There is no easy way to develop poise under pressure. I think the only way to acquire that is by “trial by fire” so to speak – to be thrown into the fire and somehow escape slightly singed and maybe wiser. Or at least that is how it happened for me.
For several years I worked for technology companies that provided market data and trading systems to financial services firms. I worked my way up from office manager, to sales assistant, to sales executive. I really felt like I had arrived when I had my own office and my own territory. (I also had my own quota and that was a bit of a wake-up call.)
Part of my job required me to give demos of market data displayed via trading system software. When I started we could use “canned” data that was very reliable because it was recorded and did just what we wanted it to. The following year, clients wanted to try to get a feeling of the speed of the data feed itself and insisted on demos with live data. Back in the day, we had to dial-in to some server, and depending on the type and quality of the phone line, the speed and reliability could be great or terrible.
When a stock price went up, the price on the screen was green. When the price went down, the price was red. It was fun to watch the number change color from green to red or the other way around.
Often it would happen that I was demonstrating our system to an important prospect and just when things seemed to be going very well, something would happen with the phone line. When something happened with the phone line, the system registered a loss of data and the screen turned completely red. Like blood splattered everywhere, my lovely demo went bad in a hurry. I called these bloody demos.
I would try to explain to the client that this wouldn’t happen when they had their own system because they would have a dedicated high-speed line. Sometimes they believed me (it was actually true), and sometimes the damage was done and I didn’t get the sale. Even a very experienced sales rep had trouble recovering from a bloody demo.
So what did I learn from this? Poise under pressure! Getting upset didn’t make the phone line magically start working again. Screaming, bursting into tears, or running out of the room didn’t help either – although I wanted to do all three.
What I will tell you is that bloody demos have prepared me well for the challenges of being an event speaker since frequently something goes wrong with your trip to the venue, the venue’s equipment, or your presentation.
More on that in another post.