Five Lessons Learned after Bombing my First Presentation for Work

It was 1991. There I was, standing at the foot of a raised classroom at SFU, looking up at a sea of securities industry professionals waiting to hear from me. My topic was a policy I had drafted as part of my job at the British Columbia Securities Commission.

I was terrified and I was terrible. I was physically shaking. I didn’t think I’d be able to say anything. I found I could speak. I droned on and on in a monotone voice about the details of each section of my policy.

What was my audience doing? They were sleeping. Or talking to each other about lunch. No one was paying any attention to me.

I was devasted. I felt like an imposter. Lawyers are supposed to be able to speak eloquently. I definitely had not done that.

I learned a lot from that experience. Indeed, it led me to my business today, helping detail – oriented people give much better presentations using brain science.

So, what did I learn? Here are five things that come to mind:

1. Public speaking doesn’t kill you.
When I was standing there shaking, I really felt like I was going to die. I didn’t. I wasn’t fired for being a “fake” lawyer. I kept working at the BC Securities Commission for another 26 years in a variety of roles. I was actually a very good transactional lawyer and drafted many more policies, rules, and statutes. Indeed, I was Project Head of the New Legislation Project, a project to rewrite securities law for BC from 2001 to 2004.

2. You get better with practice.
Practice! Practice! Practice! In my role as Director of Policy and Legislation and Head of the New Legislation Project, I did more and more presentations. I got more and more confident. I was no longer shaking with nerves. The more presentations you do, the more you’ll be able to manage your nerves and get the right level of nervous energy.

3. Failing spectacularly leads to a willingness to learn.
If I hadn’t failed so spectacularly, I may not have been as open to learning how to give much better informative and technical presentations. Many years later, a colleague and I arranged to bring Joanna Piros to the BC Securities Commission. She showed us how to give Powerful Presentations and taught us the brain science behind how people learn and remember. I was thrilled as I realized my work presentations didn’t have to be boring anymore. My colleagues who hadn’t had that experience of failing spectacularly weren’t as open to what Joanna was sharing.

4. Having the right tools makes all the difference.
Practice on its own improved my presentations but didn’t get me to where I am today. I needed to learn tools to organize my material in a way that was memorable and engaging and to use slides that would enhance my presentations. These are the tools I share with my clients.

5. Receiving feedback from excellent speakers helped a lot.
I definitely got better over the years from receiving feedback on my presentations. Feedback helped me reduce filler words like ums and ahs, and helped me improve my vocal variety. Feedback also let me know about the importance of drawing people into a presentation or speech with a story.


  • give public presentation whenever you can (you won’t die)
  • appreciate any spectacular failures as learning can come from that
  • learn tools to improve your public presentations (check out my blog for some).

Would you like some help making your informative or technical presentations memorable and engaging?

Join me next week on one of my free 30-minute webinars entitled “Learn Five Surprising Facts to Transform Your Presentations”. My next ones are on Monday, April 12 and Thursday April 15. Register at the links below:

If those dates and times don’t work for you, let me know and I can send you links for webinars in the coming months.