Turn Mistakes into Stepping Stones

A person goes up the stairs, illustrated by Yingying

Turn Mistakes into Stepping Stones, illustrated by Yingying

I was presenting a design to senior leadership. Very confident and pumped up — there was no reason it could fail. Not long ago, I did the same presentation to another leadership and it was very well received.

To my great surprise, that presentation went south, badly.

I felt so bummed and embarrassed.

The next few days, those moments kept coming back — when I was brushing my teeth, drinking water, even when I stepped into the bathroom. I remembered them so vividly that I was feeling miserable.

“It’s already in the past, get over it!” I told myself this again and again. I also shook my head trying to forget about it.

However, my mind just did not want to let them go.

Finally, I can’t put up with it any longer and decided to deal with it.

I hit the replay button in my head and went over everything from the very beginning: how it all got started, why I chose the format, and the content.

It was only then that I realized that I went into the presentation without having a crystal clear understanding of the leadership’s style.

The only thing this leadership wanted was, in the shortest time possible, to see all the features we planned to launch. Anything extra was going to distract him. In my presentation, I did not only include the features that were going to launch immediately, but also noted the soon-to-launch ones. In that leadership’s definition, looking at those was a waste of time. The leadership also asked us some really sharp questions, a lot of which we did not expect and therefore were struggling to give concise answers.

One thing after another, the presentation ended on a really low note. My face was red and hot because of embarrassment. I was almost grateful for sitting behind the video conferencing tool, without my video on.

After that reflection, I asked around for colleagues who had presented to this leadership. I learned from an experienced colleague that crafting an extremely clear storyline was crucial. Everything — screens and description — needed to serve this storyline, the more succinct the merrier. Also, anticipating all the possible questions and be very well prepared with answers.

When this embarrassing moment sneaked up onto me again, I asked myself, if I’m given an opportunity to do this presentation again, or should a similar situation come up, what would I do differently?

The answer was clear: know the audience, be very prepared, learn from the experienced.

When it got to me, yet again, I asked myself, again, what else would I do differently next time?

Find a way to shadow others in such presentations, I said to myself, so that I can learn directly from the live show.

Over time, I started to form a positive attitude towards mistakes. When past mistakes make a comeback, I learned not to blame myself or feel embarrassed, but to reflect, learn, think “what else would I do differently next time”, and move forward.

That’s how I am able to turn past mistakes into stepping stones.

Read the Chinese version of this post 《将错误变为成长的垫脚石,而不是绊脚石》.

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