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When 20 People Walked Out of My Presentation Before It Started

I’m a big believer that with everything you do – you either win or learn. If you take the time to process information and make yourself better, that’s a learn – not a loss.

Welp. I definitely learned recently.

For the second year in a row, I joined forces with a good friend of mine, Adam Brown, to speak at the Michigan Business Professionals of American conference, a gathering of 2,000+ top high school students launching their business career. As part of the conference, students present to a panel of judges and attend a handful of talks called Legacy Launchers. Adam & I delivered a Legacy Launcher presentation as part of the conference.

The presentation itself went spectacularly well. Our content was top-notch and we were locked in with our delivery to the two hundred high school students in attendance – using examples that resonated and the right balance of fun & professional. Adam & I left feeling like we nailed it thanks to a long line of students that came to talk with us after the presentation, most armed with excellent questions about their career and plenty of compliments on the talk. Students even used social media to share they learned a lot from our talk & said it was “thought-provoking” and “really inspirational”.

So where’s the problem?

The title of our talk was terrible. It didn’t resonate with the audience and when we projected our title slide on the screen, about 20 students actually walked out of the room. That’s bad. They thought they were sitting in a room where a history lesson was about to start.

The name of our presentation?

The Roaring 20’s: Making 20 to 30 a Perfect 10

We thought it was catchy and a nice play on words; they thought they were sitting in an American History class. What’s worse? We used the same name for our talk last year and we weren’t tuned in enough to recognize our title was terrible when we heard someone say to us, “I saw your title and I’m really interested in hearing what your talk is about.”

A headline, or teaser, is what gets people to actually consume content – making the headline nearly as important as the content itself. For all of us, it would be great if our customers/audience/target users actually listened to classic old adage Don’t judge a book by its cover, and exclusively focused on content. We could save a lot on marketing and advertising if that were the case. But alas, save for one bookstore in Sydney that wraps all their books in brown butcher paper to force people to mind the old adage, that’s not the way things work. We live in the information age and there’s more information to consume than anyone could process in a lifetime.

Want to get noticed? You better be punchy and present your business in the right light. Exactly what we didn’t do with our presentation.

Here’s a quick review of all the ways we weren’t good enough:

  • We didn’t ask high school students for feedback on the title

  • We didn’t ask high school teachers for feedback on the title

  • We didn’t ask high school guidance counselors for feedback on the title

  • We didn’t ask students who attended last year’s presentation for any feedback on the title

  • We didn’t listen when we heard questions about what “The Roaring 20’s” meant when we gave the presentation last year

  • We didn’t use language that matched the interest of our audience

  • We chose a title that wasn’t punchy and even included a full colon

Adam & I know first hand that our content impacts student lives and launches careers in the right direction. We’ve seen it and heard it countless times from those in attendance and we’re excited to continue to give back and impact the next generation of leaders. But we blew it this time. We lost out on the opportunity to impact 100 additional students simply because we chose a crummy title. And that’s a terrible thing to know.

So, what are we to do?


Yes, we can definitely learn.

Thank goodness for the twenty kids who got up and left the room after our title slide went up on the screen five minutes before we started. Because of them, we’ll finally take the time to incorporate the first rule of presenting: Know Your Audience.

And this makes me wonder:

What else in my life am I missing because I’m not Tuning In?


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