelling For The Lagos National Finals

Due to limited number of brewers available that day, I had to cover afternoon shift duty on Friday (2.00pm till 9.00pm) before I could take off on my journey to Lagos. It was nobody’s fault really – just one of those unexpected developments that shift workers have to deal with.

The finals were scheduled to hold from 9.00am prompt on the morning of Saturday December 13th 1997 – so I knew I had to get into Lagos before 7.00am, in order to pick up a cab in time to reach the Victoria Island “Management House” of the NIM – venue of the finals.

Within thirty minutes of arriving at the ever busy Benin city Iyaro motor park, the Peugeot station wagon I boarded took off with six passengers for Lagos. This was at about 10.30pm. Some four hours later, we arrived at Ojota park in Lagos. All the cabs and buses had retired for the day by this time(approx 2.30am Saturday morning), so there was nothing else to do but plead with a taxi driver to let me catch up on some sleep in the passenger front seat of his cab. 🙂

Suddenly I heard the loud chanting of a bus conductor calling passengers for Palmgrove. The time was about 5.45 am. I quickly thanked my “sleeping companion” and picked up a taxi heading towards Pedro/Shomolu. Arriving at my parent’s house in Gbagada Estate, I hurriedly took a shower, changed my clothes, and explaining to my surprised mother that I had little time left, jumped back into the taxi, which sped off towards Victoria Island. At about 7.30 am, we arrived at the NIM Management house on Idowu Taylor street.

Relief written all over my face, I quickly went in and confirmed that start time was 9.00am. That was when it dawned on me that I had not eaten anything since the night before. One of the security men at the gate kindly directed me to a “quick-snacks corner”, where I “quickly” downed some, with a bottle of soft drink.

Returning to the NIM premises, I found a place to sit that enabled me observe preparations being made for commencement, while I opened my folder and began studying the paper copies of my presentation (projector) transparencies.

Presenting At The Lagos Finals – The Unthinkable Happens!

Not long after, following some welcome speeches/opening remarks and introductions, the competition commenced. When the 3rd (of eight) finalists – Mitchell O. Elegbe – finished presenting his paper(titled “Achieving Competitive Advantage Through Information Technology In Emerging Economies“), I heard my name being announced. Minutes later, I was standing in front of the packed auditorium introducing my self and paper.

Based on hindsight, I now realise that the unavailability of a projector at the zonal finals(which caused the organisers to ask us to dispense with our transparencies and speak freely referring to any speaker notes we had) probably blinded me to the need to rehearse for the National finals with a projector.

As “luck” would have it, the projectors had been made available at the National Finals and I found myself having to pause intermittently to slot in the appropriate slide for the next set of points I wanted to make. This went well initially, but since I had not really taken time to rehearse since the zonals, especially following from the fact that I had found no need to use the slides back then, I struggled quite a bit. I cannot be certain, but it is possible that THAT also contributed to my not thinking “clearly” when I later experienced a little setback during the presentation.

To cut the long story short, about ten (10) minutes through my presentation, I turned to pick a slide containing charted data depicting the use of the CUSUM concept, but found it was missing. Feeling my heart skip a beat, I lifted the other slides up by the edges to see if the CUSUM chart was there but it was not. Speaking into the microphone, I apologised to the puzzled audience, explaining that I was missing a slide. One of the judges, after some seconds had passed, said “Mr Solagbade, your time is fast running out. “.

I nodded, but kept on looking – convinced I could still find it in enough time to use it and finish the presentation! Unfortunately when it was about 1 minute left(out of the 15 minutes allowed) I still could not find it. I had wanted so badly to impress the judges and audience like I had done at the zonals, that I could not help feeling at this point, that the mishap would have killed any chance I had of getting anything better than last place!

This made me decline to take up an offer from the judges to allow me three(3) extra minutes to do a decent round up of my presentation. Instead, I told the audience – in a very serious tone – that I was convinced the paper had a lot of useful information for companies in the manufacturing industry, and encouraged them to take time to visit the NIM library and read through it in future. Dropping the microphone, I returned to my seat as muffled applause/murmuring from the audience continued.

Surprise! Despite My Blunder, I Still Get Placed 5th Overall

Going by what I said above, you can therefore imagine how shocked I was, when the judges in announcing the final results later in the day pointed out that the verbal presentation(I had flunked) only carried 20% of the total marks available, while the quality of actual paper submitted carried 80%!

However, before they announced the results, they also read out other criteria for rating the contestants, one of which they defined as “the confidence demonstrated by a contestant in his/her paper“. Looking back, I believe it was the confidence with which I had recommended that the audience refer to my paper in the NIM library that led the judges to award me points that resulted in my winning 5th place despite my bungled presentation.

So it happened, that despite an aborted presentation, my paper which was adjudged to be of high standard(with the concept of Total Waste Unaccounted For – TWUF(TM) – being singled out for mention) eventually placed me 5th out of eight(8) finalists. As the results were being announced, my mind went back to what one of the judges had said to me during lunch after the last contestant – Friday E. Eboh – had completed his presentation(titled “Public Relations In Management: Issues and Challenges“).

He had said “Solagbade, you should have simply continued with your presentation when you could not find the slide quickly enough. You were doing well up to that point, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone would have noticed if you did not show THAT particular slide.” I realised he was right. I alone knew the slide existed – they did not! So, if I had chosen to skip it during my presentation, they would not have known better!

I learnt a painful but useful lesson that day, to always rehearse my presentation well ahead of time, no matter how well I think I know it. The experience also impressed upon me, the importance of running through a checklist of all the items I need to take with me for a presentation so as to avoid missing out any important ones – like I did the CUSUM charts slide.

Back At Work – A Senior Manager Tells Me Where I Went Wrong

When I returned to work the following week, I sent a little note about the outcome of the finals to one of the senior executives in Lagos – Ian Hamilton – who had been particularly supportive, telling him how bad I felt for not having done better etc. He sent back a post-it note attached to my note, on which he wrote “Tayo, 5th place overall in NIgeria! You should be proud of yourself” Then regarding the mishap during my presentation, which betrayed inadequate “practice” on my part, he wrote: “Even the members of the (Guinness) board rehearse their presentations many times before they have to deliver them!

I took his correction to heart and used it to drive myself to become proficient in delivering presentations subsequently. I believe an indication of how proficient I had become was evident during a presentation I was invited to deliver at the Center for Management Development, in Lagos. This event took place in September 2002, about 9 months after I had voluntarily resigned my appointment with Guinness to go into business for myself.

(Read my article titled http://ezinearticles.com/?Should-You-Quit-Your-Job-or-Start-Your-Business-Part-time?&id=172008″>”Should You Quit Your Job Or Start Your Business Part-Time?” to learn why I decided to quit my job despite the promise of a bright career future in the company).

On that day, less than 15 minutes after I was introduced/began delivering my paper, the following happened within about 5 minutes of each other:

a. The center’s Training Manager slipped me a note asking that I “Please finish in 1 hour” (instead of the two hours I had been originally told I would be making the presentation in).

b. An electric power cut suddenly occurred!

Both potentially disturbing/unexpected “changes” however did not bother me. When the lights of the PC projector went out that afternoon in the CMD’s main auditorium, I was fully prepared in every way. I simply picked up the printed power point speaker notes I had put on the table while preparing to start my talk, flipped to the page containing the points I was making before the lights went out, and – after making a joke about the loss of power supply – continued, and eventually concluded, my presentation well within the revised one hour time slot.

Useful Lessons You Can Take Away

The most important point I wish to make here is that this activity I chose to engage in (i.e. writing a research paper based on my workplace experiences/entering it for a national level competition) gave me an opportunity to interact with senior managers on an informal level – and get noticed/establish potentially useful relationships.

If nothing else, the fact that I had sought them out in the pursuit of a personal development goal could have made them think of me positively, and probably influenced the positions they would have taken if/when an issue regarding career moves had to be taken. In addition, I got considerable attention across the brewery for getting that far in the competition. All of these would have made me get noticed by a larger number of decision makers – which would NOT have been the case if I had not gone for that competition.

It is possible that the above possibly led them to recommend(or support) that I be given certain career advancement opportunities ahead of my peers in the company. I say the foregoing in light of the fact for instance, that a year later, in 1998, I would be nominated twice – first time for four weeks, and the next time ten weeks – to relieve the substantive
Technical Training & Development Manager(TTDM) – on a management grade one-step above that which I belonged to.

The point I have tried to make above, by referring to my career, is that you can intelligently create opportunities to showcase your unique abilities to decision makers in your company, by engaging in activities that afford you the desired exposure. However, it might be wise not to make impressing your superiors the main objective of venturing into such an activity as the one I took up for instance.

Towards improving your presentation skills, and taking needed actions/precautions, you may find the following lessons I learnt of some use:

1. Get Adequate Pre-Presentation Time: I should have sought the support of my boss/brewery management to get away from work earlier so as to be able to travel for the event and arrive on time. This might have helped to get myself organised and I could have discovered the absence of the slide BEFORE the presentation.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice! I would have fared better if I had made conscious effort to rehearse my presentation well ahead of the finals. The achieved familiarity with my presentation might have made me more confident to carry on despite being unable to find the slide.

3. Coaching Tips From Experienced Others: I could have sought tips about handling hitches or problems during presentations. Experienced speakers – like many of the company’s senior executives may have been able to share their personal ideas about how to prepare with me. Some may have prompted me to be ready for when things go wrong – drawing on their personal experiences. For instance, today, if I have to coach anyone on making presentations, one of the most important topics I would cover is “What Can Go Wrong, And What You Can Do – Inspite Of Setback(s) – To Ensure You Still Deliver A Good Presentation“.

4. Quitters NEVER Win: If I had remained calm, and carried on with my presentation without letting on that something was wrong, I could probably have earned enough additional points to eventually do much better than winning 5th place. Instead I let myself get upset upon discovering that my slide was missing. You will want to avoid making the same mistake if/when you find yourself in a similar situation.


Overcoming temporary defeat(i.e. failure) or adversity; recovering from setbacks, or correcting and learning from mistakes we make, will ALWAYS make us improve in our abilities to do what we do. It is for this reason that I end this article by saying: even if you DO have a bad presentation outing, know that the experience presents you with a potential learning opportunity to become BETTER at delivering presentations.

Simply make up your mind to identify where you went wrong, and learn what you need to do differently in future, to make your presentation successful. Do this as/when necessary, and you will eventually achieve your desired goal of being able to deliver successful presentations repeatedly and consistently.

Good luck!

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