Lifes Awkward Moments

December 30, 2002
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It's the end of the year and most senior executives are on vacation. But the work goes on, right?

So, there are probably plenty of junior executives out there just waiting to take the reins and lead that last staff meeting of the year or, at the very least, step in and meet with someone else's client.

Sort of a pinch-hitter extraordinaire.

But be warned, there are plenty of missteps that could tarnish the image of those up-and-comers.

Here are a few of those "awkward moments" as uncovered by a survey of marketing and advertising executives by The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service providing marketing, advertising, creative and Web professionals on a project basis.

Those surveyed were asked, "What is the most unusual or embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you or a colleague during a presentation to a client?" Here are some of their responses:

  • "I was a little nervous and chewing on the end of a felt pen. When I got up to speak I didn't realize the pen had broken and I had ink all over my face. My teeth were black, my mouth was black; I had marker everywhere and didn't realize it!"
  • "A colleague of mine leaned back in his chair to look cool and fell right on his back."

"In today's competitive market, agencies are feeling increased pressure to deliver impressive business presentations," said TraceyTurner, executive director of The Creative Group. "Yet with so many variables involved, even the most seasoned professionals can encounter an occasional setback."

The wrong attire, for example, can have unfortunate consequences, as these next blunders show:

  • "Our account executive had lost a lot of weight, and when he got up to shake hands, his pants fell down."
  • "The creative director slid across the table and his belt buckle got stuck and left a big mark in the wood."
  • "I was in a meeting and my hosiery fell down. I was mortified and stayed seated until the meeting was over."
  • "A woman was presenting in a wraparound skirt and it came undone."
  • "Our senior executive's slip fell during a presentation."

Beverages also may lead to trouble. Here are some cases in point:

  • "I had just become an account executive and I was nervous about presenting at my first big meeting. Having finished and done a decent job, I took a sip of pop that went down the wrong pipe. I started coughing and spitting all over the client's suit. Then as I returned to my side of the table, I tripped on the table and fell to the floor."
  • "I spilled a freshly made cup of coffee across the boardroom table and it poured onto the client's lap."
  • Technical glitches like the following were at the root of 30 percent of mishaps cited:
  • "We were displaying a TV spot on videotape and my coworker hit 'record' instead of 'play' and taped over it."
  • "The PowerPoint presentation we were giving to more than 1,000 people didn't work and we had to wing it."

With these next gaffes, the material presented may have been the problem:

  • "The client fell asleep and began snoring loudly."
  • "I pulled out the wrong presentation and showed them a competitor's instead."
  • "We misspelled the client's name."
  • "We were presenting to an international client and got the origin of their country all wrong."

Then there were snafus that simply couldn't be avoided:

  • "We had to go into our company's tornado shelter during a hail storm, which did $6,000 worth of damage to the client's car."
  • "I was delivering a presentation on an airplane and got food poisoning. I couldn't get up due to turbulence and became ill in front of the client."
  • "When the account manager sat down at the conference table, the back of the chair broke, and she was trapped between the chair and the wall."

Turner said careful preparation can help prevent some, but not all, presentation problems. "It's important to be able to think on your feet. A potentially embarrassing moment can be an opportunity to show grace under pressure," she said.

Turner offered the following tips for recovering after a presentation slip-up:

  • Remain calm. Don't panic. Instead, take a deep breath and focus on keeping your composure. Smiling will make you appear more in control.
  • Take a break. If it's a matter that could take a few minutes to resolve, such as a technical glitch or a spill, suggest a quick "intermission." This will give you time to tackle the issue out of the spotlight.
  • Move on. Get back on track as soon as possible. The faster you recover, the less memorable the foul-up will be.

The New Year should bring in some changes at the national level, according to Congressman Peter Hoekstra, R-Holland.

Hoekstra told the Business Journal Editorial Board just prior to Christmas that the country can expect another economic stimulus package that will take President George W. Bush's tax cuts and accelerate them, possibly even making them permanent. "We need an additional stimulus for businesses to spend money," he said.

As far as the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq are concerned, Hoekstra said specific direction from the White House is forthcoming.

"We will give them locations to go and places to find things," he said. "Not all will be successful, but we will find some stuff. I'd be surprised if we didn't."

Much of the economy's stagnation can be blamed on the Iraqi situation, he said, but that may change after the first of the year. He said there probably will be military action in Iraq within the first five or six months of 2003, and if such an event occurs, businesses can expect solid growth in the third and fourth quarters.

"If we do go in, it should be over very quickly," Hoekstra said.           

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