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Playing Hurt

It’s an NFL playoff game.  It’s a win or go home situation. A player limps off the field after getting hurt. In many cases, it’s no big deal and he can walk the injury off before he needs to be back on the field. Sometimes, it’s obvious that he needs to go to the locker room for further evaluation and may be injured so severely that returning to the game is out of the question.

What happens when the injured player is still able to perform at some level but that level isn’t quite what it should be? How does an ill or injured athlete determine if he or she is hurting the team more by staying in the game than by leaving it?

I came across an interesting blog post comment the other day:

I sliced the tip of my finger off while in Architecture school 2 days before my final review, and had to give my presentation while all doped up. I kept pointing with my heavily bandaged finger, cracking ridiculous jokes, and fortunately don’t remember a second of it other than my prof telling me to go home and go to bed after vomitting in the garbage can. … I really wish someone had videotaped this! To this day, I still have no idea if I actually spoke about the building that I designed or not.

Stories like this beg the question: How does an ill or injured presenter determine if presenting while impaired will cause more damage than canceling, postponing or calling in an understudy?

Some presenters are so fragile that they shouldn’t be put in front of an audience when they have the sniffles. They are so distracted they make mistake after mistake and so miserable they threaten to draw down the energy level of the entire room.

On the other hand, I’ve had the privilege of working with speakers with Olympic-level strength and commitment.

One had been fighting a serious respiratory infection for the last couple weeks leading up to a high-stakes presentation. As he progressed through the PowerPoint, I expected each slide to be his last as his voice got rougher and harder to hear. Toward the end, it seemed to almost give out just before each slide transition. He made it through the talk weakly but flawlessly and then went back to his hotel room and slept for 24 hours straight.

Another co-worker was able to perform at the highest level two days after being hospitalized with a burst ovarian cyst. I’m told that this is something like the presenter’s version of a hockey player coming out of the locker room to finish the game after getting 20 or 30 stitches.

Both of these presenters insisted in fulfilling their responsibilities and, fortunately, everything turned out okay in both for both of them.

Would it have been better if they had taken themselves out of the game?

If you’re working in a team situation, is there someone designated to make the call when it seems like an understudy should fill in for an ill or injured presenter? Someone with enough juice in the organization to bench anyone? Someone who can consider each presenter’s health status objectively and who will be willing to take the decision out of the presenter’s hands if necessary?

Have you ever given a presentation when not at your best and wished you hadn’t? How did that work out for you?

8 comments to Playing Hurt

  • Interestingly enough, Scott Hartnell, one of several Philadelphia Flyers play hurt, scored a go ahead goal against Vancouver with a broken big toe while I was writing this post.

  • Twitter Comment by @Lee_Potts (Lee Potts)…

    New Breaking Murphy’s Law post: Playing Hurt [link to post] — “How does an ill or injured presenter determine if presenting…” – http://twitter.com/Lee_Potts/statuses/1087457984 – Posted using Chat Catcher …

  • Lee, this is the question of the year!

    It's a hard call. Twice in my life, I have been rather ill before a major presentation. Each time, I thought of canceling, thinking that I could not possibly go on.

    In each circumstance, I rallied. At the last minute. I was able to go on and give a better-than-regular presentation.

    In both instances, I was too embarrassed about being sick to tell my hosts. In both cases, my hosts took one look at me and recommended an out — “we can tell the audience you're sick…”

    In both cases, I found myself saying, “No. I'll be fine…” but thinking, “Shut up, mouth! Take the out! You cannot go on, you're ill.” Like an out-of-body hallucination: my mouth says, “Sure!” while my brain is going “Nooooooo!”

    I can also recall one presentation where I had way too much coffee previously. I was shaking like a leaf up there. Looked like a meth addict. Someone should have gotten the hook and dragged me off.

    So I'm still flummoxed about who makes that call. When I'm sick, I hallucinate that “I can do it!” — so I'm not sure if I'm in any shape to make a coherent decision. But apparently, I've hallucinated correctly twice — which could just be a coincidence, and I'm setting myself up for future disaster.

  • Thanks for the great comment Laura.

    You might not have been hallucinating. I think one of the things that makes it tough is that an attributes valuable to both high performance athletes and high performance speakers is a highly developed “can do” or even “do or die” attitude. Left to themselves, they will almost always make the call to to go in. That's why a team that is presenting needs to identify someone with enough power and common sense to both make the call and to make the decision stick.

    Maybe it's possible for solo presenters to come up with a well thought out list of no-go situations that will help guide them to the right, not just lucky, decision. As much as it is possible, These no-go situations should be ones that can be measured accurately and objectively (i.e., I will not present if I have a fever of more than 103 degrees two hours before the presentation is scheduled to start).

    I have to admit, committing even that one no-go rule to “paper” somehow makes me doubt how effective this tactic will be in actual practice.

  • Nice analogy on this topic, especially relevant tor those of us in Colorado who just watched Shanahan get sacked.

    Given a presentation when not at my best? Yes, but thankfully, most of the time it's not been quite so dramatic an experience as the architect you cited above (garbage can and all!).

    I've known people who have presented right after hearing devastating family news, been handed their pink slip earlier that day, or learned something disturbing about the condition of the company that made their topic totally inappropriate.

    I've been taught “the show must go on” unless it is so serious that proceeding would distract the audience from the subject at hand. I would say that if I were King, I'd try to decide which would results in the greatest distraction – allowing the speaker to continue, quickly finding a replacement, or postponing the session.

    Just like all things in life, judgment calls are based on a minute-by-minute “playbook”. You strive for the most constructive outcome with the least possible damage to players along the way!

    Nicely done article! Laura B.

  • Hi Laura, Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the post.

    I think I'm mainly concerned about the situations involving a speaker who can't be sure which course of action will bring about “the most constructive outcome with the least possible damage to players along the way.”

    Extending the sports analogy further, I ask you to consider that an athlete makes their living by understanding every nuance of the way their body works and by spending a great deal of time conditioning it for peak performance. If someone this well attuned to the intricacies of their physical capabilities can't always be depended on to make an accurate decision, what chance does a mere presenter have?

  • Hi Laura, Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the post.

    I think I'm mainly concerned about the situations involving a speaker who can't be sure which course of action will bring about “the most constructive outcome with the least possible damage to players along the way.”

    Extending the sports analogy further, I ask you to consider that an athlete makes their living by understanding every nuance of the way their body works and by spending a great deal of time conditioning it for peak performance. If someone this well attuned to the intricacies of their physical capabilities can't always be depended on to make an accurate decision, what chance does a mere presenter have?

  • Hi Laura, Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the post.

    I think I'm mainly concerned about the situations involving a speaker who can't be sure which course of action will bring about “the most constructive outcome with the least possible damage to players along the way.”

    Extending the sports analogy further, I ask you to consider that an athlete makes their living by understanding every nuance of the way their body works and by spending a great deal of time conditioning it for peak performance. If someone this well attuned to the intricacies of their physical capabilities can't always be depended on to make an accurate decision, what chance does a mere presenter have?

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