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November 11, 2009

Fear the peer

(This post is late. In my defense, I had the flu and the glow of the computer monitor was painful. Also, neurons were having trouble firing across the congestion in my head. At least, that’s my medical explanation for it. PS I don’t recommend the flu. Avoid if possible.)

Which of these scenarios do you think is most intimidating?

  1. Giving a presentation to a dozen executives at a prospective client, which will decide whether we get a project or not
  2. Giving a presentation to 50 people, including half a dozen supportive fellow consultants
  3. Giving a presentation to 400 people at a major conference

I’ve faced all three of these, and while each scenario presents its own set of stressors, the most intimidating, by far, is option #2.

In general, I’m fairly confident in my ability to get up in front of a group of people and deliver some useful information in a reasonably interesting fashion. But there is something uniquely terrifying about presenting in front of your peers.

Torches // Flickr: dantaylor

At LavaCon, I faced the nightmare—a murderers’ row of consultants in the back of the room, fondling various tweeting implements.

Here are some of the worst-case scenarios:

  • No new information. I have nothing to say that my colleagues haven’t heard before, and they could have said it better.
  • Disagreement. My peers think that my point of view is incorrect or, worse, my facts are wrong.
  • Boring. I have nothing new to say, my information is wrong, and I’m not interesting.

Of course, my peers were gracious, participated in the session in a constructive way, and said nice things afterwards. I didn’t even see any cheeky tweets. (I’m looking at you, @scottabel.)

All in all, I’d have to say that it’s a lot more fun to sit in the back of someone else’s presentation, though. Neil Perlin handled his peanut gallery deftly, asking questions like, “With the exception of the back row, how many of you enjoy writing XSLT code?”

Rahel Bailie said it best, I think. After completing her excellent presentation, she noted that presenting in front of peers is terribly stressful because, “I really want you to like it.”