Murphy's Law states: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." This is especially true and especially painful when there is an audience involved.

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The world’s worst wet T-shirt contest

Laura Bergells has been active in internet marketing since before most people realized that marketing on the internet was possible. She’s given many presentations and has witnessed many more. Her highly-regarded blog, More than PowerPoint… has been going strong for five years now. She also happens to be a really terrific storyteller and was kind enough to share the following beverage meets business nightmare:

Years ago, my boss nervously entrusted me to give an important presentation. My boss was nervous for two reasons:

1) I would be presenting our project for final approval to the ultimate decision maker — the VP of Investor Relations at our company’s our largest client.

2) I have a flamboyant style and goofy sense of humor.

Now, I hadn’t yet met the VP, but knew her by reputation. She is impeccably poised and polished – a highly sophisticated intellectual.

Of course, I know there’s a time and place for goofy humor — and this wasn’t it. Nonetheless, my anxious boss saw fit to lecture me:

“She doesn’t suffer fools, Laura. So reign in your personality. Dial it down. This is our only chance, so don’t blow it.”

Armed with that oh-so special warning, how could anything go wrong? Jinxed, I tell you!

I drive 2 hours for the meeting. When I arrive, our client is on the phone & tells me she’ll be with me in five. I walk down a narrow hall to find a washroom to refresh myself.

As I do, a man with 2 steaming coffees in his hands walks briskly towards me. However, his head is turned over his shoulder and he’s yelling to someone far behind him.

Twelve ounces of scalding coffee hits the front of my white blouse. I howl in pain and run to the washroom as the man tries to initiate a conversation about how sorry he is.

I could care less about how sorry he is. I have bigger issues — burning skin, ruined shirt, no change of clothes, miles from home, an important presentation to deliver in 5 minutes, a nervous boss, and a VP who doesn’t like fools.

With all of my problems spinning in my head, I spend 5 minutes in the washroom failing to repair the damage to my skin and blouse. I come out looking like a try-out for the world’s worst wet T-shirt contest.

Taking a breath, I march into the VP’s office. I grin idiotically through the pain and cheerfully announce,

“Well, I’m back!”

Her mouth drops. She asks what the hell happened. When I explain, she is filled with nothing but pity for me. She even offers to loan me one of her shirts (She’s 5 foot-nothing, I’m 6-foot-one. I thank her, but explain that it probably wouldn’t work out.)

I go on to give the presentation, looking like a hot, disheveled tramp instead of a polished professional.

I made the sale.

Pity sale! But I deserved it!

And more importantly, the woman and I are still friends to this day.

Turns out that yes, she’s a polished, sophisticated intellectual — but she’s human, too. People tolerate mistakes better than our frazzled imaginations let us believe.

But since then, I’ve learned to ALWAYS travel with a change of clothes…just in case!

Since I’m more involved with the AV-slash-stage-crew type stuff, I tend to focus making sure the presentation files and the equipment is backed up in case something happens. Have to admit I haven’t given much thought to backing up wardrobe. But if my presenters are operating in an environment where there’s no such thing as a “pity sale” I guess I need start thinking about it. Having a wardrobe malfunction of any kind can seriously throw the confidence and perceived credibility of even the most experienced speaker.

Thanks again, Laura, for being brave enough to share this story with us. I’d like to remind the other readers of this site that they are welcomed and encouraged to submit any stories or anecdotes they have relating to presentation disaster or presentation disaster narrowly averted. You can be fully credited or remain safely anonymous, whichever you prefer. Come on folks, we all know you want to tell somebody what happened. Just click on the “Contact” tab above to get in touch.

14 comments to The world’s worst wet T-shirt contest

  • Lee,

    Now that’s something you don’t hear about every day. It’s funny because I’ve spoken a number of times at dinner meetings (and nearly every time, I’ve had a white shirt under my suit) and there’s always the risk of getting food on your clothes. But I’ve never considerd bringing extra clothes in case something happens. What a good idea.

    James

    Jamess last blog post..Public Speaking Success: Three Ways to Improve Your Speech Delivery

  • Lee,

    Now that’s something you don’t hear about every day. It’s funny because I’ve spoken a number of times at dinner meetings (and nearly every time, I’ve had a white shirt under my suit) and there’s always the risk of getting food on your clothes. But I’ve never considerd bringing extra clothes in case something happens. What a good idea.

    James

    Jamess last blog post..Public Speaking Success: Three Ways to Improve Your Speech Delivery

  • Lee Potts

    @ James: Thanks for stopping by. As I said, I’m mainly behind the scenes so it doesn’t matter much to me, but we do provide a little bit of wardrobe guidance to our presenters. Having a backup outfit is definitely going to be part off that guidance from now on.

  • Lee Potts

    @ James: Thanks for stopping by. As I said, I’m mainly behind the scenes so it doesn’t matter much to me, but we do provide a little bit of wardrobe guidance to our presenters. Having a backup outfit is definitely going to be part off that guidance from now on.

  • I was recently very happy to have backup clothing on an out-of-town speaking engagement. Not because I had a dramatic collision like Laura’s, but because when I pulled my planned top out of the suitcase, I discovered that it was ALREADY stained! How that happened, I will have to bring up with my husband, who does the laundry!

    But I always have an extra outfit (more for indecisiveness than for accidents), and I was able to grab a different top and continue on with my day.

    This is also a good practice when the weather turns out to be different than expected (last trip to Portland, OR, I was wearing wool sweaters in a heat wave).

    Lisa Braithwaites last blog post..The power of language

  • I was recently very happy to have backup clothing on an out-of-town speaking engagement. Not because I had a dramatic collision like Laura’s, but because when I pulled my planned top out of the suitcase, I discovered that it was ALREADY stained! How that happened, I will have to bring up with my husband, who does the laundry!

    But I always have an extra outfit (more for indecisiveness than for accidents), and I was able to grab a different top and continue on with my day.

    This is also a good practice when the weather turns out to be different than expected (last trip to Portland, OR, I was wearing wool sweaters in a heat wave).

    Lisa Braithwaites last blog post..The power of language

  • Lee Potts

    @ Lisa Braithwaite: There’s an ad making it’s way across the TV universe right now for those stain stick thingies. A guy is being interviewed for a job, but there is a stain on his shirt. A talking stain. In fact, it talks right over him and the interviewer doesn’t hear a word the poor guy says. Sent chills down my spine. Thanks for stopping by Lisa and thanks for the comment.

  • Lee Potts

    @ Lisa Braithwaite: There’s an ad making it’s way across the TV universe right now for those stain stick thingies. A guy is being interviewed for a job, but there is a stain on his shirt. A talking stain. In fact, it talks right over him and the interviewer doesn’t hear a word the poor guy says. Sent chills down my spine. Thanks for stopping by Lisa and thanks for the comment.

  • Bedd Gelert

    Okay, technically this isn't a 'presentation' disaster, but because it concerns a PC and a meeting where having it functioning was pretty well essential I will mention it…

    I was pretty stressed, as I had to take details, onto a spreadsheet, of the issues on literally dozens of different items we were dealing with, on a Red / Amber / Green basis, with half a dozen people in the room and someone from IT, who had all this information, at the end of a phone line.

    The computer wouldn't work, as I couldn't 'sign in' to it. I got more and more irate, as it kept rejecting my password. In the end I took to it to another room, got on the phone to PC Support and [there is no way I can shy away from this, and I'm not proud, but one has to tell the truth however ashamed I am ... ] I went ballistic. 'Why isn't this pc working – I am about to go into a 2 hour meeting and I need this to be working NOW – Why isn't it ??'

    Cue more weeping, wailing and a temper tantrum with PC support all to no avail. Of course, machines know when you are stressed and unreasonable and responding in the way I did. So I failed to get the PC working and had to resort to somebody else having to take over my role with their PC.

    PROBLEM – I had inadvertently pressed a 'Function' key on the PC, which converted 9 keys on the right hand side of the keyboard into a 'number pad'.
    When I keyed in my 'ID' I used the numbers at the top of the keyboard.

    But when I keyed in my 'password' I used the letter keys on the keyboard, some of which were being substituted by numbers – and there was no way I would realise this as the password is clearly only shown as dots when keyed

    MORAL – I could have been there for hours and not figured this out – but I had a fighting chance to do it quickly if I hadn't lost my rag. And PC support would have had a small chance of sorting this out in a couple of minutes if I'd been courteous with them. But because this was a 1-in-a-100 problem, as soon as I got flustered and panicked I was done for.

    Easy to say in hindsight, and in 'cold blood', but as we are always told 'It's nice to be important, but even more important to be nice..' We live and we learn..

    A long time ago, but still able to give me nightmares..

  • Thanks for the comment “Bedd”. It's a good story and, if you don't mind, I'd like to use it in a full-blown blog post in the next week or so.

  • Thanks for the comment “Bedd”. It's a good story and, if you don't mind, I'd like to use it in a full-blown blog post in the next week or so.

  • Interesting post. I have made a twitter post about this. Others no doubt will like it like I did.

  • Interesting post. I have made a twitter post about this. Others no doubt will like it like I did.

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